Last season, the bullpen was far from a strength for the Houston Astros. This was especially true early in the season. To call the bullpen a revolving door in April and May would have been an understatement.
This off-season Jeff Luhnow made improving the bullpen a priority, and we can already see the fruits of his labor. The Astros announced five roster moves this morning, three of which speak to the relative strength of the bullpen compared to last season.
For a time last season, Jose Cisnero was the best Astros’ reliever other than Jose Veras. Cisnero was promoted to the Astros in April and had a 1.17 ERA in 7.2 innings as he provided some much needed relief. He came back down to earth a little in May recording a 4.11 ERA in 15.1 innings which was followed by a June where Cisnero had a 0.77 ERA in 11.2 innings.
Cisnero then struggled in July and August and that was the last we saw of him in Houston for 2013. He finished his rookie season with a respectable 4.12 ERA in 43.2 innings while recording a 1.63 WHIP and striking out 41 batters in 43.2 innings. Between his struggles and the subsequent promotions of Houston’s young relievers, Cisnero was moved down on the bullpen depth chart.
The off-season additions of Chad Qualls, Matt Albers, Jesse Crain (who is currently injured), Anthony Bass, and Peter Moylan moved Cisnero down a few more spots. That is why it should not be surprising, but is also a good sign, that Cisnero was one of the five players who was sent to AAA.
Joining Cisnero was Chia-Jen Lo, Rudy Owens, Collin McHugh, and catcher Tyler Heineman. It would not shock me to see any of the four pitchers in Houston at some point this season, but their demotions should not have come as a surprise.
Owens is still working his way back from injury problems that sabotaged his 2013 and needs to get more innings under his belt. McHugh is a solid depth pitcher, but the Astros just don’t have room for him.
Lo, on the other hand, is a pitcher who at one point figured to be in the conversation for closer and for whom there is not enough space in the current bullpen. The 27-year old had two saves in September and another two this Spring Training, but he is better served getting consistent work in AAA.