Houston Astros: The Long Relief Battle Reopened

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Apr 24, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Scott Feldman (46) gets a visit from pitching coach Brent Strom (56) during the third inning against the Boston Red Sox at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 24, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Scott Feldman (46) gets a visit from pitching coach Brent Strom (56) during the third inning against the Boston Red Sox at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Houston Astros Have a Decision To Make Following This Series on The Rotation

To use the old cliché, Houston, we have a problem. However, Mike Fiers made it a good problem to have. After seven innings of 1 run ball on three hits in his start last night against the Cleveland Indians, Fiers proved to the Houston Astros that his spot in the starting rotation is secured. With Lance McCullers set to return this weekend against the Boston Red Sox, that leaves six pitchers fighting for five spots. So who is left on the chopping block?

Most likely that’s 25-year-old right-hander Chris Devenski who has impressed the Astros ever since his call-up in early April. With the starting rotation set without Devenski, a battle for the long relief spot has likely been opened back up and it looks like Devenski will control his destiny on whether the spot is his or not.

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Before being promoted to the starting rotation on April 30th, Devenski was proving himself in the long relief role. In 13.2 innings of bullpen work, he struck out 12 while giving up ten hits and only one earned run.

With a 0.66 ERA going into his first start against the Oakland A’s, Devenski continued to impress after replacing Scott Feldman at the back-end of the starting rotation. In his first two starts, he has given up 11 hits in 11 innings, but has only given up three earned runs and struck out 10.

With Devenski pitching so well for the major league club, the veteran Feldman should be worried about losing not only his long relief role but also his roster spot. However, Feldman has made it tough on the front office with his performance out of the bullpen. Through his three appearances, he has pitched six innings of no-hit ball, recorded a win, struck out six batters, and has lowered his ERA to a respectable 3.51.

This is a big decision to make for Jeff Luhnow, AJ Hinch, and the rest of the Astros organization. With the unlikelihood that the active roster would carry two right-handed long relievers, the Astros have to decide what kind of pitcher they want in those situations. The veteran Feldman has found success in the bullpen because of the use of his sinker and cutter. Throwing these two pitches a combined 71.3% of the time, Feldman has gotten batters to ground out 48.8% of the time this season.

The rookie Devenski evenly distributes how batters get out against him. However, with a high velocity in his fastball, Devenski generates more strikeouts of opposing batters than Feldman, averaging 8.03 strikeouts per nine innings this season.

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They might look into those numbers when deciding who gets the spot. However, I think it more has to do with what kind of guy you want out of the bullpen if a starting pitcher is struggling. I think the answer will be decided in Devenski’s start against the Indians tonight. If he impresses again this evening, I think it’s a no brainer who keeps the roster spot.

***Stats from Fangraphs and MLB.com***

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