HOUSTON -- Everyone knows camaraderie is a key among relievers, who are usually sequestered in the bullpen during games and are on different schedules from everyone else. And few players have such dramatic highs and lows on a nightly basis.
The Astros, of course, have had a lot of lows in the bullpen the last few years, which is why they made it a top priority to improve it. The bullpen has been one of the team's strengths two weeks into the season, and their previous familiarity with each other has helped.
"It's a team within a team," manager A.J. Hinch said. "These guys hang out together a lot. It's the one area on our team where they're detached from the dugout and they have a real great camaraderie, and it goes with the character of guys down there, the personalities down there. It's one functioning unit, which is good."
Newcomers Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek and Joe Thatcher have a history with each other, and Gregerson and Neshek were teammates previously with Chad Qualls. In fact, Gregerson, Qualls, Neshek, Thatcher and long reliever Sam Deduno were all on the 2011 Padres.
Hinch, who was vice president and assistant GM of the Padres in 2011, said getting so many former teammates back together wasn't necessarily a goal when constructing the bullpen in the offseason.
"When we started this offseason, we wanted to have multiple guys that could finish games," he said. "Chad Qualls has a long history of closing, and Neshek and Gregerson were added for that reason. The way the game has evolved, those last nine outs are really hard to get, and to have guys that have done it before is nice to have."
Unlike many bullpens, the Astros' is void of truly hard throwers, though that could soon change when right-hander Josh Fields is activated from the disabled list. He's scheduled to throw multiple innings at Triple-A Fresno, but it will hard to find someone to send out when Fields is ready.
"Certainly, it's nice to have velocity in your back pocket, but it's not the only way to get outs," Hinch said. "Whether it's Neshek's angle, Gregerson's movement or Qualls' wipeout slider, there's other ways to use these guys that match up pretty well with the weaknesses of their hitters, and given their experience they know how to use their stuff."