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Perrotto: Hate the Concept but Can’t Fault the Result

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Pittsburgh Pirates, Derek Shelton

PITTSBURGH – Derek Shelton knows his baseball history when it comes to openers. Heck, the Pittsburgh Pirates manager has lived it.

It is generally written that Sergio Romo was the first opener, a relief pitcher deployed to start the game and pitch an inning or two before being followed by a “bulk-inning reliever.” The Tampa Bay Rays and manager Kevin Cash used Romo in that role five times during the 2018 season.

Alas, Romo was not baseball’s first opener. Shelton knows that to be fact.

The Rays and Cash hatched the opener concept three years earlier on April 10, 2015, when right-handed reliever Steve Geltz served in that role by pitching two innings against the Marlins in Miami. Shelton was then the Rays’ hitting coach.

Geltz opened one more time that season before the idea was shelved for three years.

The whole opener concept seemed absurd at the time. Instead, it was ahead of its time. That doesn’t surprise Shelton.

Many teams have at least occasionally used openers in the last few years. The Pirates did on Saturday with great results.

Six pitchers combined on a six-hit shutout as the Pirates blanked the Minnesota Twins 4-0 at PNC Park.

So why did Shelton buy into the opener idea nearly a decade ago when many in the game laughed it off?

“Starting pitching is so fragile that people are going to figure out ways to – manipulate is probably a little aggressive – but if we can script out a game and we can get the best matchups then, yeah, we’re going to do it,” Shelton said. “Generally, it’s like a playoff game. You don’t see starters pitch seven innings in a playoff game like they used to. If we get to the fifth inning and there’s a leverage matchup, we’re going for it.”

However, Shelton believes an opener won’t work unless the bullpen is relatively rested. That is why he went with Carmen Mlodzinski in that role Saturday less than 24 hours after starter Mitch Keller pitched six innings in a 3-0 victory over the Twins.

Mlodzinski did his part by retiring the first five batters before hitting Willi Castro with a pitch. Shelton then brought in Luis Ortiz as the bulk inning pitcher, and he tossed 4 1/3 scoreless innings that got the Pirates through the sixth.

The score was still 0-0 when left-hander Justin Bruihl started the seventh inning. He retired just one of the four batters he faced, getting a double play turned behind him, and was pulled with two outs and runners on first and second.

Shelton went to right-hander Hunter Stratton to face pinch-hitter Manuel Margot. The rookie got his man as second baseman Nick Gonzales made a spectacular sliding catch with his back to the infield of Margot’s pop fly to shallow center field.

The Pirates went ahead 1-0 on Rowdy Tellez’s home run in the bottom of the inning. Their two primary late-inning relievers, Colin Holderman and closer David Bednar, pitched one inning each to finish the Pirates’ third shutout in their last five games.

“These are fun games to manage because you’re always looking for the right matchups,” Shelton said.

I admittedly am not a fan of openers or bullpen games, even though the Pirates went 18-13 in their last 31 games last season despite having two traditional starting pitchers during that time. Yet if a team can’t cobble together five starting pitchers for a full rotation, I question how good it is.

It worked Saturday, though, as Shelton found the matchups he was seeking. And wherever he may be, Steve Geltz must have been happy.

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Steve Malik

Bruihl looks like another garage signing by BC

Robert

Why try to win at the expense of the bullpen only to give away the ball game the next day!
Wasn’t there a better solution like leaving Chapman to pitch one more inning.I don’t understand the logic in giving games away.If you can’t trust a pitcher out of the bullpen then find someone else.
The players give 100% the coach should not put them in that situation.

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