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Giants to embrace ‘opener’ strategy under Farhan Zaidi

LAS VEGAS–As teams around baseball embraced a radical new pitching strategy in 2018, Giants manager Bruce Bochy was quick to voice his skepticism.

Would Bochy consider using a reliever, or “opener,” to start a game and record just three outs before the Giants dipped into their bullpen? The longest-tenured manager in baseball didn’t exactly buy into the idea.

Under new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, Bochy will be asked to adapt.

On the second day of Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, Zaidi said the Giants would be open to embracing alternative pitching methods including the “opener” concept to navigate the rigors of a 162-game schedule.

“We have to think a little because of the uncertainty we have from a health standpoint,” Zaidi said. “We’re going to have to explore different forms of pitching staff construction and whether that’s using openers, whether that’s having tandem days where you have two pitchers each throwing three-to-four innings and taking down the majority of the game, I think we’re going to have to develop a plan for the pitching staff that fits the personnel that we have.”

The Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s set new trends last season by piecing together pitching staffs and having players move back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen. The Rays regularly employed former Giants reliever Sergio Romo as their starting pitcher, but Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash would remove Romo after one inning of work.

Teams that incorporated openers often followed with a “bulk guy,” who would throw multiple innings as the strategy allows teams to create more favorable matchups early in games.

The A’s used the opener strategy with right-hander Liam Hendriks against the New York Yankees in the American League Wildcard game and the Milwaukee Brewers wound up enjoying success with the new approach throughout their postseason run.

Because the Giants have several young starters including Andrew Suárez and Dereck Rodríguez who may benefit from innings limits and veterans like Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija rehabbing from injury, Zaidi said he expects the franchise to work creatively to develop ways to deploy its full staff.

“If we don’t have five guys that we can expect 34 starts and 200 innings from –and very few teams have that– then thinking about some of these alternatives as a way to get through 27 outs every day I think is going to be a topic of discussion with us,” Zaidi said.

Zaidi said acquiring outfielders is a higher priority than adding to the Giants’ rotation or the bullpen at this point in the offseason and even acknowledged the possibility that San Francisco may not sign or trade for additional pitchers before next season. Though the Giants have shown interest in free agent Japanese left-hander Yusei Kikuchi and are willing to sign certain players to one-year contracts, Zaidi may not add significant depth to the current staff.

The new front office leader said he would consider it a sign of organizational strength if pitchers like Suárez or Rodríguez began the year in the minor leagues and had the luxury to build up stamina over the season.

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