August 24, 2019

Rays Disrupt Baseball’s Tanking Industry by — Get This — Trying to Win

Rays Disrupt Baseball’s Tanking Industry by — Get This — Trying to Win

Some Rays pitchers do act as regular starters, like the All-Star Blake Snell and the veterans Chris Archer and Nathan Eovaldi, before they were traded last month. For pitchers like Yarbrough or Jalen Beeks, though, the idea is to delay their appearance until another pitcher has handled the first inning, when teams tend to score the most runs.

The implication, of course, is that the pitcher who follows the opener — “I don’t have a name for it either,” said Manager Kevin Cash — is not ready to begin his outing against the opponent’s best hitters. But Yarbrough said the young pitchers understood the plan in spring training. It beats life with the Durham Bulls.

“We were like, ‘Look, we haven’t had any service time, we’re really excited to pitch in the big leagues,’” said Yarbrough, who is 10-5 with a 4.16 E.R.A. “The more and more we do things, it becomes a little more comfortable.”

Some are more used to it than others. Jake Faria made 10 starts early this season, before missing 61 games with an oblique strain. The opener strategy unfolded in his absence, and Faria has relieved twice since returning. He will start on Wednesday — for a few innings, anyway — and hopes to earn steady starts again.

“Yeah, you’re happy you’re in the big leagues,” said Faria, a second-year right-hander. “But I’ve been a starter my whole career. I love being the guy who gets the ball at the beginning of the game, being charged with the duty of going as deep in the game as I can. I enjoy it.”

The Rays are on pace for 787 relief innings this season, which would shatter the record of 657 set by the 2012 Colorado Rockies, who also experimented with shorter starts. Rays pitchers have made 21 relief appearances this season of at least five innings, including by Beeks on Tuesday. The other major league teams had 16 such appearances combined through Monday.

A few other teams have deployed the opener strategy for a handful of games, and at least one team, the Minnesota Twins, is using it in the minors. But the Rays hardly believe they have reinvented pitching as we know it.

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