Astros 'pen already showing signs of improvement
HOUSTON -- The 2014 Astros bullpen, at least through four games, has shown a marked improvement over last year when Houston led the league in blown saves.
The club has had at least one reliever who has pitched extremely well in each game.
"It's definitely an area we needed to improve on," manager Bo Porter said. "I feel like the guys have done a good job as far as the start of the season."
Matt Albers closed out the Opening Day win over the Yankees, though it wasn't a save situation. Four relievers threw a combined four innings in Game 2, giving up only three hits, with Josh Fields earning the save. Brad Peacock pitched 3 1/3 innings Thursday, surrendering just two hits and one run, and Anthony Bass pitched 2 1/3 innings of one-hit relief on Friday.
"We've got a good group of veteran guys, and some long guys, some hard-throwing lefties," Albers said. "I think we've got a pretty good crew. It's a new year and it's definitely easier for veteran guys to turn things around. What you did personally, or your team did last year, has no effect on what you do this year. It's a fresh start."
Albers, Fields and Chad Qualls are the seventh-, eighth- and ninth-inning guys, in no specific order.
"We have three guys we're comfortable with in the back end and we'll continue to match those guys up, considering where we are in the lineup, what the situation is," Porter said. "Let's say there's a situation where we need a ground ball or a strikeout. They all have their strengths."
"It can be flip-flopped in certain situations," added Albers. "So far it's been coming out pretty good."
Albers, 31, pitched for the Astros in 2006 and '07, mostly as a starter, before being traded to Baltimore in the Miguel Tejada deal. The Astros brought him back this offseason as a free agent.
Albers has accepted his role in the bullpen, being out of the rotation since 2008.
"I haven't started in a while," joked Albers. "I think that ship has sailed."
In 56 games last year with the Indians, Albers went 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA. He embraced his job as a relief pitcher.
"There is a little bit of transition," he said. "Coming to the field every day I feel more like a position player. You can be in there every day, which is more enjoyable. If you take a battering [as a starter], you have to wait five days. Relieving you have to have a short memory."
Albers said he wouldn't mind being a closer someday.
Even the lesser known long relievers have proved valuable to the Astros.
Jerome Williams threw 3 2/3 innings in relief of Lucas Harrell Friday night, although he did give up seven hits and six runs, and Bass gave up only one hit in 2 1/3 innings.
"Last night was huge to have two guys eat up those innings so that we can come back today and we have our back end guys ready," Porter said.