Rays' starting reliever experiment falls flat in loss to Orioles

Rays' starting reliever experiment falls flat in loss to Orioles

The Tampa Bay Rays’ much-ballyhooed experiment to use reliever Sergio Romo to open games didn’t work out well Friday, as the Orioles opened their three-game weekend series at Tropicana Field.

Romo made his third “start” for the Rays on Friday – he’s also scheduled to start Sunday – but received a quick hook after the Orioles scored the first run of the game five batters into their eventual 2-0 win over Tampa Bay.

Danny Valencia hit a two-out RBI double off Romo to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead, a hit that followed Adam Jones’ one-out single and Jonathan Schoop reaching on a strikeout that ended with a wild pitch.

Romo was pulled after just 14 pitches.

“Everyone knows him and everybody knows what he’s going to do,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He does a good job and that’s why he still here. But Danny had a big hit, I think he had a home run off him before. And Adam had a couple hits off of him.”

The Rays’ new strategy, which they use primarily against right-handed-heavy batting orders like the Orioles’, makes Romo responsible for three to six outs before handing the game off to another pitcher. Romo had been used as a seventh- and eight-inning setup man for the season’s first six weeks.

Tampa Bay is also planning to start hard-throwing right-handed reliever Ryne Stanek on Saturday. All 27 of Stanek’s previous major league appearances have come in relief.

“It’s new,” Schoop said. “It’s new seeing it. But it’s the same thing because you [are going] to see him later on in the game. But if he’s going to start the game and throw one inning, you know you’re going to face him just one time. It’s a little bit new, but tomorrow we’ve got the same thing with someone else, so we’ve got to forget about it and just go out there and compete.”

On Friday, the Rays flipped the Orioles lineup around by inserting left-hander Ryan Yarbrough, who came into the game after Valencia’s double to face left-handed-hitting first baseman Chris Davis, who grounded out to third to end the inning.

Showalter was prepared for that, and indicated before Friday’s game that he was tempted to tweak his lineup to account for it. Yarbrough pitched well in relief, limiting the Orioles to just one run — Schoop’s solo homer in the sixth — over seven innings, striking out out eight, walking none and scattering seven hits.

“We spent most of our time [in the advance meeting] on Yarbrough,” Showalter said. “Maybe we should have shortened it up and done it the other way around because Yarbrough was really good. He’s a good-looking pitcher.”

Romo had made his previous two starts last weekend when the Rays were in Anaheim, Calif., playing the Los Angeles Angels, another predominantly right-handed lineup. He tossed a perfect first inning, with three strikeouts in his first start May 19 and struck out three and walked two in a 1 1/3-inning scoreless outing the following day.

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Okay, so maybe I’m joking about Odell Beckham Jr. being the next Tim Tebow as far as shifting to a full-time baseball goes (although he had the opportunity!), but he certainly made the case he could contribute while participating in the Rays’ batting practice on Friday before their game against the Angels.

The Giants receiver stopped by Angels Stadium to have some fun and show off his skills, hitting multiple home runs while he was at the plate.

According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, he was there as a guest of Rays’ pitcher Blake Snell. So not just stopping by because he couldn’t get the cage he wanted at the local batting cages.

He also wore a Devil Rays shirt, which makes this outing feel like it’s happening in 2003. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and OBJ looks stylish in the throwback Snell jersey. Why he was a guest of Blake Snell or how the two athletes became friends remains unanswered but as far as surprise athlete friendships go it’s a pleasant development.

A twist in Rays' wild pitching experiment: Reliever Sergio Romo to get first career start

A twist in Rays' wild pitching experiment: Reliever Sergio Romo to get first career start

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In a bold and unusual move, the Tampa Bay Rays plan to start relief pitcher Sergio Romo against the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night, according to The Tampa Bay Times.

Manager Kevin Cash told the newspaper that Romo, who has 588 career relief appearances in the major leagues, will pitch the first inning or two in what will be his first big league start. He’ll then make way for rookie left-hander Ryan Yarbrough, who will pitch the bulk of the innings.

“The way that their lineup stacks generally speaking is very heavy right-handed at the top,” Cash told The Tampa Bay Times. “It allows us in theory to let Sergio to come in there and play the matchup game in the first, which is somewhat unheard of – up until Saturday anyway. … Then Yarbs can, in theory, have the availability to get deeper in the game.”

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Cash said part of his reasoning for the move is based in a desire to prevent Yarbrough from facing the top of the Angels’ order – which of late has included sluggers Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton – a dreaded third time. In recent years, managers across baseball, including Cash, have come to rely upon metrics which show that a typical starting pitcher becomes less effective each time he faces the same hitter in a game. The third trip through the order, many managers believe, can be the most risky.

Saturday’s unusual pitching strategy is an extension of the “bullpen days” the Rays have employed this season, where they designate an “opening” pitcher who, by design, only pitches a few innings, followed by a parade of relievers. In their first such game this season, in March against the Boston Red Sox, reliever Andrew Kittredge started the game and through 54 pitches before being replaced in the fourth inning by Yarbrough, who threw 73.

This time, however, it goes a step further: A man with 84 career saves, who hasn’t faced more than seven batters in a single game this season, will get the start.

Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

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