Hey look, the opener is back.
Two starts for Aaron Brooks since he joined the Orioles off waivers and two effective opener outings in the books. He may not have been the pitcher credited with the win in either case, but he did exactly what he needed to do in the scheme popularized by the Rays; he got through most, if not all, of the opponent’s lineup once and then passed the baton to a long reliever.
The right-hander’s first start as an Oriole came against Tampa Bay, ironically enough. He faced eight Rays batters before being removed with two outs in the third. Over the course of 32 pitches (17 strikes) he did not allow a single hit or walk and tallied a pair of strikeouts.
Jimmy Yacabonis followed Brooks to the mound and provided some much needed length. The first batter he faced in the third, Mike Zunino, may have hit a solo home run, but that was the only scoring Yac would allow over 3.1 innings pitched (67 pitches).
Between Brooks the opener and Yacabonis the bulk guy, those two ate up six innings.
The Orioles went on to score a pair of runs in the bottom of the seventh while Richard Bleier (19 pitches) and Mychal Givens (22 pitches) combined to pitch three scoreless innings to finish out the game. Shawn Armstrong (15 pitches) also made an appearance in the seventh but failed to record a single out before getting removed in favor of Bleier.
Yes, the Orioles used five pitchers in the aforementioned game, but when you look at their individual pitch counts and understand the role each played, no one seemed overworked like in past opener games for the Orioles. There’s a case to be made for not even counting Armstrong and his out-less outing, which would take the number of pitchers used down to four.
In a perfect world the Birds would have a dependable starter to pitch the majority of the game, but dependable starters are in short supply for this team. But this alternate strategy has worked recently.
In Brooks’ second start as an opener, he delivered again. Against the Nationals last night he pitched 2.2 innings — giving up a single run — and he even faced the top of the Nats lineup a second time (11 batters in total).
When Washington’s number three hitter Juan Soto came to the plate for his second at-bat, Brooks was replaced with Gabriel Ynoa, who spun 4.1 innings of one-run baseball. Between Brooks (56 pitches) and Ynoa (67 pitches), the Orioles got through seven innings while allowing only two runs.
Down 2-1 late in the game, the Birds rallied for three runs in the seventh and five in the eighth. Then Paul Fry (12 pitches) and Mychal Givens (23 pitches) combined to pitch a scoreless final two innings.
But before you get too excited, keep in mind that the team is trying to build up Brooks’ pitch count, an indicator that they plan to make him a traditional starter at the first available chance.
Before joining the Orioles a little over a week ago, the 29-year-old Brooks worked out of the bullpen for the Athletics. Out of 15 appearances with the A’s, he made six starts and threw a total of 50.1 innings. In that time he had a 5.01 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.7 SO/9 and 3.07 SO/W.
In 36.2 innings as a starter this year between the O’s and A’s, Brooks has a 5.15 ERA. In 19 innings as a reliever with Oakland, his ERA goes down to 3.79.
Considering the limited number of innings he’s pitch in his major league career, the team could more effectively manage his workload if he were to stay in the opener role as opposed to being stretched out. In his four-plus year career, he’s got a 6.42 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 116.1 innings.
More than once I’ve heard the argument that the Orioles can’t effectively deploy the opener because they don’t have any true long relievers. But look at the two bulk guys mentioned previously. There’s Yacabonis, who was stretched out as a starter all of last year and can go more than a couple innings right now. Then there’s Ynoa, who’s been a starter the majority of his career in the minors and has been tried in the rotation already this year but struggled going deep into games.
Why not just wait awhile and see where this whole opener arrangement is headed before breaking it up too early? Just a thought.
Statistics provided by Baseball Reference.