A long time ago, Sergio Romo used to be an ace reliever with the Giants. A long, long time ago, Sergio Romo used to start games from time to time. Now that he’s made his way to the forward-thinking, penny-pinching Tampa Bay Rays, they’ve turned him into some slider-throwing hybrid of the two by declaring him their “opener” in their series with the Angels.
Baseball Prospectus’ Bryan Grosnick coined the term “opener” as a bookend to the end-of-the-game “closer” and it’s basically a riff on the Bullpen Game approach we’ve seen employed by these very Rays and some other teams from time to time. The opener idea is a bit more direct — one inning from a quality reliever to basically help the team “settle in” and have a chance to get through a first inning without much damage.
The top of the Angels’ lineup features Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, and Justin Upton. That trio has a combined 260 plate appearances against the Rays and a .969 OPS coming into tonight’s game (Mike Trout has 11 career home runs against them to boot). Upton is 1-for-17 in his career against Romo and Cozart 0-for-4. Mike Trout is Mike Trout. The Rays’ experiment was to see if Sergio Romo could work through this part of the order to essentially prevent the Angels from jumping out to a lead and the game getting out of hand.
There’s a section on this site called Closer Strikes Out the Side, and Sergio Romo has two volumes in it. We might dust it off for when Mark Melancon returns and has 10 straight immaculate inning saves, but in the meantime, check out those old highlights of Romo and his slider and then look at what he did tonight:
I am very entertained that the "Sergio Romo will be the opener" thing started out like this pic.twitter.com/mqx4Twu70D— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) May 20, 2018
You can see the video highlight here:
It was kinda weird, even though, really, it’s not weird at all. Sergio Romo came into a game and got three outs. He started pitching around 6:15-6:20pm, or 9:15-9:20pm on the East Coast where he now plays and that would’ve timed out as being around when he’d come in to relieve middle-to-late in the game anyway. Grosnick’s point wasn’t that baseball should be played differently, but that absent more talented options, teams should be more willing to experiment with the talent they have on hand.
Sergio Romo came in and shut down the top of the Angels’ batting order in the bottom of the first inning. In the top of the second inning, an Angels error led to a long inning that led to a Rays grand slam to put them ahead 4-0. Romo did his job and he rewarded the Rays for their experimentation. According to the broadcast, he might open tomorrow’s game, too.