Through 16 games to begin the season, the Pirates have given up 17 runs in the first inning. Those struggles led to general manager Ben Cherington saying on Sunday that it’s possible the Pirates utilize the opener from time to time to try and prevent first inning runs.
The opener is still a fairly rare strategy but it is being used more and more. The Rays are an example of a team who uses that opener at a fairly high rate, and it has been successful for them. If they do utilize one, the Pirates could use an opener to cover just the first inning, but could also utilize a multi-inning opener — and they have candidates for both.
Peters has been exceptional out of the Pirates bullpen to begin 2022. Through 10.1 innings, Peters has only given up one hit and has yet to allow a run. Since he has been so successful in his role, the Pirates may not want to mess with his routine, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
But with starting pitching experience, Peters makes sense to cover two innings if needed, especially against left-handed heavy lineups. If the Pirates decide to use Peters in an opening role, they still have several other arms in their bullpen who are capable of covering multiple innings.
Chase De Jong
Another guy with starting pitching experience is De Jong, who was recently brought up from Triple-A Indianapolis. Like Peters, De Jong could be used to cover a pair of innings to begin the game. The right-hander’s track record as a starting pitcher isn’t great, but maybe a short stint to open a game will serve him well.
Heath Hembree/Anthony Banda
Hembree could be used as a single-inning opener to begin a game. The high-strikeout, high-velocity right-hander could overwhelm a team out of the gates. With the back of the bullpen anchored by David Bednar and Chris Stratton, Hembree could be used at the beginning of games when needed.
Similar thinking applies to Banda, but more so against a team with a top of the lineup that features more left-handed hitters. Banda has had a nice start to begin his 2022, and the Pirates could use that success to avoid finding themselves in early deficits.
Let’s start by saying that Eickhoff isn’t on the 40-man roster, so he may not have a great shot at cracking the roster unless there is an injury or some other circumstance. Even so, he’s a natural candidate for the opener position. The bulk of the 31-year-old’s career has come as a starting pitcher, though he enjoyed a strong spring training with shorter relief appearances.
Historically for his career, he’s fared much better early on in games than getting to that third time through the lineup, and could be successful in this role.