Will Osuna's G2 struggles affect closer role?

October 7th, 2019

HOUSTON -- Typically, a pitcher picking up his first career postseason save would be reason for celebration, and surely enjoyed his big moment after recording two crucial outs for the Astros in the ninth inning on Saturday at Minute Maid Park.

But the circumstances leading up to that save were a little unsettling, and the fact that he was even needed to close out Game 2 of the American League Division Series is concerning as well.

How this plays out between Harris and moving forward is something to keep an eye on.

"Osuna's our guy," manager AJ Hinch said following Houston’s 3-1 win over the Rays. "Osuna's our guy. He'll get the ball when he needs to get the ball and when we expect him to get the last three outs. There's always a consideration for just putting the guys out there against the matchups. But I believe in Osuna, and I believe he's the best matchup most of the time."

The Astros' win Saturday at Minute Maid Park proved to be an exception. Osuna recorded a quick out to end the eighth, but he seemingly lost sight of the strike zone while throwing an uncharacteristic number of breaking balls. The Rays responded by clogging up the basepaths.

Osuna allowed two base hits and walked two, with a run scoring on a groundout. The second walk, to Brandon Lowe, loaded the bases and ended the closer's night.

Harris, who had the best regular season of any Houston reliever, cleaned up the potential mess, striking out Travis d'Arnaud and coaxing a ground ball from Kevin Kiermaier to end the game.

"I've been in that situation a bunch in my five years here in the regular season and a few times in the playoffs," Harris said. "I'm always ready. Osuna was asked to get four outs and it's [tough], man, in a regular-season game, much less a postseason game facing a quality opponent. He made some really good pitches and had some bad fortune tonight. I was happy to go in there and pick up and obviously us getting the win, and heading on the road with a 2-0 lead is nice."

Though he doesn't receive a lot of attention, Harris has quietly put together a terrific 2019. He posted a 1.50 regular-season ERA -- second-best among all Major League relievers -- and struck out 62 over a career high-tying 68 games.

Harris needed nine pitches to end this game. Osuna threw 27, most of which the closer admitted he'd like to take back.

"I just felt like I threw so many breaking balls today and that's not the way I usually pitch," Osuna said. "I was very upset about that. I met with [catcher Martín] Maldonado after the game and now, looking back at the ninth ... too many breaking balls. And that's not me."

Then why would a pitcher with such an effective fastball go with that alternative game plan?

"That's something we talked about before the game," Osuna said. "There are some times you don't really know what you're doing out there. That's what happened. That's not me. I usually use my fastball, my cutter. I didn't use it much tonight. I'm very disappointed with myself tonight."

Getting out of his normal routine may have contributed to his ineffectiveness. Osuna was brought in to record the final out of the eighth inning in relief of Gerrit Cole, who turned in one of the most dominant postseason performances in history but didn’t retire either of his final two batters, leaving two on for Osuna.

Osuna ended the inning by striking out Yandy Díaz on three pitches, but when the closer came back for the ninth, the adrenaline rush had largely subsided.

Osuna is accustomed to three-out saves. Historically, he's not done well when asked to do more.

"Especially since [the Astros' eighth] was a little bit too long -- it took me out of my plan," Osuna said. "When I went back to the mound in the ninth, I didn't feel that emotion at the beginning. I couldn't get it back late in the inning. I got a little tired. It happens sometimes."

Osuna said Hinch texted him after the game to remind him he still has confidence in his closer.

"He was very kind," Osuna said. "He always shows me his support and that means a lot to me.

"It was just one of those days. I'm going to be back on the mound on Monday and be ready to go."