Red Sox

Chaim Bloom's Rays pioneered the opener — could it be a regular sight for Red Sox in 2020?

Chaim Bloom's Rays pioneered the opener — could it be a regular sight for Red Sox in 2020?

Baseball purists shudder at the mere mention of the "The Opener," the concept of using a reliever for an inning or two before handing the ball off to the rest of the bullpen. It was pioneered by the Tampa Bay Rays during the tenure of new Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, and to great success.

Of the 14 pitchers to make a start for the Rays last year, 11 of them also pitched in relief. All-Star Charlie Morton, defending Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, and breakout candidate Tyler Glasnow were the only Rays used exclusively as starters.

The results have produced some statistical oddities. Former Red Sox farmhand Jalen Beeks pitched over 100 innings despite making only three starts last year, right-hander Ryan Yarbrough has more wins (27) than starts (20) over the last two seasons, and right-hander Ryan Stanek accounted for only two decisions despite making 27 starts in 2019. But there's no arguing the bottom line, with Tampa cracking 90 wins in each of the last two seasons.

With Bloom taking over in Boston, a natural question is if we should expect to see more openers. He's not going there, yet, though he may not have a choice.

"We said it with the Rays, and I and a number of other people are on record about that," he said. "It was always about just trying to figure out how you could take the strengths of the players on your roster and go win as many baseball games as you could. Nothing more, nothing less. In this game now, the more this game evolves, teams are being open to a larger menu of options of how to do that. But there's not necessarily any one right way. It's really just about going into it with a mindset of using everyone's strengths whichever way is going to give you the best chance to win."

The Red Sox belatedly joined the opener bandwagon last season out of necessity. By September, injuries had shelved David Price and Chris Sale and limited Nathan Eovaldi. The only healthy starters on the roster were Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello, necessitating September starts from the likes of Jhoulys Chacin, Travis Lakins, and Bobby Poyner.

In a perfect world, Sale, Price, and Eovaldi will each make 30-plus starts in 2020, but that's a big ask, given the various injuries they battled in 2019. Which means we might be looking another season of openers as the Red Sox piece together a rotation.

The concept has merit, especially if your staff is deep enough to pull it off, which Boston's decidedly was not last year. Let a reliever trained to deliver 1-2-3 innings handle the top of the order before yielding to a more traditional starter or long reliever for multiple frames. This increases the likelihood that if the pitcher after the opener turns over the lineup a dreaded third time, he'll be seeing the bottom of the order and not the top.

The approach turned the game on its head — Tampa's Sergio Romo memorably followed 588 straight relief appearances with starts on consecutive days in 2018 — but it also maximized Tampa's chances to win, especially when Snell and Glasnow landed on the IL last season.

The Red Sox could find themselves with more openers in 2020 if the rotation can't stay healthy.

"I don't know yet," Bloom said. "This is something as we talk and work together, we're going to figure out the best way to think about things. Certainly, when we played our last homestand with the Rays, we played the Red Sox and there were a lot of bullpen games and a lot of pitchers being used on both sides. There were a lot of different ways that this team had been doing it. I don't necessarily think it would be anything new to think about that. But it's really just going to come out of our collective discussions."

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Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers admits he still experiences anxiety before games

Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers admits he still experiences anxiety before games

Boston Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers doesn't always have the easiest time preparing for games. 

After a breakout season in 2019 (.311, 32 homers, 115 RBI, .916 OPS), the 23-year-old has turned into one of Boston's best at the plate, but that doesn't mean he doesn't experience anxiety. 

The Boston Herald's Jason Mastrodonato sat down with Devers for an interview before the MLB postponed its season due to the coronavirus, and Devers indicated that he still feels a rush before games begin.

“The hardest thing I still go through is every game I still get this anxiousness of the game starting," Devers said, according to Mastrodonato. "It’s this happiness of being out there and being on the field and playing and getting over that anxiety. I’m just over-emotional about the opportunity and being out there playing.

“Because it’s not like a nervous thing, it’s more of an excited thing. That first inning is a big rush. But after that first inning settles, I get an at-bat and it’s like, alright, the game kind of settles. It’s just me being overly emotional about how happy I am.”

“It’s something I’ve been working on since I’ve been here. I’ve been working with previous people in the organization that led me to some of my breathing techniques that I do now. But it’s all about controlling myself. I know it. It’s still there and I’m still working on it. But I have gotten much better at it.”

Of course, you can tell that Devers can't wait to take the field -- he lights up like a kid on Christmas -- but you'd never know truly how emotional he gets. 

In three seasons with the Red Sox, Devers has hit .282 with 211 RBI, 63 home runs and a 5.8 WAR. Based on his 2019 stats, those pregame jitters must've been a little easier to deal with last season. 

Whatever's in store for the Red Sox in 2020, and whenever the baseball season begins, we should expect some big things from Devers in his fourth season.

Why was Red Sox great Bill Buckner trending on Twitter Friday night?

Why was Red Sox great Bill Buckner trending on Twitter Friday night?

R.I.P. Bill Buckner. Ten months later.

Why was the former Red Sox first baseman, who died on May 27, 2019, trending on Twitter Friday night?

It can apparently be traced to New York Times political writer Maggie Haberman on Friday afternoon tweeting a link to Buckner's obit from ESPN.com from the day he died of complications from Lewy body dementia at 69.

Haberman has 1.2 million Twitter followers and it appears some of them thought this was new news.

Former Boston Globe columnist and current MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle tweeted a Buckner tribute a few hours after Haberman's tweet. 

R.I.P Bill Bucker tweets followed well into Friday night, along with plenty informing the tweeter that Buckner had passed away months earlier. 

Haberman appeared to acknowledge her odd timing in a follow-up tweet.

No matter. As Barnicle points out, Buckner ought not to be remembered for the error that was the first line in his obit, but as a terrific hitter (2,715 hits, .289 career batting average, National League-leading .324 in 1980) in a 22-year major league career with five teams (Dodgers, Cubs, two stints with the Red Sox, Angels and Royals). 

And really, anytime is a good time to look back at that.