Houston Astros: The New and Improved Chad Qualls
By Eric Huysman
In a time where the Houston Astros struggled on the road, one man stood tall against all odds. That one man is Astros reliever Chad Qualls, who has regained his form following a stint on the disabled list. On June 26, Qualls was in the midst of one of his roughest patches in the big leagues. A few days earlier, he cost the Astros a win in the 13th inning against division rivals Angels. Two days later he was put in the DL with a pinched nerve in his neck.
Was Qualls pitching with this injury the whole time? If so, this would explain how Qualls went from being good in the bullpen to someone who couldn’t get hitters out consistently. Players pitch through minor pain all the time, so when Qualls allowed his neck time to heal, he regained the ability to sink the baseball again with a proper pitching motion.
In April/March, Qualls had decent results with 3.24 ERA in 8.1 innings spanning ten games. However, the Astros began to rely more on Qualls for a longer period, which yielded poor results on a 4.91 ERA in 11 innings in 11 games. Then in June, everything hit the fan for Qualls with an 8.44 ERA in 5 1/3 innings over eight games, which led to him being placed on the DL. The longer into the season he pitched the worse he pitched. I’m sure that’s when the red flags started going up for management looking at what was wrong with Qualls.
Since his return, Qualls has pitched lights out with a 0.90 ERA in ten innings spanning 11 games. He once again has regained the confidence of A.J. Hinch and the Astros to be allowed to pitch in critical situations again. The return of Qualls has also hidden some of the recent struggles by other relievers such as Will Harris and Luke Gregerson. Qualls is the leader of the bullpen, despite not being the closer on the Astros team. During his absence, it was a different bullpen that lacked the swagger it did earlier in the season.
Yes, the Astros probably could have improved the team with a flame-throwing closer at the trade deadline. However, the re-emergence of Qualls and the acquisition of Oliver Perez has improved a bullpen that can be really good down the stretch. Most fans were down on Qualls through May and June, but it is time to give him a second look. The fist pumping Qualls is back, but let’s leave the somersaults in Miami.
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