Phillies should consider ‘opener’ to address bullpen woes

Manager Joe Girardi #25 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Manager Joe Girardi #25 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

Could the Phillies using “openers” to start games be their answer to a currently unreliable bullpen?

The Philadelphia Phillies bullpen continues to be overwhelmingly the worst in Major League Baseball. By yielding 40 earned runs in 35 1/3 innings, their 10.19 ERA ranks as the worst in the league through the first 12 games of a season since the 1955 Kansas City Athletics.

The Phillies demoted right-handers Nick Pivetta and Trevor Kelley prior to Tuesday’s series opener against the Baltimore Orioles, but even then the bullpen yielded several runs in the extra innings loss — albeit the two closer Hector Neris surrendered where the result of Jean Segura‘s dropped, easy pop up near the pitcher’s mound.

Something has to give. Having played 12 games, the Phillies are now 20 percent into the season. Less than three weeks remain until the August 31 trade deadline, and less than seven weeks remain until the scheduled season finale.

With Phillies starting pitchers still building up their arm strength following a shorter than usual “spring training” last month, perhaps, the team should consider transitioning to the “opener” strategy made possible in recent seasons by the Tampa Bay Rays.

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Here’s why this makes sense for the Phillies in 2020:

  • it would have their worst pitchers — the bullpen — throw earlier on in the game, allowing the team more innings and at-bats to score runs if need be.
  • it would, allow some of the team’s more reliable pitchers, including Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, pitch in the latter innings when the stakes are higher; manager Joe Girardi has placed starters on a strict pitch count so far to avoid potential injury.

Ideally, openers would pitch one or two innings, before the starting pitcher then enters a game.

In a doubleheader situation, openers getting through the first two innings unscathed would mean a Phillies starter would only have to throw five innings before the end of the game.

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Among the relievers who could succeed as an opener in red pinstripes includes Adam Morgan, who began his career as a starter before transitioning to the bullpen.

Of course, if rookie Spencer Howard eventually takes Vince Velasquez‘s spot in the rotation, Velasquez has experience in both roles; his tendency to strive for the strikeout would bode well in a high-leverage, early-game “opener” situation.

The Phillies have nothing to lose. They should give the opener a chance.