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BASEBALL

Storm Chasers experiment with MLB trend, use Josh Staumont, Kyle Zimmer in 'opener' role

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Storm Chasers experiment with MLB trend, use Josh Staumont, Kyle Zimmer in 'opener' role (top)

Josh Staumont, seen above, and Kyle Zimmer are seemingly the perfect candidates to be used as openers, possessing two of the best arms in the Royals’ system.

Tampa Bay found success last season by incorporating openers, instead of traditional starting pitchers, at certain spots in its rotation. Then other major league teams began to try it out.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota, Oakland and Texas used openers during the final month of the 2018 season. Milwaukee even used reliever Wade Miley in that capacity in Game 5 of the NLCS.

Kansas City is now experimenting with the trend. The Royals have had former top prospects Josh Staumont and Kyle Zimmer serve as openers for the Omaha Storm Chasers of late.

Staumont, who has been serving as a reliever, made his fourth “start” for Omaha this season Sunday at Oklahoma City. Zimmer has toed the rubber to begin a game three times for the Chasers.

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“As I understand it, the principle is you take the top of the lineup out and then you can get (your starter) three times through the lineup, possibly,” Omaha manager Brian Poldberg said. “It’s something new. The Royals want to try that. We will see how it goes here, and then possibly do it at the major league level.”

With major league starters not getting through the opponent’s lineup three times, on average, teams are using an opener to manage the top of the order the first time. Then the regular starter or a long reliever enters to pitch the next few innings, thus getting deeper into the game.

Josh Staumont

Josh Staumont, a second-round pick in 2015, can hit 100 on the radar.

Poldberg said, ideally, Staumont or Zimmer would get the Chasers through the first two innings.

“If the first inning goes good, they’re going to go two,” he said. “It all depends on how the first inning goes. We would like for them to go two, if it all goes well.

“You’d like it to be two innings in 35 or less pitches. In the first one, if you go over 20, it’s going to be hard to send you back out for the second, too.”

Zimmer and Staumont are seemingly the perfect candidates to be used in such a role, possessing two of the best arms in the Royals’ system. Zimmer, the oft-injured No. 5 pick in the 2012 MLB draft, made the big league club out of spring training. Staumont, a second-round pick in 2015, can hit 100 on the radar.

Both were projected as starters earlier in their careers but have had trouble harnessing their elite stuff. They settled into relief roles because of that and will continue to work out of the bullpen while also serving as openers. In Oklahoma City on Sunday, Zimmer finished Staumont’s second inning.

Kyle Zimmer

Kyle Zimmer, the oft-injured No. 5 pick in the 2012 MLB draft, made the big league club out of spring training.

“They’ve both got the stuff to do that. I think it fits them perfect,” Poldberg said. “They both can pitch out of the bullpen later (in the week), too. They’ve both been back-of-the-game bullpen guys for us.”

Essentially, Omaha’s PCL opponents have been seeing a pitcher they would normally face in the seventh or eighth inning in the first two innings of games in which Staumont or Zimmer open.

Poldberg was initially called by the Royals about experimenting with the opener while the Chasers were in Nashville in late April.

Staumont opened against the Sounds on May 1. Zimmer got his first taste of the role a short time after. Omaha has used them without interrupting starts by Scott Blewett, Foster Griffin and Heath Fillmyer.

“We’re going to just see how it works,” Poldberg said. “They’ll be the guys we’re going to do that with. We’ll see where we’re at in another two or three weeks, see what we think and what the Royals think.”

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