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Sergio Romo, Jonny Venters, and the Rays’ opener options

Venters would be willing to play the role if the team asked.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Los Angeles Angels Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

ST. PETERSBURG — On Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles, Rays reliever Sergio Romo made his fourth start in nine days, the first pitcher to do so since Claude Osteen did it in July 1975. Romo won’t come close to facing as many batters as Osteen did (41), but it’s an impressive accomplishment in modern baseball nonetheless.

Romo had some bad luck in his start, when two hits managed to find holes, and the team whiffed on two double play opportunities. An E8 didn’t help things either, giving the Orioles an early 3-0 lead, and Romo was pulled from the game after 13 of an inning.

Critics of the opener will surely love this outcome, and point to it as a failing in the Rays unorthodox use of their bullpen. But it was really just an unlucky start. Even standard pitchers have them, and Romo didn’t look fatigued or otherwise to be struggling. Just basic bad luck, not a hole in the logic of the Rays plan.

The concept of the “opener,” and the Rays unconventional use of their bullpen has been generating a lot of chatter from baseball players and critics alike. Some find it an intriguing experiment, while others have suggested it’s unethical and that the Rays have an “ulterior motive.” We covered the ethics of the opener in another post, but at the end of the day, when you ask the relievers themselves how they feel about it, the answer comes down to one thing: winning.

When asked if he would be willing to play the opener role of the opportunity presented itself, lefty reliever Jonny Venters said, “I’m here to do whatever they want me to do.” He didn’t balk at the idea of being used in a non-traditional relief role, and he knows the opener concept hasn’t appealed to everyone and has created a little negative buzz, but he doesn’t see it as a bad thing. “We’re here to win a baseball game, and that’s our best chance to win it.”

Venters gives the Rays an interesting option in their pocket should they square off against a left-heavy batting lineup. The veteran has been incredible against lefties this season with hitters managing only .083/.083/.333 against, and when you look at his numbers at away parks, his splits are even more impressive: .091/.091/.364 against lefties, vs .214/.313/.214 against righties.

On paper, Venters makes a lot of sense, especially against clubs like the White Sox, who have struggled to hit against lefties this season. Unfortunately the teams with the most trouble against lefties are National League clubs like the Mets and Cardinals. Moreover, very few teams feature lefty-heavy lead-off trios, meaning Venters’ potential as an opener is limited to a very unique set of circumstances. And with Nathan Eovaldi returning to the team’s rotation this week, the experiments may become few and far between.

Venters and Romo are also making their way to Cooperstown for their accomplishments this season. Venters sent the Baseball Hall of Fame his cap from the appearance he made on April 25 when he became only the second pitcher in major league history to return after three Tommy John surgeries (the other was Jason Isringhausen). Romo sent the scorecard from his May 19 start in Los Angeles against the Angels.