WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch emphasizes controlling the running game and not making any mistakes on the basepaths. It's a mantra that he's pushed onto catchers and pitchers alike, and it's about holding baserunners better and having pitchers be quicker to the plate as much as it is about throwing out runners who are trying to steal more effectively.
With that in mind, All-Star relief pitcher Chris Devenski has been making changes to his delivery this spring to help him neutralize opposing baserunners a little more. Devenski allowed 12 stolen bases last year while he was on the mound, which was the second most on the team behind Mike Fiers, who led the club in innings pitched in 2017.
"We as a coaching staff and as an organization have given a lot of thought [as to] how everybody could get a little bit better," Hinch said. "Some of it is 1 or 2 percent better and some of it is a bigger leap. It's about fine-tuning some things."
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Hinch said Devenski has a windup that makes it difficult for him to control the running game, including a big leg kick. The trick is tinkering with his delivery and eliminating wasted time and energy without losing the effectiveness of his pitches.
"We've quickened him up a little bit," Hinch said. "We've gotten his hands a little bit closer to him. Things like that are very subtle that won't impact the pitch ability or his ability to execute, but might deter the running game, especially against him."
Devenski said he's focusing on striding down the mound a little bit better and staying lined up longer during his delivery.
"I know that I've focused on it before and got away from it," he said. "Just focusing on it and really feeling it is helping me."
Devenski, 27, had a breakout season in 2017, appearing in 62 games in relief and going 8-5 with a 2.68 ERA. He struck out 100 and walked 26 in 80 2/3 innings. In his first 34 appearances last year, he had a 2.09 ERA and walked 13 and struck out 72 in 51 2/3 frames before his numbers dipped a bit in the second half.
"I still feel I threw the ball well [in 2017]," said Devenski, who won Game 2 of the World Series with 1 1/3 innings pitched in relief. "It was a long season and people make adjustments and I've got to make adjustments, too. Just looking to build off what I'm doing right now."
Hinch figures to lean on Devenski again in a variety of roles this year, including multiple-inning appearances, closing out games and situational matchups. Devenski had trouble spinning the ball with his slider in the second half of 2017 and lost a feel for his pitches somewhat.
"It's nothing that can't be fixed," Hinch said. "We have to remind ourselves these guys are still early in their careers and we're learning what a full season is, and last year was a full season."