Chad Qualls (David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)

Who Will Close?

 

Jose Veras was the closer last season by default. He was the only veteran reliever signed prior to the season, and that was enough to give him the job. Granted he was signed to fill that role, and performed well in it prior to being traded, but there were honestly no other options.

Veras did save 19 games prior to being dealt to the Detroit Tigers, but for a team that won just 51 games on the season, opportunities were scarce. To call the job after Veras was traded a revolving  door would be an understatement to say the least.

Save chances were at a minimum, and no one appeared to truly want or deserve the job.

Josh Fields had an up and down rookie campaign and recorded five saves to go along with his 4.97 ERA. Of all the returning Astros, he would appear to be the one having the best chance at the closer’s job. So far this spring, Fields has appeared in four games, finishing three of them, allowing four hits, one run, no walks, and striking out two.

This off-season brought an infusion of bullpen candidates to Houston; Chad Qualls, Jesse Crain, and Matt Albers. Jeff Luhnow also added a hard throwing right-hander from San Diego, Anthony Bass.

As for closer candidates, Qualls is the one who stands out. He has closing experience, saving 24 games in 2009, and 12 the following year. So far this spring, he has appeared in four games allowing three runs on five hits. The sample size is extremely small, and for a veteran like Qualls, you cannot hold it against him.

Albers’ value is likely confined to the seventh and eighth innings mostly due to his propensity for forcing ground balls. Popular opinion is that Crain was signed to be the closer, but it is likely he will miss the first month of the season. With the season starting in two weeks, Bo Porter needs someone to step up now.

At this point, he is still searching for that candidate(s).

“Let’s just say, I would hope that within the next two weeks from a staff standpoint we feel confident in one of those guys to make that decision,” Porter said. “If we left Spring Training today, I feel like it would be a closer-by-committee situation, and as the course of the season goes along, the player will tell you who should man that position.”

Bass is an interesting option here. When he was acquired, I assumed it was as a back of the rotation option or as a long man in the bullpen. Last season with the Padres, Bass pitched in 24 games (42 innings) and had a 5.36 ERA with 31 strikeouts. So far this spring the hard throwing right-hander has appeared in four games, logging six innings allowing three runs and striking out eight.

Ultimately, I think Qualls gets the first crack at the start of the season. The intention here, is to have one guy to take the job and run with it. There may not be many save opportunities, but at least there are options to hopefully make sure they are preserved.

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