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For Astros, pitching in playoffs 'different animal'

'I'll do whatever I have to do to get the outs,' Hinch says ahead of World Series Game 1
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

LOS ANGELES -- The Astros mapped out their pitching usage perfectly in Games 6 and 7 of the American League Championship Series, pulling out a pair of wins over the Yankees to advance to their second World Series. The only pitcher to throw in those two games who was used exclusively as a relief pitcher in the regular season was closer Ken Giles, who threw one inning to close out Game 6.

By using starter Brad Peacock for one inning of relief in Game 6 to serve as a bridge between starter Justin Verlander and Giles, and by throwing starter Lance McCullers Jr. for four innings of relief in Game 7 on Saturday, manager A.J. Hinch's method of favoring the use of starters in relief in key spots continued to pay off.

LOS ANGELES -- The Astros mapped out their pitching usage perfectly in Games 6 and 7 of the American League Championship Series, pulling out a pair of wins over the Yankees to advance to their second World Series. The only pitcher to throw in those two games who was used exclusively as a relief pitcher in the regular season was closer Ken Giles, who threw one inning to close out Game 6.

By using starter Brad Peacock for one inning of relief in Game 6 to serve as a bridge between starter Justin Verlander and Giles, and by throwing starter Lance McCullers Jr. for four innings of relief in Game 7 on Saturday, manager A.J. Hinch's method of favoring the use of starters in relief in key spots continued to pay off.

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The Astros, who play the Dodgers in Game 1 of the World Series presented by YouTube TV tonight (7 p.m. CT/FOX) at Dodger Stadium, are facing one of the baseball's elite bullpens. Dodgers relievers didn't allow a run in their National League Championship Series win over the Cubs, and Hinch's management of his bullpen figures to be a key storyline.

"I think to get through a regular season, you need a little more defined and a little bit more traditional role of how the bullpen plays out, and you spread out your guys and use a bunch of different guys," Hinch said.

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But things are different in the playoffs, where every out and every 90 feet are magnified. For a veteran reliever like Luke Gregerson, Hinch's methods are understood.

"It's a different animal," Gregerson said. "Starters can get pulled a little earlier than normal. We're down there, just playing the game by ear and just watching the game and how it's developing and preparing accordingly. As soon as there's any hint of trouble, guys are getting ready no matter what."

The Astros have eliminated baseball's second- and third-ranked bullpens in terms of ERA in the regular season in beating the Red Sox in the AL Division Series and the Yankees in the ALCS. The Dodgers ranked fourth in the Majors, and first in the NL, with a 3.38 ERA. Houston ranked 17th among 30 teams with a 4.27 ERA in the regular season.

Video: MLB Tonight breaks down the Astros' bullpen

Strong starts by Verlander and Dallas Keuchel in Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS in blowout wins over the Red Sox minimized the Astros' bullpen usage, but Hinch opened eyes when he threw Verlander for 2 2/3 innings of relief in a Game 4 win over Boston. In the ALCS, Collin McHugh, a starter, threw four innings of relief in Game 3 against the Yankees.

"It's amazing what you're willing to do in the postseason," Hinch said. "And I think that's why you see these unique roles, the Andrew Miller-type roles or McCullers or how I've used Peacock. You're willing to do a lot more in a small, short series. Speaking of no tomorrow, there's no more games after this series. So I'll do whatever I have to do to get the outs."

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McCullers will start either Game 3 or 4 in Houston, so he won't be available in the bullpen. Peacock and Joe Musgrove, both of whom started the year in the rotation before being moved to the bullpen, and McHugh figure to play big roles, along with Giles. Meanwhile, late-inning relievers Gregerson, Will Harris and Chris Devenski will still be called upon to get big outs, but Hinch has shown regular-season roles don't mean much in October.

"Our hope is that our bullpen can get off to a better start and we'll be able to get the outs," Hinch said. "But to be honest with you, I don't have a preference. As long as we get the outs."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros, Chris Devenski, Will Harris, Lance McCullers Jr., Collin McHugh, Joe Musgrove, Brad Peacock