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Orioles should revisit the opener

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For awhile now the Orioles’ back-end starters have been getting shelled, and it’s high time for a change.

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The walks. The inability to pitch deep into games. And the home runs; so many home runs allowed. It can be downright exhausting watching this Orioles team pitch.

As of this morning, the Orioles’ starters have the fourth fewest innings pitched in the majors. Out of all 30 teams, the O’s pitching staff as a whole has allowed the eighth most walks. Plus, they lead the league in home runs allowed, which kind of goes without saying at this point, unfortunately.

Three fifths of the starting rotation right now is serviceable at least. You’ve got Andrew Cashner and John Means and let’s throw Dylan Bundy into that group as well. Bundy has had a couple good starts in a row, so let’s hope he can keep that momentum going.

But after those three, you’re left with Dan Straily and David Hess. Not so good. Hess is carrying a 6.75 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and 17 home runs allowed in 45.1 innings on the year so far. After last night’s debacle against the Yankees, Straily has a 9.09 ERA, 1.99 WHIP and 14 home runs allowed in just 34.2 innings.

Manager Brandon Hyde keeps saying the Orioles simply don’t have the pitching depth required to deal to with the team’s current shortcomings. So they have to make due with what they have, for now.

So why not get creative again with how the pitching staff is rolled out? It’s curious why the Orioles ditched the opener strategy they employed in the early part of the season. Yes, the bullpen often got burnt out when they tried that strategy early on, but it’s getting burnt out now too with a regular five man rotation. What we’ve seen recently is the number four and five starters going four to five innings and getting clobbered.

Which brings us back to the opener. There’s a lot of moving parts involved with such tactics. Not only do you need a pitcher to be effective for the first couple innings, but you need a bulk guy to follow and eat up anywhere from three to five innings. Then you need to mix and match the last couple innings, all while attempting to keep the bullpen relatively fresh for the next game.

Nate Karns was the designated opener multiple times early on this season when the Orioles were testing things out. But he’s been on the shelf for a long time now, with no obvious return in sight.

So the Birds would need to find a capable person or two to fill that role, and it would probably take some experimentation to do so. Why not try Straily and/or Hess in that role? And whoever doesn’t pan out there, try them as the bulk guy. Find out which of the two roles each of those guys is best suited for and fill in where necessary with relievers.

If Hyde is truly the players manager he was touted as coming into the season, then he should be able to get guys to buy in to such an unorthodox game plan. The Rays, for example, have been vocal in the past about how important it’s been for their pitching staff to truly accept their roles in such a pitching alignment in order to pull off the opener successfully. So get guys into this clubhouse who are able and willing, whether it be current players or minor leaguers, and build them up to embrace the change.

But what if the bullpen still gets burnt out? Going outside the box, the O’s could even go with a three man bench and carry an additional pitcher in order to keep everyone more fresh and rested.

For a team that preaches positional versatility so much, couldn’t they find a way to get by with one less position player? You’ve got infielders who can play all over the dirt, Wilkerson can play outfield and infield, Mancini can handle the corners and first, etc. It’s unconventional yes, but what do they have to lose?

Anyone who has read my commentary for awhile now probably knows I am fond of the opener. But you may not be. You may be a traditionalist who would rather see a conventional starter every fifth day. And that’s fine.

But times change. Look at the shift now versus 20 years ago. Analytics is the name of the game, and the new Orioles regime is supposed to be well versed in this area. So why not use the research to be progressive, like the Rays, instead of watching the same old exercise every fourth and fifth time through the rotation? The opener is intended to address a lack of starting pitching depth, and that’s what the Orioles have. They’ve got to try something to spice up an otherwise underwhelming 2019 campaign.

Statistics provided by ESPN and MLB.