Many were skeptical when the Astros tabbed Jose Veras as their closer this spring — including myself. After getting off to a rough start in April, I was one of those who questioned the move of handing the keys to the ninth inning to a 32-year old journeyman with only five career saves and an ERA of four.
But Veras has responded to the challenge. Since May 7th, in seven appearances, Veras has converted all six of his save opportunities and trimmed his 5.25 ERA down to 3.32. During that time, not only has he kept his opponents off the scoreboard, he has held them completely hitless. Veras has used the perfect mix of fastballs, splitters, and a nasty curve to keep hitters guessing and making weak contact.
I know its a small sample size but, right now, Veras is the hottest closer in the game. During that same time frame (since May 7) the only other A.L. relievers to record six saves are Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan. Neither of them can match Jose’s 0.43 WHIP. (he has allowed 3 walks and 2 HBP) Conversely, last year’s most prolific relievers have struggled. Baltimore’s Jim Johnson and Tampa Bay’s Fernando Rodney have combined to blow five saves, allowing eleven and five runs respectively in the same time period.
The closer’s position is definitely one of the most volatile and unpredictable in the sport. Mainstays like Rivera are becoming less and less common as teams are now quick to pull the plug on a struggling closer. Is Veras the long term answer for the Astros? Probably not. But the way he is pitching right now has caught the attention of many. As long as he stays on a roll, Bo Porter has one less thing to worry about.
I didn’t think Veras had much of a chance to find success at the back of the Astros bullpen. But I’ve changed my tune. The rest of the bullpen is still a work in progress. But, right now, as far as Veras goes, I’m a believer in this reliever.