Rob Manfred’s MLB pitching plan will upset Rays, have Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer absolutely fired up

The “opener” is a term MLB fans have heard quite often in recent years. The strategy that originally gained traction with the Tampa Bay Rays and proceeded to make its way around the league drew mixed reviews. For those who may not be aware, the opener is a pitcher who starts a game for a team but only works one or two innings.

The strategy is used to fully implement the bullpen. Managers will utilize various relievers throughout the course of a game with an opener. Sometimes, teams will have a pitcher in the bullpen who can provide 3-4 innings. They may “piggyback” (another baseball term, used when one pitcher directly follows another) the opener and throw around 50-60 pitches.

Rob Manfred, MLB’s commissioner, isn’t a fan of this strategy though. He values old-school starting pitchers and thinks advertising starting pitchers, rather than an opener before a game, is a key marketing tool for baseball.

“There’s a lot of fans who feel like the change from ‘let’s see who today’s pitching matchup is’ to ‘who’s the opener today’ has not been a positive one,” Manfred said, via Jesse Rogers of ESPN.

Traditional SP vs. the opener

Traditional starting pitchers are expected to work at least five innings in today’s game. Old-school fans scoff at that notion and expect starters to go seven innings or more. With limited pitch counts in today’s game, starters simply aren’t working as deep into contests.

That said, there are still workhorses who provide plenty of innings, like Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer. Cole is one of baseball’s best pitchers and often gives the New York Yankees important innings of work as a starter.

The opener isn’t expected to work deep into games. Manfred clearly thinks the opener also isn’t a great tool for growing the sport, something MLB has prioritized with the new rules.

But how could MLB make it mandatory for teams to utilize starters rather than openers?

Possible strategies for MLB to mandate starting pitchers instead of openers

The league could implement an innings limit for starting pitchers. They would obviously need to provide an injury exception though. MLB can’t expect a pitcher to work through an injury if he suffers one in the first inning.

Teams wouldn’t like this idea though, since sometimes starting pitchers simply struggle early in games. Expecting a guy to keep going after giving up 10 runs over 1.1 innings pitched would be a questionable strategy.

Another idea is to force teams to designate at least five starting pitchers on their roster. These pitchers must be proven starters who can work somewhat deep into games, even if that is only five or so innings.

In the end, MLB may not even mandate anything. Instead, the league could opt to just encourage teams to utilize starters. However, if Manfred finds this issue important enough, fans shouldn’t be surprised to see action taken.

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