PThe Rays are looking forward to employing an unusual pitching strategy. Last week, they announced that they will ditch the traditional approach of using the starting pitcher to work on the opposing lineup. Their pitchers will not go through the entire lineup a few times and yield to bullpen. Instead, they will ply matchup baseball against the Angels. The move was announced earlier by the team’s manager Kevin Cash.
The opposing team presents a great opportunity for Cash to test his strategy. He said, “The way that their lineup stacks generally speaking is very heavy right-handed at the top. It allows us in theory to let Sergio [Romo] to come in there and play the matchup game in the first, which is somewhat unheard of—up until Saturday anyway.”
He went on to say, “Then [Ryan Yarbrough] can, in theory, have the availability to get deeper in the game. There’s no more secret about the third time through the order, everybody knows that. And that’s kind of what this is about.”
The plan is neither simple, nor fool proof. The far-out plan could also backfire on the team. The tough righties on the Angels team is a first time for the Rays. It is likely that the starter from Tampa faces the top hitter of the team who are batting at the bottom of the order. Earlier strategies made the starter pitcher reach the top lineup only after going through 24 batters, or at least 8 full innings. The plan looks good on paper. Using your best pitchers when they are fresh against the strong batting lineup is a good idea, especially when they appear in the bottom order.
On Saturday, the plan worked out exactly as Cash mentioned. The starter for the Rays was Sergio Romo, who entered in this position for the first time in his career. The 35-year old has had 588 appearances before Saturday’s game, making him the fourth player in the MLB history to start at a new position after a veteran career.
Troy Percival had a first career start after 638 games, Todd Jones got it after 632 games and Chuck McElroy did it after 603 games. Percival pitched just one inning as a starter while the other two pitched all through the opposing lineup at least once. Romo, just like Percival, did only a one-inning job but it was enough for Cash.
He retired the side in the innings. Cash also mentioned that he could have gone for few more outs. This isn’t the first time that relievers are being used as starters, but Cash seems to enjoy his new experiment. Romo will be playing the role again on Sunday, a rare event. This is the first time in 38 years that a pitcher has started in consecutive games after pitching one inning in the first game, per ESPN. This is also the first time since 2012, that a pitcher has started 2 straight games under any conditions.
These experiments should work in their favor as they are still at third place in the AL East.