Bullpen games are not a new concept, but the Tampa Bay Rays are taking it to a different degree by starting Sergio Romo.
Under previous manager Joe Maddon, the Tampa Bay Rays were at the forefront of the now prevalent movement on infield shifts. As a low-budget team, finding an edge wherever possible is practically an ingrained part of how that franchise does business.
Occasionally, as starting options are taxed, teams have a “bullpen game.” That is to break up the game into shorter stints among multiple pitchers, due to someone coming back from an injury or someone’s simple inexperience pitching to major league hitters. But the Rays are taking that on a unique tangent this weekend.
Now in his 11th major league season, Sergio Romo has made 588 relief appearances with 84 career saves. He has been a solid bullpen arm for most of that time, with a 2.76 career ERA, leaving aside this year’s results aside (4.96 ERA over 18 appearances). But with the righty-heavy lineup the Los Angeles Angels are set to deploy on Saturday, Romo will make his first career start.
According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Romo will start on Saturday with the idea of playing matchups early in the game. Shohei Otani is set to start on the mound Sunday, so he’s unlikely to bring lefty balance to Mike Scioscia’s lineup on Saturday. Fellow left-handed hitting regualars Luis Valbuena and Kole Calhoun are not going well right now, so they’ll probably be toward the bottom of the lineup.
The other piece of the plan is to have left-hander Ryan Yarbrough relieve Romo, either to start the second inning or to face the first left-handed hitter who comes up, then account for a big chunk of innings. Yarbrough has been one of the pitchers manager Kevin Cash has shuffled into the back end of the rotation thus far, with starts in each of his last two outings where he went precisely five innings.
The plan just might work, with Romo holding right-handed hitters to a .231 average so far this season. Yarbrough has ceded his worst opponent’s batting average (.292) and OPS (.917) thus far the second time through an opponent’s lineup. So if he can get the bottom of the Angels’ lineup right off the bat, he may be able to go a bit longer in the game.
Now that this plan to start Romo, and ideally have him face all right-handed batters, is out there publicly, there’s an easy counter measure if Scioscia is willing to do it. So let’s see if Calhoun, as an example, is hitting second on Saturday as an attempt to “get him going” at the plate.