Injuries may force Yanks to use 'opener' in '19

TAMPA, Fla. -- The "opener," the phenomenon that swept through major league pitching staffs last season, might finally take hold in the Bronx later this spring.

With injuries already ravaging the upper echelon of his starting rotation, New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone admitted Wednesday that he might employ a version of the opener on occasion this season.

"I could see it being something we consider from time to time," Boone said. "I don't see it a lot, but yeah, I could see it coming into play on certain occasions.

"When we're healthy and right, obviously I don't see it much, but there's some days where you could see it."

Luis Severino's right shoulder injury that came just before Tuesday's spring training game against the Atlanta Braves made this pitching tactic more of a realistic option. The Yankees are shutting down their ace for two weeks due to rotator cuff inflammation. They hope he'll resume a throwing program after those two weeks, but they still aren't expecting him to be healthy in time for Opening Day.

Boone said Wednesday that veteran lefty CC Sabathia likely would be unavailable the first two weeks of the season, too. Sabathia already has a five-game suspension looming, but he also "probably" will have a short injured list stint as he continues his recovery from offseason knee surgery and an unexpected December heart procedure, Boone said. With both pitchers out, the Yankees -- barring an unexpected free agency signing -- will be short-handed until their returns.

General manager Brian Cashman echoed Boone in expressing confidence in New York's young, less experienced pitchers (Domingo German, Jonathan Loaisiga and Luis Cessa) as being able to fill the void until Severino and Sabathia return.

"We love their ability," Cashman said. "The tool sets are all there for them to be exciting, talented players."

In terms of what a Yankees bullpen game would look like, expect to see a reliever like Chad Green begin a game, getting through the first six batters or so before handing the ball to a longer reliever or one of the aforementioned young starters. That second pitcher would go through the opposing team's batting order about one and a half times before the Yankees turned to their more traditional reliever roles.

"There's so many things for us that would go into [using an opener]," Boone said. "In a long stretch of games and you wanted to give a guy an extra day. [Or] you felt like it's a little softer landing for some guys to let them start from the back end of the lineup and give them a time and a half through."

The Tampa Bay Rays made bullpenning a popular occurrence last season, with multiple other teams occasionally using it by the end of the year.

Even the Yankees, once their postseason fates had been sealed and they were trying to reset their rotation heading into October, had a bullpen game. Reliever Jonathan Holder started a Sept. 24 game against the Rays at Tropicana Field, lasting an inning before Stephen Tarpley, Sonny Gray, Green, David Robertson, Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Zack Britton pitched behind him. Gray lasted the longest, going two innings.