Giants discussing using 'openers' to start certain games in 2019

NBC Sports BayArea

Giants discussing using 'openers' to start certain games in 2019 originally appeared on nbcsportsbayarea.com

LAS VEGAS -- When Farhan Zaidi interviewed with Larry Baer for the first time, he blew the Giants CEO away with his curiosity and commitment to try anything he feels might be a solution for a struggling franchise. In meetings this week, Zaidi has similarly impressed long-standing team employees with his approach to problem solving. 

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The Giants' new president of baseball operations does have some limits, though.

"We're not going to have a masked reliever come in and do a big reveal," he said Tuesday night, laughing, at the MLB Winter Meetings. 

No, but he very likely will have a reliever come in and throw the first pitch of a game. 

Zaidi revealed Tuesday that he has talked to his staff about using an "opener" next season, mimicking a strategy that has found some success in Tampa Bay and Oakland and is spreading throughout the game.

The opener is a simple concept, essentially acting as the opposite of a closer. The Giants would use a reliever at the start of the game for an inning or two, giving their pitchers platoon advantages and making it harder for an opposing manager to plan for the Giants' main pitcher -- who theoretically would come in for five or six relief innings -- of the day. 

The opener was popularized by a former Giant. Rays manager Kevin Cash started using Sergio Romo to face opposing lineups that had right-handers due up in the first inning, and the team eventually fully embraced the strategy. The A's did, too, and Zaidi's Dodgers used lefty reliever Scott Alexander as an opener.

It only continues to spread. A few hours before Zaidi spoke with reporters, the Pittsburgh Pirates told beat writers they're open to the idea. The Milwaukee Brewers even used it in the postseason. 

"Once you get away from 'this guy is going to throw the first six innings of the game,' it opens up a lot of stuff," Zaidi said. "Even with an opener, is an opener a one-inning guy, a two-inning guy, a three-inning guy? Again, I think the more versatile your pitching staff is and the more kind of multi-inning guys you have, the more kinds of ways you can get through (games)."

[RELATED: Giants reportedly 'less likely' to trade Bumgarner this offseason]

Zaidi did not go into specifics, partly because he doesn't know the full makeup of his future pitching staff. He hopes to add a couple of starters and bolster the bullpen, but it's the current group that got Zaidi thinking about creative options.

The Giants have a mix of pitchers who have dealt with injuries and young pitchers still trying to find their footing. There's a middle ground for Zaidi, and that involves looking at all options. He said the Giants have to take "a little bit of an all hands on deck mentality," and said a general theme now is that everything is on the table. 

That could mean a lot more than openers. Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez, two standout starterss last season, could begin the year in the bullpen or even Triple-A to make sure they're strong throughout their second season. The Giants could piggyback starters, using two different ones for three or four innings at a time.

They could even create a method we haven't seen before. 

"We're going to have to explore different forms of pitching staff construction," Zaidi said. "I think we're going to have to develop a plan for the pitching staff that fits the personnel that we have. If we don't have five guys that we can expect 34 starts and 200 innings from -- and very few teams have that -- then thinking about some of these alternatives is a way to get through 27 outs every day. I think it's going to be a topic of discussion for us."

If the Giants implement that plan, Zaidi will rely on manager Bruce Bochy to make it all work during games. During the season, Bochy repeatedly said that he didn't think the strategy would catch on in the National League. He never seemed to be a fan of openers. Now, he might be told he'll be starting Ray Black or Tony Watson or another reliever.

"From a front-office perspective and a manager perspective, everybody wants the seven-inning starter, but at the end of the day, I think everybody would take a win using less conventional methods [rather] than lose trying to overly extend a starter that isn't equipped or best fit to make that 110-plus pitch outing," Zaidi said. "The conversations have been kind of very open. Again, it's going to depend on what the personnel is and what the pitching side looks like once the offseason is done.

"With the strength of the bullpen, we're thinking more about using openers on certain days with the fact that we've got really strong relief options from both the left and the right side."

Zaidi said the conversation will continue and the Giants are a "long way away from putting something like this into action." He will continue to talk it through with Bochy and pitching coach Curt Young.

But it's clear that there's a big change underway in the way the Giants as an organization view the game, and that could be seen from the first pitch of select games next season.

The Giants won't do this on a Madison Bumgarner day or Johnny Cueto day, and maybe not even with Rodriguez, Suarez or Jeff Samardzija. But over the course of a season, they will join a revolution sweeping through the game. 

"We'd be doing ourselves a disservice if we don't think about different ways of deploying these guys," Zaidi said.

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