Posted on August 3, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
The first week in August is not an ideal time for a major bullpen shakeup, especially for a team that’s competing for a postseason spot, but that’s exactly what the Houston Astros did on Tuesday. Houston announced Tuesday that Luke Gregerson, who began the season as the team’s closer, was being placed on the DL with an oblique strain. Meanwhile, manager A.J. Hinch said that Will Harris will be removed from the closer’s role and replaced by Ken Giles.
“As always, these roles in the ‘pen evolve over time, and the ebbs and flows of the season sometimes create change,” Hinch explained. “And I’ll have Ken Giles start to pitch the ninth inning.” Giles has not allowed a run since June 18, spanning 13.1 innings. “Ken is as confident as he’s been as an Astro,” Hinch added.
Giles had a dreadful April after the Astros acquired him in an offseason trade from the Philadelphia Phillies. But he has shaken off those early struggles and looked more like the pitcher who posted a 1.80 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 70 innings last year. “It’s a comfort thing,” Giles explained. “New team, new environment. I just had to settle in a little bit. Sometimes when you’re uncomfortable, you try to do too much, and I think that’s what happened to me.”
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Houston originally intended to make Giles the team’s closer this season, but the job was handed to Gregerson after Giles struggled in spring training. Gregerson ultimately lost the job to Harris, who made the all-star team after posting a 1.62 ERA during the first half of the season. However, since the all-star break, Harris has a 6.23 ERA and has blown three of his last five save opportunities, prompting Hinch to make a change.
“[Harris] was understandably disappointed in his performance,” Hinch said. “He’s given up runs in a single-digit number of games this year, and they’ve come in bunches. That seems to be a norm of his in his career. He’s had a little bit of trouble with that.”
Despite Harris struggling of late and being removed from his post as closer, Hinch isn’t overly concerned about him. “I think because he’s been so dominant in the first few months, all of a sudden, giving up runs in a few games in a row gives the feeling that the sky is falling and something’s wrong with him,” Hinch explained. “The reality is, it’s the execution of a couple pitches that’s gotten him burnt.”
Even with Harris no longer being the closer, the Astros will still be relying on him to be one of their key setup men, especially with Gregerson going to the DL. Gregerson has been a steady and reliable presence in Houston’s bullpen for much of the season, and they will need the same from Harris, just in a different role. Despite multiple changes in the closer’s role this season, Houston has one of the best bullpens in the American League.
The hope for Hinch and the Astros is that this bullpen shakeup doesn’t stir up any problems for them, as they try to remain in contention for a playoff spot. Houston trails the Texas Rangers by 5.5 games in the AL West and just 2.5 games out of the second wild card spot. Giles moving into the closer’s role should be what’s best for Houston at this time, but whether the struggling Harris and the rest of the bullpen can hold up without Gregerson remains to be seen.