Feldman's long relief boosts Astros in extras

Feldman's long relief boosts Astros in extras

HOUSTON -- The Astros are a Major League-best 7-4 in extra-inning games this season, and a big part of their success is a deep bullpen that includes multiple converted starters.

Veteran Scott Feldman (4-3) got the win in Saturday's 5-4 victory over the Reds at Minute Maid Park after throwing two shutout frames in the 10th and 11th to keep the score tied. Since moving to the bullpen in late April to make room for the impending return of Lance McCullers, Feldman has a 4-1 record with a 2.18 ERA in 20 2/3 innings -- representing a significant improvement from the 4.58 ERA and 0-2 mark he posted in four starts to begin the season.

"If our starter can get us into the sixth or seventh inning, it's hard to match up with our length," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said Sunday, referring to his depth of long relief. "I feel very comfortable as the game goes on that if we have the most available pitching, we can outlast them.

"Having the six-out, nine-out, 12-out relievers that we've had to call on with all these close games has been a great competitive advantage."

In the 14 games he's pitched in as a reliever, Feldman has seen his numbers skyrocket across the board. He's struck out 19 batters in those 20 2/3 frames while walking only one, and that's helped limit opposing hitters to an OPS of .657. As a starter, Feldman recorded just 13 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings, with opposing batters tallying an OPS of .949 against him.

Feldman's average velocity has risen significantly on all of his pitches since moving to the bullpen, but he says the timing of that has been "coincidental." Instead, the 33-year-old right-hander credits his bump in velocity to adjustments he made to his mechanics while working with pitching coach Brent Strom and bullpen coach Craig Bjornson.

Most importantly, the Astros have won nine of the 14 games in which Feldman has thrown in relief. As a starter, Houston went 0-4 with Feldman on the hill.

"It feels like I've never been on a team that's played this many extra-inning games," Feldman said Sunday. "But we've played a lot of close games for the last couple years, so hopefully when you get in those situations and you're more experienced with them, you can find ways to win.

"And that's what I think we've been doing."

While Feldman picked up Saturday's win, he's not the only converted starter to find late success in Houston's deep bullpen. Michael Feliz, a 22-year-old right-hander who started in the Minors, is also 4-1 as a reliever with the Astros this season -- with all four wins coming in extra-inning games. In his 7 2/3 innings of extra-inning baseball, Feliz has allowed only three hits and one run while striking out 12.

"It's big," Hinch said of their performance. "Feldman, Michael Feliz, [Chris] Devinski, those guys ... we have to have the most length out of any bullpen in baseball.

"We're good at [extra-inning games] and we win a lot of them, so I guess I shouldn't complain too much," Hinch added. "But it's pretty taxing to go through this many extra-inning games. We lead the world in it, but we also win a lot of them. I guess if we continue to win, we'll play as long as we have to. ... But some wins in regulation would go a long way, too."

Ben DuBose is a contributor to MLB.com based in Houston. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.