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The Tamba Bay Rays experiment with reliever pitchers will continue

It's really working out! 

Sergio Romo - Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Sergio Romo throws to the plate during the first inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Saturday, May 19, 2018, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) Rays Angels Baseball

Sergio Romo - Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Sergio Romo throws to the plate during the first inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Saturday, May 19, 2018, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) Rays Angels Baseball | Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved., AP, Copyright 2000 Adobe Systems Incorporated

The Rays will be making an early call to the bullpen for this weekend's games against the Orioles at Tropicana Field.

Veteran reliever Sergio Romo is slated to start Friday and Sunday, while Ryne Stanek, a reliever with less wear on the tires, will start Saturday's game.

This won't be the first time the Rays have used their unconventional and wildly intriguing "opener" strategy -- Romo started back-to-back games against the Angels last weekend, yet they're taking it to a more accelerated level.

 

"Look, it worked," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Not commiting that it's going to work. ... Going through [the Orioles'] lineup is somewhat similar to the Angels in that they're very heavy righty. They have Chris Davis hitting fourth or fifth in there, that's the lone lefty that hits up at the top most of the time. It should stack up similarly to what we did in Anaheim. And hopefully we have some similar success."

Baltimore boasts a right-handed heavy lineup at the top, which makes such matchups favorable and conducive for the unorthhodox strategy. Trey Mancini, Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop were the Orioles' one through four hitters on Thursday against the White Sox.

 

The opener strategy drew significant attention across MLB, with many opposing players, managers, scouts and front-office personnel chiming in on its unique approach -- and, perhaps notably, because it proved effective.

Romo, an 11-year veteran, has bought into the opener concept -- one that has been explored in many analytical circles in recent years but never employed purposefully in a Major League game until last weekend. When Romo started on consecutive days, he became the first pitcher to do so since Zack Greinke in 2012, who made those starts largely due to an ejection quirk.

Romo threw 2 1/3 innings in his two starts, with six strikeouts, two walks and zero hits among the nine batters he faced. He began the first outing by striking out Zack Cozart, Mike Trout and Justin Upton - all right-handed hitters -- in order. Cozart said that he disapporved of the strategy because it thwarted his pre-at-bat approach.

 

"Look we're not trying to do anything that's cute, we're trying to do something that will work and be right for us to win games," Cash said. "Saying that, I know Sergio has done it twice now, and looks like he's probably on scheduled to do it two more times. Stanek is going to get an opportunity to do it."

Stanek averages 97.9 mph on his four-seam fastball, among the highest in the Majors, though the right-hander has surrendered six homers in 21 outings, which has contributted to a 5.85 ERA.

"He's started before," Cash said. "Look, we think he's a talented pitcher. And it hasn't gone that easy for him up at the Major League level. Maybe a different look can help him. And we see a lot of guys change their lineup around, and stick a struggling guy up and hitting leadoff.

"There are some similarities, some thought to that. But every decision we make is to do our best to win that game that night. And we think this is going to help us."

Cash allowed that a similar scenario might play out if they played a predominantly left-handed team.

 

"In theory we have Yarbs [Ryan Yarbrough] and [Anthony] Banda, who are in the rotation, they could start," Cash said. "Or you could see a guy like Johnny Venters come in there and start and hopefully get three to six outs."

As for dealing with the pushback from the baseball world about what they are doing ...

"I'm sensitive to it, because I care, but we have to do what we think is right," Cash said. "As long as our players are understanding and we're doing a good job communicating with them, that's really all we can ask for."

The club entered the season with limited rotational depth with just four starters, and announced early in Spring Training that they planned to relegate the fifth day for the bullpen when the schedule dictated. Their rotation became even further depleted on Wednesday when right-hander Jake Faria was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a left oblique strain.

Bill Chastain MLB.com

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