You may recall that, earlier this season, much was made of the Rays’ decision to begin some games with a reliever — not a starter — on the mound. Back in May, when we wrote about it, Sergio Romo started two of three games against the Orioles and Ryne Stanek started the other.
Though the strategy hasn’t gained widespread acceptance yet, the Rays have had a bit of success with it, entering Wednesday’s action with a 57-56 record. They’re 9.5 games out of the second AL Wild Card slot, but it’s a gap that can feasibly be made up.
The Twins have noticed and are experimenting with the “opener” strategy at Double-A and Triple-A, MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger reports. Manager Paul Molitor said, “This thing has a chance to pick up legs across the game. You can’t argue with Tampa’s success. That’s for sure.” Molitor also said he has talked with the Twins’ front office about using the “opener” strategy in the big leagues this year. He said, “It wouldn’t surprise me if we did it.” In response to a question from a reader, Bollinger suggested the Twins could try the strategy with Trevor May in September.
Hunter Pence was thought to be on his way to retirement after a lackluster 2018 season with the Giants. As he entered his mid-30’s, Pence spent a considerable amount of time on the injured list, playing in 389 out of 648 possible regular season games with the Giants from 2015-18.
Pence, however, kept his career going, inking a minor league deal with the Rangers in February. He performed very well in spring training, earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Pence hasn’t stopped hitting.
Entering Monday night’s game against the Mariners, Pence was batting .299/.358/.619 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 109 plate appearances, mostly as a DH. Statcast agrees that Pence has been mashing the ball. He has an average exit velocity of 93.3 MPH this season, which would obliterate his marks in each of the previous four seasons since Statcast became a thing. His career average exit velocity is 89.8 MPH. He has “barreled” the ball 10.4 percent of the time, well above his 6.2 percent average.
What Pence did to a baseball in the seventh inning of Monday’s game, then, shouldn’t come as a surprise.
That’s No. 9 on the year for Pence. Statcast measured it at 449 feet and 108.3 MPH off the bat. Not only is Pence not retired, he may be a lucrative trade chip for the Rangers leading up to the trade deadline at the end of July.