Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Earl Weaver and the opener

The Twins are to deploy Gabriel Moya as the opener again today -- he had that duty on Monday as well -- with Stephen Gonsalves apparently slated for the primary pitcher role.

This new-school tactic clearly does not sit well with at least two prominent Twin Cities media voices, Bert Blyleven and Patrick Reusse. Their disdain for the opener strikes me as a feature, not a bug.

And it also seems to me misplaced, given that their stated concern is for the future of what we know as starting pitching. I think this approach fits well with the development of true starters.

Gonsalves has put up ugly numbers in his first five major league appearances -- 9.39 ERA in four starts and one "primary" outing with 17 walks in 15.1 innings.

His big league struggles come after a stellar season in Triple A, where he made Baseball America's Triple A full-season all-star team. The lefty has the ability to get major league hitters out; he just hasn't done it yet.

Using Gonsalves -- and, for that matter, Kohl Stewart -- as primaries rather than as true starters calls to mind one of Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver's principles: The place for a rookie pitcher is long relief.

Weaver seldom -- if ever -- put a call-up straight into the Baltimore rotation. They had to earn their chance to start with some success in longer relief outings. But true long relief outings are passe today; two innings of work out of the bullpen is generally seen as a long stint. That's not what Weaver was doing with Mike Flanagan in 1976 or Dennis Martinez and Scott McGregor in 1977.

The opener, in a sense, formalizes Weaver's approach. Stewart and Gonsalves are getting their innings and their opportunity to learn how their stuff plays at this higher level. They're just not facing the first batter of the game.


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