Will we see the Pittsburgh Pirates use a new pitching method for starting games in 2019? It appears possible.
During the 2018 season the Tampa Bay Rays started what may become the next big fad in Major League Baseball. That is, the Rays used an opener instead of a starter. What is an opener? Well, an opener is a relief pitcher who pitches the first inning of a game before being removed.
The idea of using an opener started to spread around Major League Baseball. In fact, the Oakland Athletics decided to use an opener in the American League Wild Card Game last season. Now, it appears the Pittsburgh Pirates may get in on the opener fad.
Yesterday, general manager Neal Huntington told reporters that the Pirates may look to use an opener in 2019.
Using an opener would make sense for the Pirates. The bullpen figures to be one of the team’s strengths in 2019, and bullpening would be a smart idea for the Bucs. Also, the team does not currently have a fifth starter. While it would be a big surprise if they did not add another starting pitcher before Opening Day, bullpening with pitchers such as Nick Kingham, Steven Brault, or the newly signed Jordan Lyles could always be options as well. Especially until Mitch Keller arrives in the Major Leagues after the Super Two date passes in June.
One issue would be that using an opener in the National League is more of a challenge than in the American League. Due to the designated hitter, AL squads typically carry four bench players instead of five. An AL team using an opener could easily carry nine or even 10 relievers in their bullpen. In the NL, carrying more than eight is difficult. This could cause a NL team looking to use an opener to burn through their bullpen quicker, potentially causing issues with pitcher availability in the following days.