HOUSTON -- The midseason trades for Roberto Osuna and Thomas Pressly bolstered the Astros' bullpen down the stretch, but adding starter-turned-reliever Lance McCullers to the 'pen has expanded the way manager AJ Hinch can use some of his other key relievers.
Hinch said he would be relying on Osuna, Pressly and McCullers interchangeably to get the final six outs in close games in the postseason. In Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Friday, Hinch used those three to cover the final 3 2/3 innings of a 7-2 victory over the Indians. Pressly threw 1 2/3 innings, entering with the bases loaded in the sixth. McCullers worked the eighth, and Osuna pitched the ninth.
:: ALDS schedule and results ::
"I think McCullers is key for a lot of reasons. His health and quality will help me use Pressly how I did [in Game 1]," Hinch said. "I don't want to call him a backup plan, but having an additional arm I'm comfortable with in the latter third of the game allows me to deploy Pressly in so many different ways."
McCullers, who started 22 games before sustaining a right elbow injury in August, plays catch in the bullpen in the fourth or fifth inning as part of his warmup routine. He throws 15 or 20 pitches off the mound and gets himself ready to be deployed later in the game. McCullers did that in Toronto and Baltimore in the final week of the regular season.
"He's a shutdown pitcher, and I say that because it could be in the first inning when he starts or in a relief inning like we saw [Friday]," Hinch said. "I just love his demeanor. I love his poise. I love his competitiveness. Ultimately, I love his pitches, which is why he's going to get important innings."
McCullers is no stranger to pitching in relief in the playoffs. He closed out Game 7 of last year's AL Championship Series against the Yankees with four scoreless innings.
"I feel good," he said. "I like what I'm doing."
Now pitching: Roy Oswalt
The first subject Roy Oswalt addressed upon his arrival at Minute Maid Park on Saturday wasn't about his playing career, or his post-playing career, or even his impressions of this year's Astros team. For starters, Oswalt provided some insight as to exactly where he would be standing when he threw the ceremonial first pitch. For a former Cy Young Award-caliber ace, these details are important.
"I've been informed I can't throw it from the grass," the 41-year-old Oswalt chuckled. "I have to throw it from the dirt. We'll see."
Wearing an orange polo with an Astros ballcap, Oswalt spoke with reporters about an hour before he walked onto the field, looking very much the same as he did when he was an active pitcher. If there's anything different about him, it's that he's much more muscular -- as a pitcher, his smaller frame and agility was part of his weaponry. In retirement, Oswalt is free to hit the gym, which he has done regularly since he retired from the Majors in 2013 at the age of 35.
Oswalt, who still resides in Mississippi, has been spotted a couple of times this season at Minute Maid Park as a fan. As he prepared to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 2, he remembered what it was like more than a decade ago, when the Astros were involved in the deep playoff runs of 2004 and '05.
"Just the atmosphere, the sound was unbelievable," he said. "Even going to the bullpen -- it usually takes the first, second, third inning before people really get into it. Warming up in the bullpen, you just felt like it was the third inning already. The adrenaline starts going, and you have to kind of calm yourself down. I just remember going onto the field for the first game we had, ever, in the World Series, and thinking, 'This is the moment you live for.'"
Oswalt said he keeps close tabs on the Astros and sees no reason why the team can't create a dynasty in the next several years, given the moves it made to acquire elite pitching in the past couple of years.
He also mentioned he is still making good use of the gift he received 13 years ago from former club owner Drayton McLane, who rewarded his pennant-clinching outing vs. the Cardinals in 2005 with a shiny new tractor.
He still uses it?
"Every day," Oswalt grinned.
Rondon apologizes for missing introductions
Veteran right-hander Hector Rondon apologized to his teammates and Hinch on Saturday for not running onto the field for the pregame introductions prior to Friday's Game 1 of the ALDS. Rondon isn't on the Astros' roster for the ALDS, but it's customary for players who didn't make the roster to be introduced before the first home game each team plays in the series.
"He should have been there," Hinch said.
Rondon's name was announced to the crowd, but he never came out of the dugout with the rest of the team.
"I was doing something inside to prepare my arm," Rondon said prior to Game 2. "I know I'm not on this roster, but I was preparing my arm for the next round. I apologized to my teammates and AJ, too. I was out for the first pitch. I try to help my guys and support my guys, and be with them."
Rondon, signed by the Astros in December, appeared in 63 games this year and posted a 3.20 ERA, with 15 saves. His downfall was September, when he posted a 9.72 ERA in 10 games and allowed opposing hitters to hit .439 against him.
"I know they make that decision, and it hurt a little bit, but I'll take it," Rondon said. "I know they have their own reasons, but I'm good right now. I'm going to try to support my team and win the series."
Rondon, who wasn't on the Cubs' National League Division Series roster last year, was visibly upset when he was told he wasn't on the Astros' ALDS roster, Hinch said Friday. Rondon admitted he was disappointed.
"Especially the way I've been pitching all year," he said. "I only had a bad outing in September. I felt like I'd make the roster, but they made decision, and I take it. I take it like a man."