WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Coming off a year in which he posted a 1.99 ERA and emerged as one of manager A.J. Hinch's most reliable hands out of the bullpen in 2015, lefty Tony Sipp was rewarded with a three-year, $18 million contract and a huge vote of confidence
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Coming off a year in which he posted a 1.99 ERA and emerged as one of manager A.J. Hinch's most reliable hands out of the bullpen in 2015, lefty Tony Sipp was rewarded with a three-year, $18 million contract and a huge vote of confidence from management.
You don't have to remind Sipp how things went awry. Last year, he pitched in 60 games for the second season in a row, but allowed 12 homers, 52 hits and 24 earned runs in 43 2/3 innings (4.95 ERA) and wasn't effective against lefties (.284) or right-handers (.310), who hit .190 against him in 2015.
"It was really tough," Sipp said. "Having a good season and being with the organization and they kind of reward you and you don't hold up your end of the bargain, it was disappointing for sure. I know I put a lot more stress on the rest of the bullpen. So both ways, for me and the guys around me, having to pick up my slack last year was really disappointing."
• Spring:Info | Tickets | Schedule | Gear
The key for Sipp is his split-finger fastball, which last year didn't move down and away against right-handers like it had in the past. He added a two-seam fastball late last year to his arsenal and is pleased with the way the pitches are moving early in the spring.
"I feel like it's going in the right direction, especially the split-finger, [which] was the biggest key last year and it seems like that's coming around," he said. "That's a positive."
Sipp's struggles against left-handers caused some strain on the bullpen, forcing Hinch to use some of his more reliable right-handed arms in situations he would have liked to have used Sipp. The Astros have lefty Kevin Chapman on the 40-man roster and claimed Ashur Tolliver off waivers, but their best bullpen depends on an effective Sipp.
"We needed Tony to be the pitcher that we know he can be," Hinch said. "He might have had the most productive offseason of any of our pitchers. ... He looks great. His pitching repertoire in 2015 was a little more consistent than 2016, especially the split-finger, but when he's right, he factors into throwing as many [high]-leverage innings as the situations arise."
Sipp, 33, knows how much the Astros are relying on him this year.
"I definitely feel like I owe them and myself," he said. "In the offseason, I definitely put in the work to make sure that it wasn't for a lack of work. I wouldn't say a lot of pressure, but I put pressure on myself to come back and play baseball the way I know how."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.