Ever since haulting a 5 game losing streak and hitting an all time low for the season with a 14 games below .500 mark, the Astros have won two consecutive series, and the turn around of the bullpen deserves more than its share of credit. Here we will take a look at what has changed over the course of a successful week for the ‘Stros:
Go ahead and mark the date May 18th, 2011 on your calender. Why? Fernando Abad was sent to the minors after a dreadful 2011 campaign that will likely keep him off of the roster for the rest of the season. After posting an ERA above 7 and collecting losses quicker than the 2003 Tigers, Abad will now be more in a more effective role to the ball club by being in Oklahoma City. Sergio Escalona has been tabbed as the new lefty reliever and has yet to allow a run in 3 2/3 IP since May 15.
But with Abad not pitching, what relievers have been stepping up the mound and performing at a higher level? Frankly, all of them. In the past 6 games, Astro relievers have combined to pitch 17 innings and have only surrendered 1 run. That, my friends, is an ERA of .529 which is almost a tenth of what the team ERA was just a week ago. The men of mystery and intrigue are Wilton Lopez, Mark Melancon, Jeff Fulchino, Sergio Escalona, and Enerio Del Rosario with Jose Valdez appearing once and giving up the lone run. that means that the previously mentioned 5 guys pitched 16 innings of no run baseball, and I think I can leave the ERA up to you.
Specifically, the bullpen gained confidence with the return of Wilton Lopez. Since returning to the team from injury on May 4th, Ol’ Wilty boasts a .69 ERA, and has been giving the Astros more than what they bargained for after his impressive 2010 campaign. Though he has walked 7 batters in those 13 May appearances, which is more than he walked all last year, his WHIP is barely above 1, and is becoming the work horse that this team needs.
One of the other two consistent arms for the Astros this year has been Jeff Fulchino. Though he gave up runs in only two games this month, those runs led to his only loses on the season. Other than that, Jeff has been more than what most expected since he took on a bulk of the work load with Wilton being injured early on in the season. Fulchino has seen more rest this month with only 9 appearances, but he was on pace to have the most appearances in the MLB with how his April went. Jeff can now ease back into the 7th inning role that he had grown accustom to in the previous seasons which will serve the team well.
Mark Melancon, being the other reliable arm, carries an ERA below 3 since being moved the the closer role, but like Fulchino, his appearance in which he allowed a run led to a blown save. Other than that, he has been money. Mills has needed to alter his role due to the amount of tie games the Astros have seen in the late innings, and Mills calls on Mark to enter games in the eighth inning or later when there is a tie. Bravo. The role of closer is to shut down games for a team when the win is on the line, and in the case of the Astros, ties are just as important. By coming into games earlier than the ninth, Mark has “saved” games even when that is not shown in the stat column. I am not the biggest Mills supporter, but well done. Wins have been salvaged by playing the strike out king that is Melancon earlier than what conventional wisdom would suggest.
From an over all stand point, the Astros now have 5 relievers currently on roster with ERAs below 4 in Del Rosario, Fulchino, Lopez, Melancon, and Escalona. The latter three of the previously mentioned support ERAs below 3. I wrote at the beginning of the season that this bullpen would be key to our success, and it is now looking to come to fruition with 3 of the past 4 wins coming in one run games.
Folks, we have a decent team on our hands, and with the bullpen playing at this current rate, .500 for the rest of the season is beyond possible. These Astros have experienced some of the worst luck I have seen in recent memory, and a shut down bullpen could be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Have faith. We are in store for an interesting summer if Mark, Wilty, and Fulchino come to play every day.