With spot in 'pen assured, Sipp focused on preparing for season

Left-hander began '14 in Triple-A El Paso after not making Padres

With spot in 'pen assured, Sipp focused on preparing for season

JUPITER, Fla. -- After unsuccessfully battling for a spot in the Padres' bullpen last spring, left-hander Tony Sipp entered camp this year as a lock to make the Astros. So much so that he had pitched three times in Minor League games before finally getting back on the mound in Grapefruit League action with an inning of work Saturday against the Marlins.

Sipp began last year at Triple-A El Paso before the Astros picked him up in early May, and he immediately became one of their most dependable arms. He went 4-3 with a 3.38 ERA with four saves in 56 games, posting the second-lowest opponents' average by a relief pitcher in Astros history (.157).

"It's definitely a big turnaround from where I was last year, fighting for a job," Sipp said. "This year, I can come in and kind of pace myself and get ready for the season however I want, but it makes a big difference and takes a lot of stress off.

"They say what a difference a day makes, but this year has made a big difference, coming in here and trying to compete for a spot [last year] and this year coming in here working on my stuff and getting ready for the season. I'm blessed to be where I'm at right now."

Sipp had pitched in three Minor League games on the back fields of Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla., including back-to-back outings. Typically, pitchers who have made the club get extra innings on the back fields so the manager can see guys battling for spots in big league games.

"The closer you get to the season, you want to see what you look like against Major League guys," Sipp said. "Today showed I could get out there and pound the strike zone. Things are magnified in game speed, and I wanted to get as much momentum going into the season as you can. You just don't get the same feel on the Minor League side."

Astros manager A.J. Hinch is very familiar with Sipp from his time in San Diego, where Hinch worked in the front office prior to coming to the Astros.

"He's hard to hit," Hinch said. "He can handle both righties and lefties with his split. We haven't seen a ton of him in the stadium games. He's been doing a lot of work on the back fields, but it's nice to get him into some action. He looked good. Getting out of that inning with the slider on [Dee Gordon] was very notable."

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.