Dodgers May Consider Using ‘Opener’ in Playoffs Rather than Traditional Starter

Photo: Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports

A few hours before the first pitch of Tuesday’s game against the Rays, skipper Dave Roberts suggested to reporters that the Dodgers are toying with the idea of using an “opener” in the 2019 playoffs when the need arises for a fourth starter in the rotation.

The announcement came nearly a week after Rich Hill apparently injured his knee in a comeback bid to join the active roster. In his start against the Orioles last Thursday, the veteran lefty faced just six batters while recording two outs before Roberts was forced to replace him.

Prior to his return to the mound, Los Angeles management felt that there was enough time for Hill to build up his arm to be part of a prospective playoff rotation. However, with exactly 10 contests left in the regular season and Hill’s future uncertain, the team is now exploring other alternatives, despite Hill’s unwillingness to accept his own plight.

In Tuesday’s game, fans of the Dodgers witnessed a preview of what may happen should the club employ a bullpen type of game in the postseason. Ross Stripling was originally slated to start the contest, but Roberts opted for lefty Caleb Ferguson at the last moment, indicating that he preferred to see Strip throw out of the bullpen, a role which he’ll be embracing in the playoffs.

As it turned out, the Dodgers used a whopping eight pitchers in the 7-5 victory. Ironically, Kenta Maeda picked up the win after surrendering three earned runs, putting the game in jeopardy in the late innings and forcing Roberts to turn to Kenley Jansen for a four-out save.

Normally, the use of eight pitchers would have an adverse effect on the subsequent games, but because the team has a total of 18 pitchers on its active roster, there should not be an issue. Furthermore, the club has another scheduled day off on Thursday.

Regardless, my first thought was using Tony Gonsolin when the need came for a fourth playoff starter, and that could still be the case. The 25-year-old rookie has made eight appearances this year—six of those starts—and has posted a 3-2 record with a 2.83 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP over an even 35 innings of work.

Because of some of Gonsolin’s struggles the second and third time through the batting order, he might fit the mold of a consummate “opening” option.

On August 30 against the Diamondbacks, Gonsolin threw extremely well through five innings—he didn’t even surrender a hit until the fourth frame. In the sixth, going deeper and deeper into counts, it appeared as if he ran out of gas completely when two runs crossed the plate even before an out was recorded. He threw 92 pitches and was credited with just the five innings of work.

Similarly, in his August 24 start, Gonsolin did not allow the Yankees to get on the board until the fourth inning when Aaron Judge crushed a ball over the center field wall. Again, he was pulled after an even five innings.

The same occurred against the Braves on August 18—he was lights out until a Matt Joyce single and an Adeiny Hechavarria double plated Atlanta’s first run in the fourth inning. Gonsolin lasted just four innings in that contest.

With Gonsolin’s potential to throw a solid four frames and Stripling’s ability to pitch another effective two or three innings out of the bullpen, in theory, it could produce the same effect as a quality start. As a result, the concept of using an “opener” doesn’t seem as drastic as it sounds in some cases, especially for a club who has a strong heritage of starting pitching.

What’s more, a solid five innings out of Gonsolin may be more than enough for the Dodgers to succeed, at least in the early rounds of the postseason.

Coincidentally, 10 different pitchers made starts for the Dodgers during the 2019 season. Aside from Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Walker Buehler, Maeda and Hill’s contributions in the rotation, Stripling (14 starts), Julio Urias (eight starts), Gonsolin (six), Dustin May (four starts) and Ferguson (two) were able to pick up the remainder of the slack.

Last season, the Dodgers opted to use a fourth starter as early as Game 4 against the Braves in the NLDS. Ryu threw the opener, followed by Kersh in Game 2 and Buehler in Game 3. Hill started Game 4—the contest the Dodgers clinched their NLCS bid—and threw just 4-1/3 innings.

Gonsolin gets another chance to prove his prospective postseason value as he’s scheduled to start for the Dodgers in the final game of the series against the Rays on Wednesday. Tentatively, he’ll be opposed by Tampa lefty Brendan McKay.

First pitch is scheduled for 5:10 PM Los Angeles time.


21 thoughts on “Dodgers May Consider Using ‘Opener’ in Playoffs Rather than Traditional Starter

  1. Let’s face it, this late in the season, most of our starters will be lucky to go 7 and I think it will take them over 100 pitches to do it. I don’t want to see Kershaw or Buehler throw over 100 pitches in September or October. We know Ryu won’t. I think I’ve got the answer.

    We just adopt the Little League approach. If a player pitches 61-75 pitches in a day, three days of rest will be observed. If a player pitches 46-60 pitches in a day, two days of rest will be observed. If a player pitches 31-45 pitches in a day, one day of rest will be observed. Starters might be able to go through the lineup twice on 60 pitches. If they are throwing strikes they’d better get through it twice and complete 5 innings on 75 pitches. Hopefully our Major League pitchers are as strong as Little Leaguers.

    MLB is way behind Japan and Little League in their thinking. We can be trend setters here.

    Truth be told, I didn’t give that a lot of thought so feel free to point out the flaws.

    1. First off, little leaguer’s do not make millions. They pitch for ice cream and pizza after the game. Japan may only use their starters once every six days, but they make a lot more pitches than their MLB counterparts. That’s one of the caution lights that flash when they jump to MLB. A lot of mileage on those arms. Dodgers had those concerns about Maeda when they first signed him. I think Smith needs a couple days to just sit and watch. Let Barnes and Martin do the heavy lifting for a couple of days. Looks like Martin is the designated catcher for Ryu, much like AJ was for CK. A lot of good players on bad teams getting shut down for the year now. Trout, Yelich, Price, and more than a few others. As for Vazquez, the judge denied bail, so I do not think the charges against him are frivolous. He is in some serious hot water. Good to see Corey taking the ball the other way. Rays also used a 4 man outfield. Pete Rose would hit .900 against those guys.

      1. The shift works because players continue to hit into it. It isn’t that difficult to be successful against it but fact is singles from power hitters are frowned upon. Next man up doesn’t apply anymore. Swing for the fences is the order today.

        Oh Velazquez is in trouble alright. We wait to see how much.

        With 6 days rest pitchers can throw more pitches. And Japanese pitchers use more grip and spin than velocity. Throwing 98 mph cannot be maintained for 100 pitches without risking damage. My opinion.

  2. When I look at that Tampa Bay team I just don’t see how they might win 95 games. Cash must be some kinda manager. They have some talent but no depth and nothing compared to other teams with comparable records. It’s still an impressive organization for the money they have

    1. They do things differently than the Dodgers. They might not have elite talent, but 2 of the guys they got from the Pirates, Glasnow and Meadows have been very good. The Dodger cast off, dArnaud, has solidified their catching and also been a solid contributor. Just think where they might be if they actually had some starting pitching. They can score and they play hard.; And remember this, they play in probably the toughest division in baseball, the AL East. They are ahead of the Red Sox and for a while were right on the Yankees tail. Cash is the right manager for this team, who are basically a collection of young guys with a couple of veterans thrown in.

  3. AFL starts tonight. Dodger prospects are on the Glendale Desert Dogs. As of now, 8 Dodger players are taking part. P Gerardo Carrillo, Brett deGeus, Marshall Kasowski, Mitchell White. Infielders, Omar Estevez, Devin Mann, and Justin Yurchak. The other Dodger is outfielder Jeren Kendall.

  4. I really dislike all of the shifts. I believe there should be limits. Playing 4 outfielders makes the game seem like slo-pitch softball. Next September is going to be different with the roster being limited to 28. Then we will not have to suffer through games like tonight where they have been changing pitchers almost every inning. Slows the game down so much. Today;s game started an hour earlier than usual, but it is already after 9 and they are only in the top of the 8th. To me it makes the game very boring. Of course this game means more to Tamp than it does to the Dodgers. But still, it is not good for the game in my opinion.

    1. Using any pitcher in back to back games is risking failure in my opinion. Why would a team that relies so much on pitch to pitch odds be willing to risk failure like that? Another Blown Save for Jansen? Don’t use him back to back. Don’t use anyone back to back.

      Beating the shift was something that should have been worked on the first day you saw it employed. I’ll bet Belichick wouldn’t have waited. We may see them playing with the idea now but my guess is it will be “swing away” come post season.

      As Bear is oft to remind us, we don’t know what two teams will make it to the World Series, but I’m betting 50 push-ups the AL will have home field again. Any takers?

      1. You are probably right Scoop. Dodgers blew a chance to tie the Yanks for best record. Good news is next 9 games are against sub .500 teams who are not playing their best players right now. Giants will be out to win the season series though when they get to SF next weekend.

  5. Absolutely a painful and boring game to watch. Almost 5 hours long and very little action. Pitching changes every inning. Rally’s dying because these guys have no clue how to beat the shift and try to pull the ball past the fielders instead of hitting it the other way. The good thing is next year in September we won’t see games like this because there won’t be that many players available. I know Roberts is trying to see what he has for the playoffs, but seriously, winning games has to be just as important, and they threw this one away. I do not trust Jansen anymore because you do not know which Kenley you are getting. He blows a 2 run lead in the 9th? Walks by the relievers killed them. They issued 4 and 3 of them scored. 2 errors by fielders who are usually better than that. 13 strikeouts on both sides. Miserable game. Kudos to Joc Pederson for coming off of the bench cold and after hitting a monster shot to RF that was just foul, changing his mind set and poking a ball to left to tie the game. If the entire team took that approach, they would not have lost.

    1. Houston has 100 wins already and look like the class of the American League. All year we have been the best team in the NL, still are of course and nobody appears to be getting hot in our circuit. But the Dodgers look like a team that’s trying to figure something out. I trust that gets figured out and we go into October knowing exactly who will do what. And hopefully one of the whats will be Jansen does not pitch back to back.

      1. Houston is a well balanced team, more so than the Yankees who tend to bludgeon you to death. Yanks bullpen is a monster. But Houston has superior starters and relievers who are steady and get the job done. Losing Betances really hurts the Yanks. I know Roberts is searching to see what he has and who he can trust. But Jansen has been iffy all year. Rarely does he come out of the pen in a save situation and have a clean inning. But hope in one hand and poop in the other and see which one fills up first. They need answers and they have 9 games to find them. Personally I trust Stripling more to have a clean inning than I do Jansen.

      2. I don’t see anyone down there I trust to blow 3 hitters away. Jansen still has a decent strikeout rate and his WHIP is still pretty good, but his ERA+ is at a career low. At this point in the season he’s a 0 WAR player. $19 million for 0 wins above average. You can get average for a lot less than that. You can get average with a bullpen name pulled out of a hat.

        Barring a late collapse, Houston is going to be favored. And why wouldn’t they be? They lead baseball in average and OPS, are second in fielding and 4th in pitching.

  6. Replying to Bear’s comment above about the shifts, I’m in the opposite camp. Not only wouldn’t I forbid them, I’m fine if the defensive team wants to have 7 fielders all standing within a foot of second base. No limitations.
    Although hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things in all of sports, these guys are being paid (in most cases) millions of dollars to do just that. If they aren’t skillful enough to hit the ball where there aren’t any fielders, or won’t spend the time to learn that skill, they deserve to go back to the dugout after every at bat with a scowl on their face.
    There was certainly evidence in yesterday’s game that our guys are now trying to beat the shift. I hope that continues. Now, we need to spend more time every day practicing bunting for a base hit. When you’re given an advantage by the defense you win games by taking advantage of it.

    1. I’m surprised by the number of position players who have zero bunting skills. Seems like the pitchers run circles around them. Maybe there’s more to it, like if they’re successful, they’ll be asked to do it more often. You’d think players would want to do anything they can to win. However, successful sacrifice bunts almost never result in the higher eight-figure salaries.

      1. I think today’s baseball strategy dictates that you don’t waste a position player’s at bat on a sac bunt, but I was mainly referring to bunting for a base hit. If these guys would be adept at that skill they could actually add lots of value to their stats and increase their salaries. Maybe it’s a “macho” thing. You need to hit it over that center field wall and then flex your muscles as you round the bases. This too shall change.

    2. I get your point thereJefe, but when it starts to look like slo pitch softball, I draw a line. The only Dodger I saw beat the shift last night was Joc. Belli, Muncy and Seager all tried to hit through the shit. Seager has a better swing than the others against the shift because he goes the other way a lot. But a lot of times lately and this year he is rolling over on the ball and hitting balls right to the fielders on the right side. As for bunting, the regulars on this team are very inept at that skill.

      1. OK Bear, maybe we’re on the same side of the argument. Only difference is you’re blaming the rules and I’m blaming the players/managerial-front office strategy.

      2. Bellinger has proven many times this year that he has the ability to hit away from the shift, but perhaps lately long balls and the mvp race are bigger priorities.

Leave a Reply