San Francisco Giants: The opener didn’t work, but it’s still the right idea
By Marc Delucchi
Nick Vincent barely made it out of the first inning and the San Francisco Giants were down before they ever stepped to the plate. That doesn’t mean they should scrap the opener idea.
The San Francisco Giants tried something new and it failed.
Since Farhan Zaidi became the team president last offseason, the fan base knew experiments were coming. After being outscored 42-5 in the first inning of their first 40 games, Bruce Bochy announced one such experiment before Tuesday’s game.
Middle reliever Nick Vincent would serve as the team’s “opener” and young starter Tyler Beede would follow.
It made sense to try. The Giants have one of the best bullpens in baseball and their starting pitching has struggled recently, especially in the first inning. Grant Brisbee of The Athletic chronicled the many reasons it may not feel like a great idea, but even he admitted it was time to try.
Then it happened. Nick Vincent stepped onto the mound, and after inducing an Eric Sogard fly out, he ran the count to 2-2 on the biggest prospect in recent memory, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
I realized then that he hadn’t homered yet. That he had begun his career in an extremely large slump. The Giants fan in me knew this series was set up for his coming out.
Two pitches later Guerrero had his first big-league home run and the Giants were down in the first inning once again. Vincent labored through the rest of the inning and give up two more runs before it was over.
Yesterday, the opener failed, which was exactly what it could not do.
Beede followed and labored through a couple of innings of his own, but the resurgent Pablo Sandoval hit a two-run home run to keep the Giants within striking distance. Bochy decided to go with the big guns in the sixth inning to keep it close. Reyes Moronta wasn’t his usual dominant self, though, and Guerrero sent another ball over 400 feet. The Giants were down 7-2 and that was that.
The final score ended up being 7-3, and once again the Giants fared better in innings 2-8 (-1 run differential) than in the first (-3). The opener was supposed to stop that. It didn’t. But, it’s still the best solution. It’s not going to work every time, but the Giants have to trust it.
Let’s be clear. The opener should not be used every day and probably never more than twice a week. However, the Giants have a deep bullpen that doesn’t get utilized enough when it matters if the starters struggle.
Vincent, Trevor Gott, Tony Watson, and even Mark Melancon have been effective in the middle of the bullpen. If one of those guys hasn’t pitched for a couple of days and a favorable matchup comes along, manager Bruce Bochy should give it another shot.
The way Gott worked out of Beede’s jam in the fifth inning makes you wonder if he should get the next crack at opening. Vincent still isn’t a bad option either. Even after his bad outing on Tuesday, his ERA still stands at 3.24 and he has posted 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings.
The opener isn’t your best reliever. They will have good days and bad days. The first time the San Francisco Giants tried it was a bad day.
The bullpen is still the team’s strength, the starting rotation still lacks elite talent, and at the very least, it gives us something to argue about.