The Texas Rangers used an opener for the third time this season and for the third time it worked.
Jesse Chavez pitched to the first six batters before “starter” Adrian Sampson took over with two out and one on in the second. Sampson struck out Dylan Moore to end the second and retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced. Sampson allowed one run on four hits over 5 1/3 innings. He struck out five an earned the win as the Rangers swept the Mariners with a 2-1 win Wednesday afternoon at Globe Life Park.
“It’s not always going to work out, they’re not always going to go scoreless, but I feel like it’s the best opportunity for some of our [starting pitchers] to just navigate through a game,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “Sampson did a good job, he passed it into the 8th inning with a one-run lead.”
Woodward explained before using the opener for the first time on May 11 in Houston that the main advantage is keeping the top half of the opponent’s lineup from seeing the starter three times.
Hunter Pence reached on a two-out error in the first and scored on Nomar Mazara’s double to right field. In the sixth, Pence his 10th homer to make it 2-0. The Mariners’ lone run came in the seventh but Sampson induced a 4-3 double play to end the inning.
It’s the second time Chavez has worked a scoreless “opener” outing. He pitched a perfect first in Houston last week in front of Drew Smyly, who eventually took the loss after allowing four runs over 4 2/3 innings. Chavez has allowed one hit in 2 2/3 opener innings. He’s still not sure he likes the direction of the league.
“Deep down it bothers me. But i know I’m not built up to do what Sampson does,” he said. “So therefore it’s my job to hand it off to him in the best situation I can. An ideal situation would have been nobody is on. That’s what I pride myself on, not putting guys in a situation where they have to be pressed.”
This was the eighth time the Rangers have used an opening pitcher, including five times last September.
You can’t argue with the results, at least from the openers perspective. In a combined 11 2/3 innings for the five pitchers, they’ve allowed no runs on four hits, three walks and 13 strikeouts.
Sampson isn’t sure about the use of an opener, either, but he’s not complaining.
“I don’t know, but I like the results so if we’ve got to keep doing it, we’ll keep doing it,” said Sampson, who improved to 2-3 with the win. “If not, then I’ll just continue going out there with the same mentality. As long as we get wins, everyone’s happy.”
As a hitter, Pence understands the reasoning behind using an opener.
“There’s a lot of logic to it. I think it has its strengths with certain [pitchers],” he said. “I can imagine as a hitter at the top of the order facing the bullpen guy your first at bat and then seeing the starter in the later innings for your second at bat for the first time, it can be a little strange. I definitely believe there’s a lot of merit to it. You’re seeing it play out.”
But does the opener translate to wins? So far the Rangers are 5-3 using an opener, including 2-1 in 2019. Here’s a look at how the team has done the eight times they’ve used an opener: