For openers, Rays expect bullpenning strategy is here to stay

LAS VEGAS - The Rays redefined their pitching strategy last season, and they are getting ready to use the same philosophy in 2019.

That is, they will continue to do their bullpenning.

“We’re going to see it happen,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said during a press conference Monday at the Winter Meetings at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. “We’re going to do it.”

Why not? It worked. The Rays finished third in the American League East with 90 victories.

Most teams would panic if they lose three established starters from their rotation. But that’s not the Rays. They had Blake Snell go to the disabled list with shoulder fatigue and then had Nathan Eovaldi (Boston) and Chris Archer (Pittsburgh) move on via trades.

So what do the Rays do? They redefined baseball vocabulary. Instead of a starter, they used an “opener,” meaning a reliever pitches the first inning or two and then gives way to a second reliever.

It meant that a reliever such as Sergio Romo would start two consecutive days. In the final 84 games, they had eight different relievers make 50 starts. In addition to Romo, starts went to relievers Ryan Yarborough, Ryne Stanek, Hunter Wood, Wilmer Font, Jonny Venters, Matt Andriese, Diego Castillo and Yonny Chirinos.

Using the bullpen concept is an example of the new ideas of the new-age general managers running the teams. Cash said the strategy with the Rays was a choice. “We talked about it, we planned,” he said.

Cash also understands that if a team has a strong rotation, one through five, such as the Red Sox and Astros, a bullpen strategy might not work. But the A’s and Brewers each used the strategy in the postseason.

“Every club values its rotation differently,” Cash said.

He said he wasn’t skeptical.

“I wasn’t at all when we were discussing doing it one time through the rotation, potentially twice,” Cash said. “Then, with the injuries, when it got to be three our four times, I don’t if skeptical was the right word. It was more concerning, like how we are going to keep guys fresh.

“How are we going to manage work loads in a long series? We learned a lot through it. Ultimately, the players guy you the buy-in. We had success with it. They embraced it, enjoyed it and it’s a big credit to them.

“Going forward? I’m confident we’re definitely going to do in two and potentially three times through the rotation next season.”

MACHADO QUESTION: The Philadelphia Phillies have been thumping their chest all offseason, saying they have wads of money to spend. And they’ve been a candidate to sign shortstop Manny Machado, the former Oriole who played for the Dodgers and said during the postseason that hustling wasn’t his “cup of tea.”

So what was the first question asked to Phillies manager Gabe Kapler at his press conference Monday?

How about, “Given the fan base, could a player like Machado provoke negative reactions with his showboating?”

Kapler dodged the question, saying that the team that signs Machado will get an incredible player.

So the similar follow-up was asked, about whether the Philadelphia-Northeast fan market will react negatively to Machado.

“The Phillies fan base is a passionate and devoted one, and they demand their players play hard,” Kapler said. “They set an incredibly high bar and are disappointed when players don’t meet that bar. It probably speaks to players in general rather than one specific player. It’s a high bar and it should be a high bar.”

It’s a legit question about Phillies fans would take to Machado, especially if he happened to get off to a slow start.

MATTINGLY CONCERNED?: Four of the five teams in the National League East are loading up thinking they can win the division. One team - the Marlins - is not quite there yet.

The Marlins, who finished last in 2018, are trying to figure out a long-term plan. They are rebuilding.

But none of that bothers Mattingly. He said his team has to be realistic, but believers that the players will get better. And that there’s a chance to win a game each day.

“You can’t just sit here and say, ‘Oh, this is going to be another year like last year.’ You have to look at it like we are in the next phase, and you have to have enough belief that anything can happen,” Mattingly said.

“I don’t think much about other clubs. I just worry about us and believing that this thing is going to be a sustainable model once you get loaded up, that we are going to be able to compete with anybody because we’re going to have the players to do it.”

HALL VOTE: Harold Baines’ election in the Hall of Fame has to be good news for another designated hitter, Edgar Martinez, the Mariner who this month is on his 10th and final Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot.

Baines, who played eight of his 22 seasons for the Orioles, had 2,866 career hits and an OPS of .820 for his career. Martinez, a two-time batting champion, had 2,247 hits and a .933 OPS.

“I’m excited for Harold Baines,” Martinez said. “I think my chances are good. We will have to wait and see.”

The Baines election should also be good for shortstop Omar Vizquel, who had 2,877 hits and won 11 Gold Gloves and is considered one of the best defensive shortstops of all time.