added 04/13/2017 by Greg Thurston
With back-to-back winning seasons in the books and a number of exciting new additions to the roster, the 2017 Astros entered the season with high expectations. One of the reasons for such optimism; a solid bullpen that includes a healthy mix of hard-throwing youngsters and wily veterans with late inning experience.
Last season Houston relievers combined for the best FIP (3.32) and xFIP (3.37) in the American League while walking fewer batters per nine innings (2.50) than any other A.L. 'pen and trailing only the Yankees in strikeouts per nine (10.08).
All of the major players from the 2016 'pen have returned with the exception of Scott Feldman, who was traded at the 2016 deadline, and Pat Neshek, who was dealt during the offseason. Strikeout artists Jandel Gustave and James Hoyt, both of whom made their big league debuts last year, appear to be ready and qualified to cover the innings made available by the departure of the two veterans. Gustave broke camp with the big club while Hoyt joined righty Dayan Diaz and lefty Reymin Guduan waiting in the wings at AAA Fresno.
Ken Giles opened the season as Houston's closer but his two most recent outings have been, well, let's just say... rough. And, Luke Gregerson, who Hinch pegged for eighth inning duty after the right-hander saved three games for Team USA in this year's World Baseball Classic, had one of the worst outings of his career last weekend against the Royals. Thankfully, Gregerson bounced back with a couple of scoreless outings in Seattle and seems to be back on his game.
While things haven't gone exactly as planned in the early going, manager A.J. Hinch still has plenty of options when it comes to high-leverage relief innings. Giles struggled mightily last April as well and was removed from the closer role before eventually winning it back late in the season. In the meantime, Gregerson and Will Harris filled in admirably. As a result, the trio made history when all three relievers registered double-digit saves.
Harris, who established a franchise record last year with 26 consecutive scoreless outings en route to an All-Star Game appearance, is off to another good start. In his first four outings Will has held his opponents scoreless over 4-2/3 innings, keeping the score tied in two games and earning a pair of holds in the other two.
Last year's rookie sensation and Astros Pitcher of the Year, Chris Devenski, has picked up right where he left off. Devo has made two almost identically impressive appearances, tossing four shutout innings and striking out seven batters both times out.
Houston's most surprising bullpen performer thus far has been Brad Peacock. Entering Spring Training with no minor league options available, Peacock was in serious danger of being waived or released. But the 29-year old righty had a solid spring and took the place of the injured Collin McHugh on the Opening Day roster. Brad has made the most of the opportunity, tossing 5-2/3 scoreless innings and picking up a pair of wins in his first four appearances. Peacock also warmed up in the ninth inning of Thursday night's game and was ready to come into a save situation if Giles was unable to finish off the Mariners.
A.J. Hinch has a battalion of strong arms to call upon in a stacked Houston bullpen. Will he go the route of traditional thinking by naming a closer and sticking with him for an extended period of time? Or will he buck the system and play the hot hand on a one day at a time basis? Stay tuned to find out.