One of the recurring questions of Orioles spring training was: Would the Orioles join the new experiment with an “opener” during the regular season? GM Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde had to dance around answering it on a weekly basis. With the regular season two days away, we now know the answer is yes, as Hyde confirmed the Orioles will use an opener - probably Nate Karns - in the second game of the season.
The idea of the “opener” was used a decent amount by the Rays last season. It’s so named for employing a short-inning reliever for an inning or two to begin a game, rather than the closer who ends games. After that comes a long reliever who might go two times through the batting order before being lifted. If you’re lucky, this gets you to the seventh inning, where late-inning relievers can be deployed in a more traditional manner.
In the times the topic came up during spring training, neither Hyde nor Elias seemed to view the opener strategy as Plan A for the 2019 Orioles. They were on track to have three settled rotation pieces - Alex Cobb, Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner - plus a revolving door of pitchers like David Hess and Mike Wright who the new regime wants to see for themselves. This was never exactly an exciting plan for an O’s fan to contemplate, but it was a plan that made sense.
Cobb’s injury in his final spring start has thrown a wrench into Plan A. He won’t get to make the Opening Day start he was tabbed for, and though the Orioles still hope he’ll be able to pitch the home opener, the fact is that he’s on the injured list to start the season due to that right groin soreness that cut him short on Saturday.
Rather than completely adjust the planned rotation with Cobb’s early absence, the Orioles can just deploy an opener in an early game and keep everyone else on track. Cashner is now set for the Opening Day start. It’s technically short rest since he pitched on Sunday, though the O’s had him pitch just two innings, so he didn’t get the usual full workload. Bundy is now scheduled to pitch Sunday’s game, the third of the season.
Karns is going to get to start a game for the Orioles after all, even if an opener isn’t technically a starter. The now-reliever was knocked off the starter’s track by an early spring setback. He hasn’t pitched in MLB since 2017. This is not a bad way to ease him back in to an eventual starting workload, and perhaps it’s not a bad way to make use of his talent even if he keeps begin limited to a couple of innings.
The Orioles haven’t yet indicated who they might be planning to tab to follow Karns. Any one of Hess, Wright, John Means, and Jimmy Yacabonis would seem to be candidates for that kind of planned long relief. One of those four is going to end up as the fourth starter, pitching on Monday. The rest could be the guy after the opener.
It may all go horribly, but at least at first it won’t be boring and familiar.