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Tigers vs. Rays Preview: ‘Opener’ Ryne Stanek gives Detroit first look at all bullpen strategy

The Rays’ unique pitching strategy has yielded some excellent results in 2018.

MLB: Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Rays righthander Ryne Stanek faced two batters in relief in Monday’s wild 10-9 Tampa Bay win over the Tigers. He is scheduled to start for the Rays on Tuesday. It sounds like a move straight out of the 1800s, but Stanek is just one of several Rays relievers that have been used as an “opener” in 2018.

For those that don’t know, the Rays have been employing an “opener” strategy since a road series win over the Los Angeles Angels in mid-May. Instead of letting lefthander Ryan Yarbrough face the top of the Angels’ lineup to open the game, the Rays sent Sergio Romo out to the mound to start the game. Romo struck out the side and turned things over to Yarbrough, who worked the next 6 13 frames for the win. By starting Romo, the Rays limited Yarbrough’s exposure to Los Angeles’ best hitters, including Mike Trout. In theory, it should help the team avoid the worst of a third time through the order (TTOP) penalty.

It’s more of a theory at this point. Since Romo’s first start on May 19, the Rays have a 2.79 ERA, the best in baseball. Some of this is thanks to traditional starters like should-be All-Star Blake Snell, but 10 different Rays pitchers have recorded starts in this two-month span. Stanek alone has made 10 starts, all two innings or fewer.

While the Rays might not turn things over to a “starter” after Stanek departs — it looks like this will be more of a bullpen game — it could still pose matchup problems for a Tigers lineup that has already had trouble scoring at times. Of course, these same Tigers also scored nine runs on Monday, six against Tampa’s bullpen. Which way will things go in this game?

Detroit Tigers (40-53) at Tampa Bay Rays (46-44)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Tropicana Field
SB Nation site: DRaysBay
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matthew Boyd (4-7, 4.58 ERA) vs. RHP Ryne Stanek (1-2, 2.12 ERA)

Game 94 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 92.1 20.3 9.0 4.29 1.1
Stanek 29.2 31.4 12.7 3.02 0.6

Stanek doesn’t stick around long in his “starts,” but he has excelled in the role manager Kevin Cash has laid out for him. The 26-year-old, a first round pick in 2013, has struck out over 31 percent of the batters he has faced this season. He is limiting both righties and lefties — and has significant reverse platoon splits this season — and allows almost zero power. There’s no real secret to Stanek’s success either. He throws a high-90s fastball nearly 60 percent of the time, and mixes his slider and splitter, both high-80s offerings, in against right and left-handed hitters, respectively.

Key matchup: Matthew Boyd vs. okay can we stop with the regression already

I’m not sure what to make of Matthew Boyd. His hard hit rate has been high all season, but was still getting hitters out aplenty. Through his first 13 starts, he had a 3.23 ERA and looked like a possible trade chip this summer if someone — Seattle had eyes for him — decided to put together an offer. Since then, opponents are hitting .329/.393/.592 against Boyd with 25 hits and five home runs in his last 17 innings. He has a 10.59 ERA in that stretch, and the Tigers have lost all four games.

The easy answer is that regression caught up to Boyd. However, hard hit rates have been up across baseball without a requisite jump in actual production.

Meanwhile, Boyd’s Statcast numbers actually suggested that he was limiting hard contact, instead generating more lazy fly balls than the FanGraphs/Baseball Info Solution numbers (which have always been a little iffy at Comerica Park) would suggest.

Prediction

The Rays turn things around and shut down Detroit’s lineup.

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