An Experiment with the Opener?
If the Indians were ever going to try their hands at the opener movement, they probably would have done so by now. With Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger enduring lengthy stints on the shelf, never was there a better time to get creative with the pitching staff than in the last few weeks. The fact that they haven’t done so yet does not mean it’s too late.
Since Kluber’s fateful exit in the fifth inning of a May 1 contest with Miami, Cleveland’s starting pitchers have an ERA of 4.92, which ranks 20th in MLB. Indians starters have also allowed a staggering 31 home runs in this time frame, second-highest in the league. For a team that routinely struggles to score runs, giving them up in bunches in the early stages of any game is a surefire path to a losing record.
Interestingly enough, the Indians’ bullpen ERA over this same span is 2.96–tied for second-best in baseball. Even if we eliminate the Kluber-less sample size and include the entire season, the Indians still have the second-best bullpen ERA in the league at 3.15. The reason nobody seems to notice or care about this is simple: the Indians rarely put their relievers in a position to hold leads late in games.
So why not give the opener a try? Until Clevinger returns, the Indians are relying heavily on Shane Bieber, Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco. You obviously aren’t starting any of their outings with a reliever, but Jefry Rodriguez could benefit from it. Rodriguez has a 1.13 ERA his first time through opposing batting orders, with a .161/.226/.268 slash line against to boot. His second time through the order, his ERA is 9.49; his slash line, .375/.429/.589.
Imagine relievers with high strikeout or ground ball rates like A.J. Cole, Nick Wittgren, or even Tyler Clippard taking their respective cracks at the first few innings every couple of days, then turning the mound over to Rodriguez to cruise through the middle of the game. It’s worth a try with Rodriguez, and as impressive as Zach Plesac was in his MLB debut, it’s almost certainly something the Indians should consider on days when they need a fifth starter.