Baltimore Orioles: What to make of Tampa’s bizarre bullpen model

You might notice that Sergio Romo is starting for Tampa this afternoon against the Baltimore Orioles. He also started Friday night against the Birds. Is this the bizarro world?!

Not if you look at it under the guise of how Tampa and manager Kevin Cash are using their pitchers this year. Cash is employing a bullpen hand in many cases as an “opener;” this as opposed to using a closer. And after between 1-2 innings, that bullpen hand is being lifted for what one might call a regular starting pitcher.

This is all very unconventional, but baseball fans have learned to expect that from the Tampa Rays. They don’t do this for every game, although each turn of their rotation is in essence a “bullpen game.” But they tend to do it against lineups such as that of the Orioles which are heavily stacked with righties. Again, it’s unconventional, which is part of where a lot of the criticism towards Cash comes from – and for the record, Cash seems to take that in stride (quote courtesy of Doug Padilla,

I’ve been called an idiot, but that has happened before.

However Tampa’s attitude towards anything has always been well if it works who’s the dumb one? They were the team that started the trend of employing shifts on almost every batter. Old school baseball people such as myself weren’t really comfortable with that – a shift here or there is one thing, but every hitter? Heck, Tampa at times will put a fielder in motion during the at bat if they think it’ll give them an edge. Well now everyone seems to do that – the shifts, that is.

Speaking for myself, I think using an “opener” instead of a closer is ill-advised. You’re burning through your bullpen literally from the moment the game begins. However I suppose that part of the theory is that it prevents opponents from stacking their lineup for a starting pitcher, lest they want to make wholesale changes early in the game. But again, the fact is that it’s unconventional.

Does that make it wrong? No, of course not. But Tampa is a team that seems to want to re-invent the wheel at times. And again, the thing with the shifts has certainly caught on league-wide. However that’s not to say that this will as well. Because I believe that it’s asking a lot of bullpen relievers. It’s also asking a lot of coaches to literally play match-ups on every at-bat. To be quite blunt, I think it’s nothing more than a fancy way of dressing up the fact that they can’t find five viable starters.


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