With rain pushing back the Opening Day matchup between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees back at least a day, there is still a bit of interesting news out of New York to consider. Ken Giles, who was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies for a blockbuster package, will not serve as the team’s closer. Astros manager A.J. Hinch made the announcement after the cancellation.
The Astros gave up a king’s ransom to land Giles, including former top pick Mark Appel and flame-throwing Vincent Velasquez. It was a high price to pay for a pitcher who had only saved 15 mostly meaningless games in his two-year career. Armed with a dominant fastball and wipe-out slider, Giles had posted a 1.56 ERA in his first 115.2 big-league innings with 151 strikeouts. The 25-year-old clearly has the type of wicked stuff to nail down the final three outs of an important game, but he remains untested under the type of pressure the playoff-contending Astros will face.
Gregerson served as a full-time closer for the first time in his career last season, and did a respectable job. The 31-year-old right-hander saved 31 games, and pitched better than his 3.10 ERA would indicate. Gregerson does not perfectly fit the “fireman” profile of a ninth-inning reliever, but has continued finding a way to get quality results. Hinch seems impressed by Gregerson’s ability to handle the pressure and demands placed on the closer.
“”He’s got a slow heartbeat. He’s got a real feel for how to pitch,” Hinch said. “His calmness in the intense moments are critical in giving the guy the ball the last part of the game.”
Feeling confident in the team’s closer is important for Hinch entering the 2016 season. The Astros shocked the baseball world by reaching the playoffs last season, but almost fell out of the postseason thanks to a September collapse that saw them go 11-16. Bullpen meltdowns keyed a handful of the crucial losses.
Adding Giles and re-signing Tony Sipp should have the Astros’ bullpen more than prepared to put last season’s bumps in the road in the rearview mirror. Giles did not have a phenomenal spring training, but there is no reason to expect he will not gain his footing quickly once the regular season opens. He will eventually mature into and take on the closer’s role, but for now, the Astros will be able to utilize their best reliever in the most high-leverage situations. Gregerson is the better choice — for now — to come in with a clean slate in the ninth inning. Giles’ ability to generate strikeouts makes him better suited to come on with men aboard in the seventh or eighth inning. Until Gregerson proves he is incapable of closing effectively, it makes the most sense for Hinch and the Astros to keep their best weapon unencumbered by the shackles of the ninth inning.