The Pittsburgh Pirates have begun the 2022 MLB season with various ups and downs.
The Bucs have lost four in a row after starting the year 8-8, being swept at home by Milwaukee and dropping the first of a three-game series against the San Diego Padres. 2022 is looking like another building-block season for an organization eager to turn a corner and find new ways to win.
Teams have experimented with the opener to begin games throughout the past few seasons and maybe a logical solution to the Pirates’ early-inning struggles.
The Pirates are allowing exactly one run in the first inning following the team’s first 20 games, second-worst in baseball behind the Texas Rangers (1.10).
Derek Shelton’s staff is dead last in opponent runs scored in the second inning by a wide margin. The Bucs clock in at 1.20 runs allowed in the second frame of games. Washington is next closest at 0.91 runs.
Pittsburgh is averaging 1.85 scored runs in the first four innings of games compared to 3.55 total runs per game.
Shelton tinkered with the rotation once in the early going, starting reliever Dillon Peters on Wednesday in a 3-1 loss. Peters only allowed one baserunner, walking Omar Narvaez to begin the third, before being pulled in favor of the original expected starter Bryse Wilson.
Wilson proceeded to pitch four scoreless innings of one-hit ball and struck out four Brewers. The Pirates did end up losing the game after Wil Crowe allowed two runs, the first blemish on his ERA, but were in prime position to defeat the Brewers for the first time in five attempts (now 0-6).
The opener is not a plausible option when deploying Jose Quintana or Mitch Keller, but Wilson or Zach Thompson could benefit from entering an inning or two following the first pitch. Quintana has been a starter for most of his 11-year career and Keller has shown flashes of improvement but needs to sustain his positive performances.
Derek Shelton has shown his hand when deciding whether to pitch his starters a third time through the opposing order, even pulling Quintana Thursday after five innings on 78 pitches in a 1-0 game.
Peters, Crowe, and Yajure are all options to examine using to begin games, especially Yajure and Crowe with starting experience for the Bucs.
Starting a reliever who faces most of the order for one to two innings could allow the “starter” to pitch deeper into games. And while the opener is only an option to use in certain scenarios, the Pirates should think long and hard about deploying it until the current funk is over.