WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- At his best, he's the Dragon -- the fearless, mound-strutting Astros reliever with the nasty changeup who was a huge part of Houston's championship run two seasons ago. He was an All-Star in 2017 and won a game in the World Series.
Right-hander Chris Devenski was heading toward another All-Star season last year before injury and ineffectiveness derailed his season and forced him off the playoff roster. He's healthy entering 2019 and determined to resume being manager AJ Hinch's all-purpose bullpen weapon.
"I feel like I've set the bar high for myself coming in and doing what I've done," Devenski said. "I'd rather shoot high."
Devenski, 28, showed up at camp leaner, and he is working mechanically and mentally to get himself back to how he's been when he was one of the most effective relievers in the big leagues. He's always had a terrific changeup and will be a complete pitcher when he gets his fastball on a consistent plane.
"He fits right into our bullpen anywhere from early for a couple of innings or all the way to the back end if guys are needing a break," Hinch said.
Last year, Devenski was performing at an All-Star level heading into July, with a 1.34 ERA, seven walks and 40 strikeouts in his first 34 games. He posted an 11.20 ERA in his final 16 appearances and went on the injured list for the first time in his career with left hamstring tightness.
More than anything, Devenski said he learned about the process of being prepared daily. He's taking measures to ensure his body is ready to pitch as much as possible, and he is going to focus on a consistent pregame and postgame routine.
"It's a long year and you have some hiccups here and there, but you make your adjustments as you go," he said. "I learned I've got to take care of myself better and put myself in a good position. I feel lighter, feel like I can move quicker, like a dragon. It's good, man. I'm enjoying it right now."
Devenski was roughed up in his first outing of the spring, allowing four hits and three runs in one-third of an inning Feb. 27 against the Nationals, but he bounced back Monday with a scoreless outing against the Braves. He entered the game with runners at second and third and got Ronald Acuna Jr. to pop out. Devenski then pitched around a single in his second inning of work.
Hinch said the goal of that game was for Devenski come in and air out and not be too cute.
"We really wanted to get him away from thinking too much and get him into Dragon mode, basically," he said. "Let him come and show a ton of energy, get through the ball, let the ball go wherever it goes and not get overly complicated."
Could 2019 be the Year of the Dragon?
"I'm all in on it, man," Devenski said. "I've always believed that for me, when I struggle and I get better, I learn from it. I'm not going to give up and I'm never going to quit. I'm going to keep going and find a way to get the job done, because that's what it ultimately comes down to."