Opener strategy has helped LA Angels Felix Pena shine
By David Rice
When the LA Angels traded for Felix Pena at the of the 2017 season he was a struggling reliever with tremendous stuff who was trying to put it together.
The LA Angels and general manager Billy Eppler saw something special in Felix Pena. The career reliever was prepped to become a starting pitcher even though the Angels already had seven starters going into Spring Training in 2018.
However, as has been the case in recent years the Angels had three starters J.C. Ramirez, Garrett Richards, and Matt Shoemaker going down in the season’s first month. So Felix Pena was pressed into service as a starter in mid-June.
Pena made 17 starts in 2018 going 3-5 with a 4.00 ERA in 90 innings of work and a 1.24 WHIP. Pena had eight quality starts in 17 total starts. Not bad for a first go-around as a starter. Pena had a 3 to 1 strikeouts to walks ratio (85 K’s to 28 BB’s) .
Flash-forward to 2019. Pena’s first four starts were less-than-stellar going 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. Pena only went five innings in one of those four starts. So the Angels decided to employ the new wave of baseball strategies, employing an opener, which is a reliever who pitches in the first inning in hopes of jump-starting the starting pitcher by allowing him to avoid the top of an opponents’ line-up to help him go deeper in the game.
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Pena’s first outing with an opener was against the New York Yankees and the results were very good. Pena pitched five strong innings giving up only one earned run striking out eight and walking no one in a no-decision.
Pena’s next start was against the Toronto Blue Jays. Despite not making it five innings Pena got the victory going 4.1 innings with three runs and 5 K’s.
His third outing was Pena’s best of the season pitching seven innings after the opener giving up no runs on three hits with seven strikeouts and again no walks.
In total Pena is 3-0 32.3 innings of work giving up 11 earned runs with 37 strikeouts and only six walks. Pena’s ERA in that span is 3.06 and his WHIP is a miniscule 0.89 in six appearances following an opener.
It is safe to say that the opener strategy has helped Felix Pena be more effective and more importantly win games. Will the Angels keep using an opener for Pena is anyone’s guess. For now with Felix Pena and opener along with Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, and Griffin Canning, the Angels have the makings of a solid rotation.
Who will fill out the fifth spot in the rotation could be a number of pitchers? Matt Harvey when healthy, Trevor Cahill if he can stop giving up the long ball, or possibly J.C. Ramirez, who is close to coming back to the Angels making his first rehab start Thursday night in Single-A Inland Empire.
The bottom line is if the Angels get more consistent starting pitching coupled with improved hitting and we could be talking wild-card before you know it.
It could happen ..