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Are the Rays moving away from the Opener?

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Yonny Chirinos makes his fourth consecutive start this afternoon.

Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay Rays
Yonny Chirinos 
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

A starting pitcher records a “quality start” when he pitches at least six innings and allows three earned runs or fewer. It’s more of a novelty stat, like wins and losses. It seeks to give narrative to a pitcher’s performance more than evaluate it. And given the Rays quick hook and penchant for the Opener, you would think they’re near the bottom of rankings for that statistic.

Indeed, the Angels — the other team actively employing the Opener this season — ranks 30th in baseball in quality starts with 12 on the season. Tampa Bay is 15th with 27 QS in 66 games played. Across the division, Boston is next at 16th with 27 in 68 games, and New York is 23rd with only 21; Toronto and Baltimore have less than 20.

This is curious because the Rays ostensibly has only two dedicated “starters” available in Blake Snell and Charlie Morton, with Tyler Glasnow still on the injured list. So, why do the Rays have so many quality starts?

Are the Rays moving away from the Opener?

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no need to get an inside scoop into why the Rays seem to be moving away from the Opener for a bit. Right now it’s all about managing the 47 games in 48 days while being able to use Ryne Stanek two times through the rotation. The rest of the bullpen is strategically too costly to dedicate earlier in games, particularly with closer Jose Alvarado missing multiple weeks of play due to family leave.

Perhaps part of it is suiting player strengths. Other pieces of the bullpen are less accustomed to opening than Ryne Stanek, while Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chirinos seem to be thriving in the once-every-five-day cycle now that their innings have been built up.

Sophomore seasons mean an ability to go longer in games, and the Rays seem thrilled to be able to protect their bullpen’s innings overall. Two of Yarbrough’s three starts were “quality” but it’s hard to forget his other start, where Kevin Cash let him wear seven runs in 7.0 innings, a sight Rays fans are unaccustomed to seeing, particularly with a bullpen previously built around long-men.

But in between those three starts was also sandwiched a bullpen appearance, 3.2 innings throwing behind an Opener, despite the five-day cycle, and that against lowly Toronto.

Meanwhile, Yonny Chirinos was pitching behind an Opener for most of May, but now makes his fourth consecutive start this afternoon, including his third consecutive competitive opponent — MIN, BOS, and now OAK, all playoff capable teams.

Furthermore, one would think that if the Rays were REALLY dedicated to the Opener, they could use the Durham shuttle to get some more Opener options up to the team, but it seems like they’re fine without it... for now.

For the Rays, the lack of Opens is a function of the current group of guys and the current slog of a schedule. There’s no reason to think it’s anything more at this point, as there’s nothing in the team’s statements or behavior to suggest the Opener is going away.

Case-in-point: Jalen Beeks

Tampa Bay Rays v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Jalen Beeks continues to be on a fairly consistent schedule of pitching every five-to-seven days, and has yet to not follow another pitcher into the game. Last night he gobbled up four innings for the Rays following an Open by Ryne Stanek, and has averaged more than four innings across his last ten appearances, with a 2.38 ERA and 3.07 FIP dating back to April 18th. His overall ERA of 2.55 is the 10th lowest in baseball (min. 50 innings).

The team’s approach seems to be maximizing Beek’s value, and we can expect that to continue so long as he continues to succeed.

If anything, it will be interesting to see how the team’s behavior changes once Tyler Glasnow returns from injury, as well as Jose De Leon (who continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery in Triple-A) and Anthony Banda (who begins a similar rehabilitation assignment on June 23rd). Will all three of those pitchers be treated as traditional starters, or will their workloads and times-through-the-order exposure be managed with kid gloves?

In the meantime, expect the Rays to continue to use their longest men as starters until that blessed off-day finally arrives on June 24th.

Unrelated, the Rays conclude this crazy stretch of games flying from St. Petersburg to New York on June 16th and then to Oakland three days later on June 19th. The off-day is a travel day to Minnesota before the team flies back to Florida on June 27th without an off-day until the All-Star Break. Brutal.

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Rays Quality Starts

  • Blake Snell - 8
  • Charlie Morton - 8
  • Tyler Glasnow - 5
  • Yonny Chirinos - 4
  • Ryan Yarbrough - 2

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JT Morgan and Jim Turvey also contributed to this article.