Southpaw Sipp shines in bullpen utility role

Southpaw Sipp shines in bullpen utility role

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Just because Tony Sipp is left-handed doesn't mean he'll pitch in the same role as most southpaw relievers. As last year proved, he's anything but a situational lefty.

Sipp, who signed a three-year, $18-million deal, played a vital role for the Astros last year and did just about a little of everything -- of course, he handled lefties pretty well, but he also had success against right-handers and worked in some high-pressure roles throughout the season. He was manager A.J. Hinch's Swiss Army knife out of the bullpen.

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"I think they have enough confidence in me now to throw me in as early or as late as possible," Sipp said. "It's probably a similar role that I had last year, though with a lefty, you never really have a set role. Just be prepared for that slot of left-handed batters, but I think they have confidence against me with righties, too."

Sipp, 32, went 4-4 with a 1.99 ERA in 60 games last year, finishing second among Astros relievers in ERA for the second year in a row. He held right-handers to a .190 batting average (lefties hit .227).

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"He's really versatile, because he handles lefties and righties," Hinch said. "He could go anywhere from a bridge in the middle to leverage innings late in the game. I have complete confidence in him, from the first reliever out of the gate all the way to finishing a game. He's very valuable for us. When you put him in a game, he can go in for a while. He can get a right-hander in-between two lefties; he can get two righties out that match up well with him."

Of course, being left-handed, Sipp would like to pitch better against lefties this year. The Astros signed Neal Cotts early in camp to provided more left-handed depth in the bullpen with Sipp.

"I need to get ahead and make sure I have control of my split, be able to throw it for a ball and throw it for a strike whenever I want to," he said. "More than anything, throw your pitches whenever you want to throw them, and not be afraid to get behind and keep the game at your pace, no matter what the role is."

Now that he finally has a multi-year deal and a secure role in the bullpen, Sipp can safely say he feels at home in Houston.

"We're going to have a good bullpen this year, so we're going have a pretty decent family down there," he said. "It's up to each and every one of us not to mess that up. I'm sure we're going to have pretty good stats [in the bullpen], but I don't want to be the guy to mess that up."

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