New frontier, or old tricks?
The Rays are again plotting to try something else significantly different and extremely unusual with their starting pitching plans.
Which is beginning the game with one of their late-inning relievers, then switching to their otherwise scheduled starter, based primarily on matchups – in the first inning.
So on Saturday night against the Angels, look for veteran right-handed reliever Sergio Romo to start and work the first inning, and maybe into the second, with rookie lefty Ryan Yarbrough eventually coming in to handle the bulk of the innings.
The thinking is that Romo's combination of slow, sweeping breaking balls will stymie the six or so aggressive right-handers at the top of the Angels order.
And that that in theory would allow Yarbrough to come in against the bottom third of the order and work deeper into the game without facing the likes of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Justin Upton for an onerous third time.
"The way that their lineup stacks generally speaking is very heavy right-handed at the top," manager Kevin Cash said when asked about the plan after Thursday's game.
"It allows us in theory to let Sergio to come in there and play the matchup game in the first, which is somewhat unheard of – up until Saturday anyway.
"Then Yarbs can, in theory, have the availability to get deeper in the game. There's no more secret about the third time through the order, everybody knows that. And that's kind of what this is about."
Keeping all but the elite level starters from facing hitters a third time has been in vogue for the last several seasons, based on clear data that pitchers are hit harder, with the Rays among the more aggressive teams in doing so.
They have tried other outside-the-box ideas, such as planning to open this season with four starters and a crew of multi-inning relievers to handle scheduled "Bullpen Days," and used relievers in the starting roles. And then when Nathan Eovaldi was hurt just before opening day, they went further outside, trying to give it a go with three starters and scheduling two "Bullpen Days" in five, though backed off that to an extent.
Romo, 35, has never started a game in his 11-year major-league career, so it will be interesting to see how he handles it.
On MLB Network Radio this morning, Cash said Romo was "really excited about it," that he might be "the most excited of anybody in baseball."
If this new plan works, it is likely to catch on. Who knows, with rookie Anthony Banda slated for Sunday and another long stretch of games coming up, maybe the Rays could try it again?