After a week’s worth of games under the lights, Bo Porter is learning how difficult it can be to manage a big league bullpen. The makeup of the Astros ‘pen makes Porter’s job even more challenging. The lack of proven veterans or a shutdown closer on the roster means the Astros skipper is faced with some extremely tough decisions.
At this point, Porter seems to still be going through a feeling out process to determine which hurlers fit into specific roles. Coming out of Spring Training Alex White was set to fill the role of long reliever. But White went down with a serious elbow injury and his season was over before it ever got started.
Edgar Gonzalez replaced White on the roster and it was assumed that he would take over as the long man. But Gonzalez was waived before he ever got into a game. The Astros acquired Travis Blackleyto fill the role, making Gonzalez the odd man out.
Well, as luck would have it, Blackley came up with a strained shoulder while throwing his first bullpen session. The left-hander landed on the 15-day disabled list, becoming the Astros third straight long reliever to be removed from the active roster before appearing in a single game. Not only did the Astros give up minor league outfielder Jake Goebbert for what some would consider to be “damaged goods” but Gonzalez, the only healthy long reliever on the squad was lost to the waiver wire.
Lefty Dallas Keuchel was then summoned from AAA Oklahoma City and asked to step through the revolving door of Astros long relievers. Fortunately, Keuchel was able to pitch three innings against Oakland on Saturday without blowing out a rotator cuff or taking a comebacker off the noggin.
So Porter has been dealt a pretty lousy hand when it comes to long relievers. As a result, he has been forced to put some of his bullpen pitchers into unfamiliar and perhaps uncomfortable situations. Both Wesley Wright and Xavier Cedeno, who have previously been used as left-handed specialists, have been asked to pitch multiple innings. The results have not been good.
Closer by default Jose Veras has also hit some bumps in the road. Veras, who has yet to be presented with a save opportunity, has allowed one run in each of his two one-inning appearances. The most effective relief appearance and the Astros only save came from a starting pitcher. Erik Bedard got the final ten outs on Opening Day to earn the first save of his 10-year big league career.
Hector Ambriz and Rhiner Cruz have also struggled out of the ‘pen. Rule 5 pick Josh Fields has actually been the most effective of the Astros relievers. Fields has made two appearances, successfully retiring the only batter he faced on each occasion. Porter has done a good job of easing Fields into the action. Now, if he could only figure out what to do with the rest of the bullpen. Nobody said it would be easy.