Astros invite reliever Thatcher to Major League camp

Experienced left-hander increases bullpen options

Astros invite reliever Thatcher to Major League camp

HOUSTON -- A week prior to pitchers and catchers reporting to Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla., for the start of Spring Training, the Astros wrapped up their winter shopping by agreeing to a Minor League deal, including an invitation to Major League camp, with left-handed reliever Joe Thatcher.

Thatcher, 33, will earn $1 million if he makes the Major League roster, with an additional $1.3 million available in incentives, according to a source. He can opt out of the contract if he is not on the team's active roster five days prior to Opening Day.

"I suspect we're finished, but we always keep an eye out for remaining free agents just in case somebody seems to be a good fit at the last minute," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "Right now, this kind of fits with our overall theme of making sure we have alternatives."

An eight-year veteran, Thatcher split last season between the D-backs and Angels and posted a 3.86 ERA in 53 games covering 30 1/3 innings. He spent the first 6 1/2 years of his career with the Padres, with whom current Astros manager A.J. Hinch was working.

The addition of Thatcher gives the Astros another lefty option in the bullpen, along with Tony Sipp, Kevin Chapman and Darin Downs. In 362 games in his career, Thatcher has a 3.40 ERA, and he has the reputation as a dependable arm.

"We feel good about Sipp, Chapman and Downs, all three of whom did a nice job for us last year," Luhnow said. "With Thatcher having an impressive resume and to get him in the mix with those guys will help our club and give us more options."

Thatcher joins an Astros bullpen that has been revamped this winter with the signings of free agents Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek to join Chad Qualls, who closed last year in his return to Houston. The Astros have blown 54 saves the past two seasons, which is five more than any other team in that span.

"We feel like we significantly improved our bullpen and also added some Major League quality depth and options for the staff to choose between," Luhnow said. "It's going to be an important component of us being able to take this team to the next level, being able to hold onto those leads and stay in the game so our offense gets a chance to come back and win. It's going to be substantially improved over what we've seen the last two years."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.