OAKLAND -- Héctor Rondón's early-season consistency has offset his late-season struggles last year.
The Astros entered Tuesday night's series opener against the Oakland A's with a 2.70 bullpen ERA, third-best in the Majors. Houston manager AJ Hinch cited Rondon's turnaround as a source of the Astros' relief excellence, which can be expected when a former closer joins the ranks of setup men.
"I think we have to remember how great he threw last season for the majority of the season," Hinch said, referring to the 2.13 ERA Rondon took into September -- when the right-hander recorded a 9.72 ERA in 10 appearances.
Rondon's recovery, which has manifested itself in a 1.35 ERA in seven appearances, has inevitably deepened Houston's bullpen while commanding Hinch's confidence. Right-handers Ryan Pressly and Will Harris began the Oakland series unscored upon in seven and five games, respectively.
"I feel like I can use these guys in any spot that I want and I'm going to be OK," Hinch said. "I literally don't have a guy down there that I don't feel comfortable with a lead."
Liking Laureano: Though the Astros have no complaints with their lineup, Hinch acknowledged being impressed by A's center fielder Ramón Laureano, who was a Houston prospect until Oakland acquired him for Minor League right-hander Brandon Bailey on Nov. 20, 2017.
"I think we liked Laureano's athleticism. We liked his overall skills," Hinch said. "He had a good arm. He had good bat-to-ball skills. He's a worker. Most people felt like he was going to be a guy that was going to get the most out of his ability. He was going to work until it worked out for him. He's proven that. He's really good defensively and he's been able to show off his arm and get some outs and provide a spark for them offensively. It's tough to see him do it in our division. You wish it would have gone a different way. But I'm proud of him for his work."
As Hinch mentioned -- and as anyone knows who has watched Laureano play -- he has made an enduring impression with his throwing. He leads all Major League outfielders with five assists.
"He's got a great feel for when he needs to make the big throw," Hinch said. "And I think we have to always honor that."