Early success has Astros feeling bullish about their 'pen

Early success has Astros feeling bullish about their 'pen

SEATTLE -- Lefty Tony Sipp was with the Astros last season when they struggled to protect leads, which had pretty much been the case the previous two years as well. But a weakness has turned into a major strength for the Astros, whose bullpen did another excellent job in Monday's 7-5 win over the Mariners at Safeco Field.

With starter Asher Wojciechowski pulled after he allowed the first two batters in the fifth to reach base with the score tied, the bullpen held Seattle to one run and two hits in five innings to lower its season ERA to 2.06. Houston had the second-lowest bullpen ERA in the American League entering Monday.

"You can tell everyone out there has confidence," Sipp said. "You can flip a coin and put any guy out there at any given time. And you know it's like a friendly competition -- see who can be the best guy out there and you know, hopefully we're all out there sitting on ones [ERA] at the end of the year, high-fiving, trying to see who can get down to point zero something. It's one of those things like winning [being] contagious; successful bullpens kind of feed off each other also."

Joe Thatcher gave up a run in the fifth, but Will Harris threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings, Sipp (1-0) threw 1 1/3 scoreless and Luke Gregerson nailed down his third save with a scoreless ninth.

Harris strikes out the side

"Any time you go out there and get guys out, no matter what the situation is, [it's] always a positive thing," Gregerson said. "That's what we're here to do. I'm very happy right now with the way the ball's coming out of my hand, the effectiveness of the pitches."

Gregerson has been a part of some solid bullpens in recent years in San Diego and Oakland, and was even a teammate of current Astros relievers Chad Qualls, Pat Neshek, Samuel Deduno and Thatcher on the 2011 Padres. He says the current bullpen has a chance to be special.

"I know what they're capable of, and I've seen what they can do over the years, and I definitely have to say this is definitely up there with one of the better ones," he said.

Harris, who made the club when Josh Fields started the season on the disabled list with a groin strain, has posted 21 consecutive appearances without allowing a run, a span that covers 23 1/3 innings since last season. Gregerson has seven consecutive scoreless appearances to start the season.

"The way we're lined up, we've got a lot of weapons in the bullpen," manager A.J. Hinch said. "Eventually, we'd like to not use them so often and so early, but tonight we needed everything we could."

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.