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Rays Tales: Are we really talking this much about the opener?

Criticism over the Rays’ innovative pitching strategy from the Giants and now the Astros is head-scratching.
Using Ryne Stanek as an opener has given people lots to talk about. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Using Ryne Stanek as an opener has given people lots to talk about. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published Feb. 16, 2019|Updated Feb. 16, 2019

PORT CHARLOTTE — The biggest surprise of the opening week of spring training is how much talk there has been about the opener.

The Rays unveiled the innovative pitching strategy in May and used it in more than 50 games, and a half-dozen other teams experimented with it in some form, but it has been an unexpectedly popular topic of conversation.

And criticism.

All of which has the Rays perplexed as to why it’s such a hot topic.

RELATED: Did you hear this story about new Rays pitcher Charlie Morton ...

“I’m a little bit surprised,’’ said Ryan Yarbrough, a converted starter who pitched the most behind an opener. “And it’s not like we’re the only people that did it.’’

The first shots came from Giants camp, when starter Jeff Samardzija seemed to break a bit of a barrier in ripping Rays pitchers who went along with the plan, questioning their pride and calling for anarchy.

And next from Astros land, by two veteran starters who have no danger of being used that way.

First Justin Verlander, who you could argue has earned the right to judge, made a complaint voiced elsewhere: The plan can wear out relievers over a season.

Then Gerrit Cole, who hasn’t earned the right, weighed in with the weirdest criticism yet, riffing to about the manufactured matchups of beginning the game with a reliever rather than a traditional starter:

“There’s a human element here you start to lose when you start rattling off the best mathematical equation to get the out. I certainly wouldn’t pay for a ticket to watch a math equation. I kind of want to go watch a human interaction, a human competition. There are guys that are really good at this and have been doing this for a long time. I think they should be left alone.’’

Wait, what? Is he saying metrics-driven matchups take away from the game? A little late for that. And he’s with one of the most analytic-based teams around.

Or that Ryne Stanek, the Rays’ primary opener, is some kind of cyborg? (And if so, wow, did I miss that story!)

“That’s such a weird way to put it, because it’s still a dude playing a game,’’ Stanek said. “It’s not like I have a computer write up the odds and the odds are he’s going to get this guy and this guy out and this guy’s going to get a hit. … It’s not like, ‘Today he’s not going to give up a run, so we’re going to skip the first inning.’ We still have to play.’’

Rays rumblings

Jake Bauers, traded in December, reported to Indians camp saying he “can be probably one of, if not the best, defensive first basemen in the game.” ... Rays manager Kevin Cash’s biggest curiosity about well-muscled infielder Yandy Diaz? “To see his arms, biceps.’’ … Tyler Glasnow was clocked at 98.7 mph in Wednesday’s bullpen session. … Former big-leaguer and longtime scout Tom “T-Bone” Giordano, a regular in the Trop press box, died last week at age 93. … Ex-Rays minor-league catcher Matt Rice has a cool new gig, serving as a judicial law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. … Given the political unrest in Venezuela, the Rays moved players and most of their staff to the Dominican Republic. … The No. 2 farm system ranking from Baseball America was the Rays’ highest since 2011.

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Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays


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