Giants discussing using 'openers' to start certain games in 2019

Giants discussing using 'openers' to start certain games in 2019

LAS VEGAS -- When Farhan Zaidi interviewed with Larry Baer for the first time, he blew the Giants CEO away with his curiosity and commitment to try anything he feels might be a solution for a struggling franchise. In meetings this week, Zaidi has similarly impressed long-standing team employees with his approach to problem solving. 

The Giants' new president of baseball operations does have some limits, though.

"We're not going to have a masked reliever come in and do a big reveal," he said Tuesday night, laughing, at the MLB Winter Meetings. 

No, but he very likely will have a reliever come in and throw the first pitch of a game. 

Zaidi revealed Tuesday that he has talked to his staff about using an "opener" next season, mimicking a strategy that has found some success in Tampa Bay and Oakland and is spreading throughout the game.

The opener is a simple concept, essentially acting as the opposite of a closer. The Giants would use a reliever at the start of the game for an inning or two, giving their pitchers platoon advantages and making it harder for an opposing manager to plan for the Giants' main pitcher -- who theoretically would come in for five or six relief innings -- of the day. 

The opener was popularized by a former Giant. Rays manager Kevin Cash started using Sergio Romo to face opposing lineups that had right-handers due up in the first inning, and the team eventually fully embraced the strategy. The A's did, too, and Zaidi's Dodgers used lefty reliever Scott Alexander as an opener.

It only continues to spread. A few hours before Zaidi spoke with reporters, the Pittsburgh Pirates told beat writers they're open to the idea. The Milwaukee Brewers even used it in the postseason. 

"Once you get away from 'this guy is going to throw the first six innings of the game,' it opens up a lot of stuff," Zaidi said. "Even with an opener, is an opener a one-inning guy, a two-inning guy, a three-inning guy? Again, I think the more versatile your pitching staff is and the more kind of multi-inning guys you have, the more kinds of ways you can get through (games)."

[RELATED: Giants reportedly 'less likely' to trade Bumgarner this offseason]

Zaidi did not go into specifics, partly because he doesn't know the full makeup of his future pitching staff. He hopes to add a couple of starters and bolster the bullpen, but it's the current group that got Zaidi thinking about creative options.

The Giants have a mix of pitchers who have dealt with injuries and young pitchers still trying to find their footing. There's a middle ground for Zaidi, and that involves looking at all options. He said the Giants have to take "a little bit of an all hands on deck mentality," and said a general theme now is that everything is on the table. 

That could mean a lot more than openers. Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez, two standout starterss last season, could begin the year in the bullpen or even Triple-A to make sure they're strong throughout their second season. The Giants could piggyback starters, using two different ones for three or four innings at a time.

They could even create a method we haven't seen before. 

"We're going to have to explore different forms of pitching staff construction," Zaidi said. "I think we're going to have to develop a plan for the pitching staff that fits the personnel that we have. If we don't have five guys that we can expect 34 starts and 200 innings from -- and very few teams have that -- then thinking about some of these alternatives is a way to get through 27 outs every day. I think it's going to be a topic of discussion for us."

If the Giants implement that plan, Zaidi will rely on manager Bruce Bochy to make it all work during games. During the season, Bochy repeatedly said that he didn't think the strategy would catch on in the National League. He never seemed to be a fan of openers. Now, he might be told he'll be starting Ray Black or Tony Watson or another reliever.

"From a front-office perspective and a manager perspective, everybody wants the seven-inning starter, but at the end of the day, I think everybody would take a win using less conventional methods [rather] than lose trying to overly extend a starter that isn't equipped or best fit to make that 110-plus pitch outing," Zaidi said. "The conversations have been kind of very open. Again, it's going to depend on what the personnel is and what the pitching side looks like once the offseason is done.

"With the strength of the bullpen, we're thinking more about using openers on certain days with the fact that we've got really strong relief options from both the left and the right side."

Zaidi said the conversation will continue and the Giants are a "long way away from putting something like this into action." He will continue to talk it through with Bochy and pitching coach Curt Young.

But it's clear that there's a big change underway in the way the Giants as an organization view the game, and that could be seen from the first pitch of select games next season.

The Giants won't do this on a Madison Bumgarner day or Johnny Cueto day, and maybe not even with Rodriguez, Suarez or Jeff Samardzija. But over the course of a season, they will join a revolution sweeping through the game. 

"We'd be doing ourselves a disservice if we don't think about different ways of deploying these guys," Zaidi said.

Giants' Sean Hjelle, Trey McNutt among unique spring training names

Giants' Sean Hjelle, Trey McNutt among unique spring training names

Many times during MLB spring training you’ll see a young player with a ridiculously inflated number on the back of his jersey trying to leave an impression on his big league squad.

But what’s his name?

Sometimes, fans miss out on some of the most spectacularly unique names ever contrived. But don’t worry though, we have you covered.

After doing some due diligence, here are a list of some of the most electric names in the game that have yet to make it to The Show (not every team included).

Atlanta Braves

RHP Connor Johnstone - Connor Johnstone is your typical create-a-player name in any video game and I’m here for it.

RHP Ben Rowen (Been Rowin’) - Sneaky names are sometimes the best, and you could say this name without realizing you’ve been telling people you’ve been really into rowing recently.

Arizona Diamondbacks

RHP J.B. Bukauskas - Jacob Allen Bukauskas already sounds like a big league name, but when you shorten it to two letters … forget it. Just a big league name.

RHP Damien Magnifico - With a last name like Magnifico, you already sound like a world-class magician. If I were a betting man, I would say he can make the ball disappear and leave batters wondering where it went.

INF Seth Beer - Beer and baseball: A match made in heaven. I would imagine this top prospect with a plus bat will be part of many ad campaigns in the near future.

Baltimore Orioles

LHP Zach Lowther  (Low + Thrower = Lowther) - This prospect is named exactly where you want your pitchers to live in the zone.

Boston Red Sox

INF Jeter Downs - OK, this guy is pretty well-known ever since the Mookie Betts trade, but it still stands out that there’s a shortstop named Jeter with the Red Sox.

Chicago Cubs

LHP Wyatt Short - This 5-foot-8 guy can be a cult hero in Wrigleyville by striking out the larger competition. His name fits his stature perfectly AND THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. “Height doesn’t measure heart," as Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman said.

LHP CD Pelham - I can’t really put my finger on it, but there’s just something about unique abbreviated names and Pelham can bring CDs back to the midwest.

Chicago White Sox

OF Cheslor Cuthbert - Cheslor Cuthbert is just a name I wouldn’t forget. It’s a solid name that almost sounds made up on the spot as an alias at a bar.

C/INF/DH Yermin Mercedes - This name sounds like it has 40 long-balls in it. Yermin Mercedes not only has a car deal waiting for him, but you also can tell this guy struts to the box without watching a single at bat.

Cincinnati Reds

INF Jonathan India - Baseball better watch out for Indiana Jones’ 3rd removed cousin Jonathan India. He’s here to take the diamond.

OF Shogo Akiyama - Shogo is just a sweet name already. Then you throw Akiyama on it, and you have yourself a memorable big league name.

Cleveland Indians

RHP Dalbert Siri - Hey Siri, how many strikeouts with Dalbert have this season?

C Kungkuan Giljegiljaw - If Giljegiiljaw doesn’t have the nickname “Jaws,” I won’t be upset, but I’ll be disappointed. This is the most unique name in the bunch.

Houston Astros

RHP Dean Deatz - Not sure if he’s a pitcher or runs a college and tries to kick the top fraternities off campus.

RHP Andre Scrubb - Scrubb could be seen as a negative, but what if this relief pitcher takes the mound to scrub and clean up messes?

Los Angeles Angels

INF Arismendy Alcantara - Again, one of these names that you can’t forget because the swagger is just dripping off of it. Arismendy Alcantara simply is just a big league name.

Los Angeles Dodgers

OF Zach Reks - Zach Reks fastballs, so don’t throw him one.

Kansas City Royals

RHP Brady Singer - Country music star or Royals’ pitching prospect? You decide.

Miami Marlins

RHP Aaron Northcraft - Another create-a-character name that could be randomly generated in "MLB The Show," but let’s be honest, you’ll stick with the name because it's a simple thing of beauty.

INF Gosuke Katoh - This is one of rare names that if a person says Gosuke, you already know who you’re talking about. Just like LeBron. Just a great name.

OF JJ Bleday - I mean, JJ and his last name rhymes too.

OF Victor Victor Mesa - You thought only one Victor was enough? Wrong.

Milwaukee Brewers

RHP Bubba Derby - Just a general fan of the name Bubba & Derby as a pitcher’s last name is excellent, but when combined... magic happens.

New York Mets

RHP Adonis Uceta - Fun Fact: Only three other players in big league history have the name Adonis, and Uceta would be the fourth. Boom. Analytics.

OF Johneshwy Fargas - Too many Johns and Johnnys in baseball, but how many Johneshwys do you know?

OF Tim Tebow - Just sounds like more of a football name to me.

New York Yankees

C Wynston Sawyer - Anyone with a name like Wynston just sounds like a professor.

RHP James Marvel - Jimmie Marvel. Get him in the Marvel universe ASAP.

Oakland A’s

RHP Wandisson Charles - Wandisson is just an elite first name, so give a tip of the cap to his parents.

San Francisco Giants

RHP Trey McNutt - This name roughly translates to “Three McNutt” and three nuts is better than two, unless you are allergic. Can’t help you there.

RHP Sean Hjelle (pronounced "Jelly") - He's not flying below the radar with his 6-foot-11 frame, but there are endless possibilities for Giants fans to use Jelly as a play on words for their top pitching prospect.

[RELATED: How Hjelle impressed Zaidi in spring debut]

Seattle Mariners

RHP Ljay Newsome - It sounds like Ljay knew something.

RHP Penn Murfee - His first name is William, but it’s a power move to go by your original middle name instead. Any pitcher with Penn as his name has to be a valuable asset out of the bullpen (even though he’s a starter, but you get what I’m saying).

St. Louis Cardinals

C Pedro Pages - Can’t write a name like this ... wait.

Tampa Bay Rays

RHP Phoenix Sanders - Sanders would be the first player ever named "Phoenix" to play in the big leagues if he were to make it to The Show. Wouldn’t be a bad PR decision by the Diamondbacks to trade for this guy, too.

Texas Rangers

INF Sherten Apostel - Just want to know how his parents came up with Sherten. Is he named after the famous Tibetan singer I just googled and found out about? Possibly.

Toronto Blue Jays

RHP Ty Tice - Short. Simple. Clean. Both first and last name have Ts and have a “Ty” sound.

OF Forrest Wall - An outfielder named Forrest Wall? I mean, c’mon. This is a layup.

Giants Mailbag: Which veteran players have best chance at resurgence?

Giants Mailbag: Which veteran players have best chance at resurgence?

It was just a spring game, but there was no wiping the smile off Gabe Kapler’s face last Sunday. Kapler watched his Giants play good, clean baseball and pitch well, and he stood on the second step of the dugout after nine innings and took part in his first handshake line in orange and black. 

How many of those are to come during the season? We’ll see. The Giants are optimistic and have had an encouraging camp so far, but they also know there’s a ton of work left to do.

Before they start their second week of spring games, let’s run through some questions from my Instagram followers ... 

Between Posey, Belt and Craw, who has the best chance at a resurgence? — @jzandhatt

Of those three, Brandon Belt really does seem to be the most rejuvenated by this new staff, and he’s the one that I think they believe they can get the most out of. He is their ideal hitter in a lot of ways, working counts and putting up high OBP numbers even in down years.

Plus, Belt is fully healthy. I’m not sure fans realized last year just how much that knee was bothering him, but he’s moving well now.

Do you think there are any trades in the works? Longo, Belt, pitching? — @coach_omar67

You know, it has been remarkably quiet from Farhan Zaidi lately. This is a time of year when teams generally settle in and figure out their rosters, although the Giants will probably be busy in about three weeks. Zaidi took advantage of the waiver wire in the days before the opener last season.

Some of that was because the Giants didn’t have a very deep 40-man roster, but they’re still certainly in a position to tinker. Between waiver claims and the fact that there are are so many non-roster invitees with a shot to make the team, this is not a comfortable time for the guys on the fringe of the 40-man. 

I know there’s been some speculation since the Yankees lost Luis Severino to Tommy John, but I don’t see the Giants matching up with anyone until closer to the trade deadline. Someone like Jeff Samardzija will have to prove last year is repeatable, and Johnny Cueto needs to show he’s back to being his old self. 

Will Joey Bart be the starting catcher at some point this season? — @mr_30twenty9 

A lot of fans seem awfully quick to turn the page from Buster Posey, no? Look, I get it. Bart is impressive, from his powerful BP sessions to his advanced defense to the mature way he carries himself. The excitement is warranted, and I’ve said many times that I think he’s going to force his way up to the big leagues this summer.

But ... Posey is still an elite defensive catcher and should be able to recapture some offensive production now that’s he’s further removed from hip surgery. His swing is a lot more fluid than it was a year ago. I don’t think the power is coming back — I’ve always thought that’s more about catching for a decade than the hip — but there’s no reason he can’t hit .300 with a high OBP and a bit more pop.

We’re a year away from having a serious conversation about the starting catcher job. 

Is Yaz really going to play center? If so, how much? — @johan_kia

You shouldn’t take too much away from spring training, but I’m a firm believer in watching where guys line up when the starters are doing drills and Mike Yastrzemski has spent a lot of time working in center with Steven Duggar and Billy Hamilton. We’ll see how efficient he is out there, but he’s comfortable and has nearly 2,000 minor league innings in center, so the Giants are confident. 

The ceiling for the outfield gets a lot higher if you can stick Yaz in center and platoon in the corners, so the Giants are right to try it. It’s not a long-term solution, but it makes sense for April and the Giants can always carry a better defender on their bench for the late innings.

Speaking of such a player ... 

How likely is Billy Hamilton to make the team? Seems more like a luxury, not a need. — @russkent22

Last year, Yangervis Solarte and Gerardo Parra joined the roster late and there was never any doubt they were on the team. Hamilton isn’t quite as locked in, but team officials sure do like to talk about what he can bring during the regular season. I think he has a really good shot, especially with a 26-man roster.

If the Giants go with Hunter Pence and Alex Dickerson in left and plan to play Yastrzemski in center a lot, they’re going to need an elite glove coming off their bench so they can shore up the defense late in games. This is also a coaching staff that put a pinboard up in the clubhouse to honor the best baserunner from each game and Kapler has talked a lot of how important running the bases will be.

There are a lot of reasons for Billy Hamilton to be optimistic. 

Do Jerry Blevins and Nick Vincent make the team? — @jaiden_marble

Sometimes I think we overthink these things. Vincent, like Parra and Solarte, signed late last year and didn’t have to pitch much to make the Opening Day roster. I think he’s in a pretty good spot, especially after he put up a 1.93 ERA and 10.9 strikeouts-per-nine for Kapler’s Phillies late last year. The Giants believe his issues with them early last year were health-related. 

Blevins is interesting because the three-batter-minimum should hurt him, but Kapler has talked of how teams will still have lefties stacked up. There’s really not a whole lot ahead of him on the roster in terms of lefty relievers, particularly with Tony Watson possibly closing.

I think Blevins and Vincent both make the team.

What is the best case scenario for the Giants this year? — @weinbergjoshua

I suppose you could hope they’re hanging in the Wild Card race through August, but as we saw last year, that can kind of be a nightmare when you’re trying to sell veterans for prospects. Plus, there’s just not much talent compared to the other teams atop the NL West.

Maybe no one in the building will say it out loud but it’s true. The Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Padres just have much better rosters. 

So, here’s the best case scenario. A couple of guys like Jaylin Davis and Mauricio Dubon duplicate what Yastrzemski did last year and become building blocks. A strong future pitching staff starts to form behind guys like Tyler Beede and Logan Webb, and some guys settle in and become dominant cost-effective bullpen pieces. Joey Bart arrives. Heliot Ramos takes a leap and Hunter Bishop and Sean Hjelle show they’re nearly ready. Marco Luciano becomes a top-15 prospect in the game and the farm system vaults into the top 10. 

Oh, and Kapler shows that he was the right choice. So much was made of the Dodgers incident when Kapler was hired that the Giants kind of skated for hiring a guy who was fired a month earlier. He will be under the microscope when it comes to decision-making. 

All of that, to me, is the best case scenario.

[RELATED: Kapler deems "misunderstanding" with Crawford as "bulls--t"]

Have your thoughts about what this team can accomplish (wins) this year changed? — @atp_andrewp

I am more optimistic about the future than I was a month ago. The coaching staff is really smart and inventive, and I think they’re the right group to get the most out of players. Kapler has won over a lot of players thus far and bench coach Kai Correa has really brought a fresh approach to the organization, along with the others. Go watch the YouTube video of him working with Austin Slater and Kean Wong.

Having said all that, there are major holes on the roster and major question marks about a lot of the key players. Maybe they’ll gut out a few more wins than we thought, but this roster is not ready for much more than what’s projected. 

What restaurants do you recommend in Scottsdale? — @omg_arianah

We’re doing another set of Alex Eats videos so spring training is a nice time to keep it healthier. I love Chop Shop and also Farm and Craft. The Mission, Culinary Dropout and Carlsbad Tavern are three of my favorites for dinner, and The Montauk is sneaky-good. Go there for happy hour. 

Also there’s a Shake Shack in the mall. That’s really my most important recommendation.