LOS ANGELES (AP) — Without the likes of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, the Houston Astros need someone on staff to step up this October.
Despite its youth and inexperience, the bullpen is doing plenty to fill the void.
Astros relievers were shaky throughout the regular season but have been suddenly stellar during the playoffs. Four of them combined for five scoreless innings in a 10-5 victory over Oakland in Game 1 of their AL Division Series on Monday at Dodgers Stadium.
“They’ve been forced to grow up and learn some valuable lessons the hard way sometimes. That’s on the job training. They did great job against an offense that was rolling,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.
Houston was a game away from winning the World Series last year behind Verlander and Cole. Now, Verlander is on the shelf following Tommy John surgery, and Cole is pitching for the New York Yankees after leaving Houston as a free agent.
The entire staff has transformed quickly — and at times, painfully. The Astros tied the Marlins for most rookie pitchers used this season with 15, including 10 that made their major league debuts. That’s a record for Houston, surpassing the 13 they used in 2011.
The greenness showed during the regular season. Houston’s bullpen was tied for second in the AL with 13 blown saves and had the fourth-highest batting average against (.251).
It has been a different story though in the three postseason games. The group hasn’t allowed a run in 14 2/3 innings, limiting opponents to 3 for 43. Against Oakland, four pitchers allowed no hits and a walk, an impressive start in a best-of-five series without any days off.
Blake Taylor and Enoli Paredes made their postseason debuts Monday, combining to retire every batter they faced in three innings.
Baker was hoping to get at least five innings from starter Lance McCullers Jr., but the right-hander was pulled after Marcus Semien’s single to lead off the fifth. Taylor came on and retired the next three hitters. Semien scored on a sacrifice fly by Mark Canha but Oakland didn’t get a runner even get to second base the rest of the day.
“We really didn’t want to go to the bullpen that early if we could help it. Some of these guys aren’t used to going back to back days,” Baker said. “They used a lot of their bullpen but ours came in and did a great job.”
Paredes retired the side in the sixth and seventh innings with two strikeouts while Cristian Javier had a walk and two strikeouts in the eighth.
Ryan Pressly, who is the most experienced of Houston’s bullpen crew, retired the side in the ninth and struck out Sean Murphy to end the game.
“They came in and didn’t give us any freebees. We didn’t get the hits we needed,” Murphy said.
Baker is hoping his staff can continue to pitch beyond its years, especially in a ballpark that can be a launching pad for hitters in the daytime.
Oakland manager Bob Melvin will be looking for his team to get back on track, especially after it took seven of 10 from Houston in the regular season.
“They have some guys with velocity,” Melvin said. “We didn’t have the at-bats we typically do at the end of the game. Give them credit, they played the later innings better than we did.”
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