Last night, in starting Liam Hendriks, the Oakland A’s went with The Opener, using a reliever to start the game with the expectation that he will pitch just one inning. Today, the Brewers have also opted to start a reliever in Brandon Woodruff. Unlike the A’s, the Brewers have no plans to start a reliever for one inning, or to start a reliever for one out like the club did last week when they used a LOOGY in Dan Jennings to pitch only to Matt Carpenter. When the Brewers opted for Jennings, I opined the ploy could be useful in the playoffs:
This situation might have some utility for the Brewers in the playoffs. If the team makes the Wild Card game and faces the Cardinals, then Matt Carpenter is likely to be at the top of the order. If they were to face the Rockies, lefty Charlie Blackmon is likely to lead off. While September’s expanded rosters allow for a greater margin of error, a one-game Wild Card matchup still permits more relievers, as teams need just one starter instead of four in later rounds. The Brewers conducted an interesting experiment somewhat necessitated by a lack of starting options, the unique circumstances of the September roster, and the Cardinals’ lineup.
The situation is less desirable in Game One of a five-game series, as carrying a one-out reliever can be difficult with the number of games and limited roster space. The Brewers opted not to even carry Jennings on the roster, instead indicating that lefty starters Wade Miley and Gio Gonzalez could be used in relief. Bud Black indicated he had no plans to move Charlie Blackmon out of the leadoff spot, and the lack of a LOOGY on the Brewers roster means he doesn’t even need to think about it.
As for the Brewers’ bullpen plans, Craig Counsell indicated on Wednesday the bullpen game he’s using today isn’t likely to mirror what we saw from A’s last night, with a train of relievers, or from the Rays this season, with a reliever followed by a starter:
Look, these aren’t going to be one-out appearances. These are going to be longer appearances. These are going to be two, three-inning appearances that we think we can get through with this.
In choosing Woodruff, Counsell doesn’t even believe he’s starting the game with a reliever.
And I think from our perspective, Woody is–he’s not a reliever. He has the ability to do more than that, if that’s what the game calls for. So that’s–one, he’s throwing the ball really well, and two, I think he has the potential to do a little more than a reliever maybe.
Counsell’s belief is supported by others. Before the season started, Eric Longenhagen said, “He’s a big-league-ready, sinker/slider fourth starter. Between the majors and minors this year, Woodruff has made 21 starts, including six at Triple-A in August. He struggled some overall, but he struck out 26 batters in 20 innings during that time. Since being recalled in September, Woodruff has been utilized as a reliever, but he’s gone multiple inning three times. More importantly, he’s been really good, with a 1.54 FIP, 16 strikeouts and just three walks while allowing only a single run in 12.1 innings. He features a high-90s four-seamer in relief in addition to his slider, and the Brewers hope that can get the club through the lineup at least once.
After Woodruff, Freddy Peralta is an interesting option. He’s started 14 games this season with a solid 3.85 FIP in those starts. In his last outing, he came on in relief of Jennings after that LOOGY start and went 3.2 innings, striking out three and giving up one run before the rest of the bullpen came to the rescue. Miley might be another consideration before the team can turn things over to Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, Joakim Soria, and Jeremy Jeffress.
The Brewers aren’t going with an Opener, and they aren’t going to pitch eight relievers over nine innings. What’s happening today is your more traditional bullpen game. It might not be common in the playoffs, but supplementing a couple long men in Woodruff and Peralta probably gives them a better chance to get outs than going with a starter on short rest like Gonzalez or a struggling Miley.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.