MAKING A PITCH

John Granato: Controversy aside, here is a look at how the Astros bullpen will shape up

Colin McHugh is one of the sure things in the pen. Collin McHugh/Facebook

I certainly don’t want to minimize the repercussions of the Roberto Osuna trade . We have had two straight days of non-stop calls on both sides of the issue. It’s the most calls we’ve had on any subject in quite a while. This article will not deal with the moral dilemma of trading for someone facing domestic abuse charges. The bottom line is that love it or hate it Osuna is an Astro. He’s a premier talent and now he’s Houston’s premier talent.

Make no mistake, it’s a heat check for the Astros. They’re finding out how much leeway they have with the fanbase. I’m sure they’re getting plenty of complaints but they’ll still fill the ballpark. I’m a huge fan of the team and not happy about the Osuna trade. I don’t want to root for a guy who’s facing a charge of assault against a woman but I’m not going to stop rooting for the team.

I loved last year’s Astros, maybe my favorite team ever. There was a youthful enthusiasm they brought every night that made sports fun again and unlike our other teams they played their best on the biggest stages and in the biggest moments.

Everyone did except the bullpen. It was an atrocity and despite the numbers this year that have the Astros bullpen as statistically one of baseball’s best, it needed a facelift, especially at the back end. The numbers against the better teams don’t lie.

They had to make a move. Maybe it’s not the move you wanted but it’s a move that had to be made. From a purely baseball standpoint it’s not a home run, it’s a grand slam. To get a 23-year old top-of-the-line closer with years left under your control for your 10th prospect and two guys that you didn’t want anyway is unheard of. If he didn’t have that baggage he wouldn’t have been on the trade market but he does and he’s here now.

Just think, this October you may not have to have your starters finish every big game. You may actually have a closer who can CLOSE and with the addition of Ryan Pressly you may be set up for another September and October run that could end in another parade.

Here’s what we’re looking as we head down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Sure things right now:

Hector Rondon

Collin McHugh

Tony Sipp

Yes that’s right, Tony Sipp. AJ is starting to put him into more high pressure situations and for good reason. He hasn’t given up an earned run in his last 10 outings and just one since May 7. That can be a deceiving stat for a reliever but it’s not for Sipp. He’s pitching well and deserves a shot to pitch when the game is on the line.

Rondon and McHugh are obviously on this list because of their numbers. McHugh should have been an all-star and Rondon has been solid if not great in the closer’s role. He’ll more than likely move into the setup role with Osuna’s arrival and a combination of Pressly, McHugh, Rondon and Osuna in the 7th, 8th and 9th will be formidable against any lineup.

Note: AJ Hinch has often said that he has no such slotted roles in his bullpen but that may have been more because he couldn’t count on anyone to fill those slots. With this new iteration of bullpen you may be seeing more slotted roles going forward.

Unknowns:

Roberto Osuna

Ryan Pressly

While we might not be excited about bringing Osuna into this locker room because of his issue, you have to be excited about his talent. Problem is he hasn’t pitched since May 6. That’s a long time ago. How long will it take for his command to return? Pinpoint accuracy is so important to every pitcher so it may take a while for him to get back to elite closer status.

With Pressly it’ll be important for AJ to get to know him quickly. How often can he use him? Is he comfortable coming in with runners on or does he pitch best starting an inning? What types of hitters does he pitch best against? He’s got a couple months to do it but there will be an adjustment period on both sides.

Where do we fit in?

Brad Peacock

Chris Devenski

Will Harris

Joe Smith

Smith is more than likely out. He hasn’t been here long enough to build up any good will and his performance hasn’t warranted any faith in his ability to perform on the big stage. No offense Joe. It’s a numbers thing.

But he’s not the only one that’ll have to go. In the postseason you’ll have four starters. Either McCullers or Morton will move to the pen depending on who’s hot. That’ll leave just six spots for true relievers. Right now you’d pick Rondon, McHugh, Sipp, Osuna, Pressly and…

Take your choice:

Brad Peacock?

Chris Devenski?

Will Harris?

They all have a special place in AJ’s heart. They all better pick up their game in these last two months if they want to have a place on the mound come October.






 

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Rockets get another much-needed win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets went on a redemption tour by beating the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. But the most pivotal win was against the Mavericks as the Rockets finally showed their true potential. John Wall finally made his return from his injury hiatus and played with a lot of energy. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon combined for 61 points. It was great to see Stephan Silas crack a smile as he was able to beat his former team.

The Rockets clearly missed Wall during his eight-game absense. This season, the Rockets are a .500 team with Wall on the court. Wall is the Rockets' floor general that leads, constructs, and also pushes his teammates to become better.

Wall only played 21 minutes in the 133-108 win over the Mavericks but still had eight assists. Even though Wall only had 7 points, his presence was still felt by finding his teammates for open looks beyond the perimeter. Wall made sure Cousins and Gordon got a plethora of touches. He called multiple actions, so they got open looks from three, which was mainly Gordon. Gordon and Cousins' struggles have been similar but with Wall on the court, they were successful against the Mavericks. According to NBA Stats, Wall posted a 111 offensive rating with the starters versus the Mavericks, which included Gordon and Cousins.

"He's the engine to this team. He gets everybody going. He makes the game easy," Cousins told a reporter after the game. "The pressure that he constantly puts on the defense is a tough thing to deal with."

Gordon has struggled all season long with three-point shooting and relied on his slashing abilities. Saturday night, Gordon made six three pointers against the Mavericks, which was 66 percent from beyond the perimeter. Gordon increased his three-point percentage from 31 percent to 34.5 percent after Saturday night's game. Gordon's 33 points came from being able to attack the entire Mavericks' defense. Willy Cauley-Stein didn't stand a chance against Gordon as he was burned multiple times. Gordon's been a lifesaver for the Rockets in the last two games, and hopefully he maintains his play.

Cousins played fantastic against the Mavericks scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. This is Cousins' first double-double with the Rockets this season. Cousins became the vintage player from the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. It was extremely fun watching Cousins push the ball up the court and aggressively snatch rebounds. Boogie shot 50 percent from behind the arc by making four three-pointers. He was dominant inside the paint as Cousins went 7/8 from the restricted area versus the Mavericks. This was the game Cousins needed after having a poor performance against the Pistons Friday night.

"It was really, really good. He did it all. He's a physical presence on both ends of the floor," as Silas said on Cousins' performance.

David Nwaba and Mason Jones were big factors off the Rockets' bench by having a combined total of 34 points together. Nwaba has been great in transition for the Rockets the entire season. Keep in mind that Nwaba is returning from an Achilles injury he suffered with his former team, the Brooklyn Nets. Nwaba has became a great defender, slasher, and is averaging a career-high nine points per game with the Rockets. He finished with 18 points on Saturday night versus the Mavericks.

Mason Jones has become a fan favorite of the Rockets because of his confidence. Silas is loving the usage of Jones off the bench but wants to find more minutes for him. Jones had a breakout performance versus the San Antonio Spurs with 24 points off 66 percent shooting from the field. He continues to get better with his reads from the point guard position. Jones' knowledge of running the offense has helped his efficiency on the court. He is never afraid to take clutch shots in pivotal moments of the game.

"To have a young kid who can come in and not be afraid of the moment, that's big. That's a tough position to be in as an undrafted rookie. I trust him. It's a good problem to have," Silas mentioned after the game. "He's showing me he's ready. He's a confident kid, and he should be. That's why he's good. He's not afraid of the moment, at all. He can get us organized, run plays, and score the basketball."

Hopefully, the Rockets can sustain their level of play when Victor Oladipo returns against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch Oladipo and Wall play in the same backcourt.

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