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Sipp will be key piece as Astros shape 'pen

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros are still banking on an effective Tony Sipp to be in their bullpen at the beginning of the season, which means rediscovering his split-fingered fastball and maintaining an effective fastball-slider combination.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch hinted on Friday that the veteran left-hander has the inside track on the final spot in the bullpen, which isn't surprising considering the competition. The only left-handed reliever the club added in the offseason -- other than departed Rule 5 Draft pickup Anthony Gose -- was Buddy Boshers, who has allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings this spring.

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros are still banking on an effective Tony Sipp to be in their bullpen at the beginning of the season, which means rediscovering his split-fingered fastball and maintaining an effective fastball-slider combination.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch hinted on Friday that the veteran left-hander has the inside track on the final spot in the bullpen, which isn't surprising considering the competition. The only left-handed reliever the club added in the offseason -- other than departed Rule 5 Draft pickup Anthony Gose -- was Buddy Boshers, who has allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings this spring.

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Boshers and Reymin Guduan are the only other lefty relievers in camp and likely headed to Triple-A Fresno to start the season.

"Obviously, there's other names that are popping up as we start to cut down and start to talk about who's in the competition so to speak," Hinch said. "It begins with Tony Sipp and where he fits in the biggest pictures, and we'll move from there."

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Sipp threw three scoreless innings in his first three Grapefruit League outings before being rocked for four runs and four hits in two-thirds of an inning on Wednesday. The Astros are evaluating each and every outing, but any player battling to make the club will be judged by their overall body of work in the spring, Hinch said.

"We're not going to ride the roller coaster with these guys," Hinch said. "We have a pretty good picture of what our bullpen looks like and what our roster looks like. Obviously, there's an evaluation every time somebody gets on the field, but we're not micromanaging to the point where we love them when they do well or don't when they don't."

Hinch said right-handers James Hoyt, Francis Martes and David Paulino are still in the bullpen discussion. Martes and Paulino are starters who are likely to begin the season in the rotation at Fresno.

Video: HOU@NYM: Hinch, McHugh on 9-5 loss against Mets

Ken Giles, Chris Devenski, Will Harris, Joe Smith and Hector Rondon give the Astros experience and versatility in the bullpen. Brad Peacock will be a huge weapon in the 'pen, and Collin McHugh seems destined for a relief role considering the starters have been healthy.

Sipp, 34, appeared in 46 games in 2017, allowing 24 earned runs, including eight homers, in 37 1/3 innings. He has posted a 5.33 ERA in 106 outings over the past seasons after a terrific 2015 in which he posted a 1.99 ERA in 60 games and signed a three-year, $18-million contract at the end of the season.

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

Houston Astros, Buddy Boshers, Chris Devenski, Reymin Guduan, James Hoyt, Francis Martes, Collin McHugh, David Paulino, Brad Peacock, Tony Sipp