MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Hinch no stranger to closer role dilemma

Astros manager goes with Gregerson over Giles, for now; dealt with similar issues in Arizona, San Diego

Hinch no stranger to closer role dilemma

NEW YORK -- No matter where he works, A.J. Hinch always seems to have a closer issue to deal with -- whether it was in his first tour in the dugout managing the D-backs or his current situation as skipper of the Astros.

"It follows me everywhere," Hinch said on Monday shortly after his club's season opener against the Yankees was postponed a day because of inclement weather.

Just to make a little news, Hinch said during his interview session that veteran right-hander Luke Gregerson would remain his "primary closer," with offseason acquisition Ken Giles filling a role as jack of all bullpen trades.

Hinch: Gregerson to remain Astros' closer

That's curious, considering that Giles was the anticipated closer Dec. 12, when the Astros acquired the 25-year-old right-hander from the Phillies in a seven-player trade.

That may certainly be the eventual outcome, but Giles didn't have a great spring, and Hinch has a comfort level with Gregerson that goes back to his days as assistant general manager of the Padres, when Gregerson was setting up for Huston Street.

"He's a pretty good closer," Hinch said of Gregerson. "He did a pretty good job last season on a pretty good team. He has a slow heartbeat. He's got a real feel on how to pitch. His calmness in the intense moments are critical, particularly there at the end of a game."

Gregerson's immaculate inning

Gregerson saved 31 games for the Astros last season, his first as a closer after five seasons setting up for the Padres and another filling the same role for the A's. It was Gregerson's job by default last season, when Houston had the sixth-best bullpen ERA (3.27) in baseball and the fourth-best bullpen ERA in the American League.

But the Astros' 39 saves ranked No. 21 in the Majors and 10th in the AL.

Enter Giles, who saved 15 games for the Phils last season, all of them after he became the closer when Jonathan Papelbon was traded to the Nationals on July 28.

This spring, Giles had a 6.75 ERA, allowing seven earned runs and 12 hits in 9 1/3 innings over nine appearances.

Giles on pitching consistency

Just before camp broke, Hinch sat down with Gregerson and Giles and told them about their defined roles.

"We're going to have a really good bullpen," Hinch said. "We're going to have a dynamic bullpen that's going to get a lot of outs in a lot of different ways. I'm very happy with that. We're going to need every bit of that to get where we want to go. How we sort it out is not all that complicated. The goal is to win tonight's game and get us to the finish line."

Hinch had little more than a year managing the D-backs from the time he replaced Bob Melvin early in the 2009 season, and he was relieved of those duties along with then-general manager Josh Byrnes on July 1, 2010.

Hinch's lack of a closer and a cohesive bullpen was one of the major reasons he recorded a .420 winning percentage and an 89-123 record in Arizona.

When Byrnes took over as the Padres' general manager and made Hinch his assistant, they began to assess San Diego's bullpen situation in light of that experience. It was one of the prime reasons why, in late 2011, they acquired Street in a trade with the Rockies.

Gregerson, who had set up for Heath Bell, did the same job in front of Street in San Diego for the next two seasons before Gregerson was traded to Oakland.

It's no wonder that Hinch has an affinity for the 31-year-old Gregerson. In any shape or form, in two organizations with which Hinch has had key baseball operation roles, Gregerson has gotten the job done.

"He's really good," Hinch said. "He's a really underrated component of a really good bullpen. I think, because he doesn't have some of the gaudy numbers on a radar gun or even statistically, sometimes we downplay the continuous performer. He embodies that. He's done that his whole career.

"You put the distinction of closer on him and it changes the way people look at him. But he gets his outs."

Certainly, Hinch hasn't developed that kind of relationship and trust in Giles, who has been with the Astros for only a short time.

Giles, a seventh-round pick by the Phillies in the 2011 Draft, is beginning only his third Major League season. Hinch believes that Giles' time will come.

"There's just different ways to use him as he's getting to know his new team," Hinch said. "He's going to be fine, and he is fine. And I'm not so sure that he isn't more valuable to have him at your discretion to use him whenever.

"Where it ends? Wade Davis replaced Greg Holland, Mariano Rivera did the same with John Wetteland, Papelbon to Keith Foulke. We've seen it over the years, it's not new. The guy who's up and coming becomes the closer."

When and if Giles will supplant Gregerson is still open to question, a bullpen question Hinch always seems to be pondering.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.