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Ryne Stanek’s opening act for Rays has been better than late shift

Stanek’s performance in non-opener assignments is something that needs to be improved.
Rays pitcher Ryne Stanek has done well as an opener, as in this game against the Marlins, but he's struggled in high-leverage relief situations. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Rays pitcher Ryne Stanek has done well as an opener, as in this game against the Marlins, but he's struggled in high-leverage relief situations. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Published May 21, 2019
Updated May 21, 2019

Ryne Stanek isn’t pitching the first inning as the opener tonight for the Rays, which could be because they plan to use him in the later innings against the Dodgers.

Rising on the Rays to-do list: Helping Stanek be as effective in those situations as when he starts a game.

To this point, it’s clear Stanek is much more comfortable and successful in the opener role, when he can just come out firing his 98 mph fastball.

But the Rays need him to do more than that, and to be able to count on him in higher-leverage situations.

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In 12 games as an opener, Stanek has a 1.93 ERA over 18 2/3 innings, allowing only 13 of 67 batters to reach base (including three walks), posting a .156 opponents average and .538 OPS.

In the seven games Stanek has pitched in the sixth, seventh and eight innings, he has a 9.53 ERA over 5 2/3 innings, allowing 13 of 29 batters to reach (including five walks), posting a .333 opponents average and .907 OPS.

Sunday was the latest example, when he came in in the sixth with the bases loaded.

He quickly bounced a pitch but got a break as the Rays got an out at the plate. But he then fell behind Gary Sanchez 3-1 and had to put him on, walked Kendrys Morales untentionally to force in a run, and got a bad break when the Rays botched two chances behind him to get Gleyber Torres out, allowing another run.

Stanek threw 17 pitches and only seven were strikes.

“When you get in those situations you have to establish some type of strike zone that you’re willing to attack,’’ manager Kevin Cash said after the game. “He just didn’t have it (Sunday) to do that.’’

Stanek said his command overall wasn't good and he had to rely on his splitter, and that he may have both "nibbled a little bit" and "maybe tried to do too much at times.''

But he also acknowledged that the situation does factor in, suggesting more higher leverage opportunities would help.

"It's a little different,'' he said. "But it's not really so much the difference, I honestly just feel at this point I haven't thrown in a traditional reliever role all that frequently. That's not an excuse, that's just on me having to be sharper honestly.''

The Rays implemented the opener strategy last May, and Stanek’s workload was split. He had a 3.38 ERA in 29 opening assignments and 2.39 in 30 relief outings.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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