TAMPA — The opener is catching on.
The Yankees used right-handed reliever Chad Green in an opener role in Tuesday’s Grapefruit League game against the Rays at Steinbrenner Field, a move they’ve long been contemplating and now are finally putting into action as spring training winds down.
Last September, reliever Jonathan Holder opened a game against the Rays, and now with the Yankees’ starting rotation thin on healthy bodies — ace Luis Severino and veteran CC Sabathia won’t be ready for the beginning of the season — the concept could very well become reality when the Yankees break camp.
Green would be an ideal fit for an opener role because he throws hard and can give the Yankees up to two innings of work to get them through the top of a batting order to start the game. Because they have the deepest bullpen in baseball — even with Tuesday’s news that setup man Dellin Betances will open the season on the injured list with a shoulder injury — the Yankees would appear to be one of the best suited teams to utilize the opener strategy.
The Yankees beat the Rays, 6-2.
“It’s another thing you can throw at different teams," said Green, who gave up an earned run in his one inning of work when a Michael Perez single to right went past Aaron Judge and allowed Joey Wendle to score. "It’s not something everyone can do, but I think our bullpen is deep enough to where we can handle it and cover some innings. It’s worked in the past for some teams. It worked for Tampa (Bay) last year. I can see us using it if we have to during the year.”
The Yankees followed Green with right-hander Luis Cessa in the second inning. Cessa threw four shutout innings, allowing just two hits with five strikeouts.
The Yankees are slated to continue their opener experiment on Wednesday, when they will start Holder against the Astros.
New York also this week signed veteran left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who could provide length behind the opener.
Both Yankees manager Aaron Boone and general manager Brian Cashman have said this spring that they’d be open to using the opener in the regular season in the right situation.
Boone opened the door when Severino — who isn’t expected to return until May at the earliest with a shoulder injury — was shelved, and Sabathia won’t be available until mid- to late-April, so the Yankees could use an opener to fill the back end of their rotation through the season’s opening weeks.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at [email protected] Follow @EddieInTheYard.