MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Devenski serves as Astros' version of Miller

Devenski serves as Astros' version of Miller

HOUSTON -- When last season ended, the Astros were one of a few teams that did not go looking for an Andrew Miller. That's because they were thrilled with a guy they already had.

Say hello to right-hander Chris Devenski.

If Devenski is not yet a household name, well, these things take time. His role is the relatively new gig Indians manager Terry Francona carved out for Miller last season.

How should we describe it? Devenski isn't a closer. He's not exactly a setup guy, either. He's also not a starter.

Instead, Devenski is that reliever that bridges the innings between the starting pitcher and the late-inning guy. No, this role is not new in baseball. Rather, what's new is giving it to someone like Devenski.

Once upon a time, that spot went to the 24th or 25th man on the roster. He'd be a guy with below-average stuff, often an older player trying to hang on one more season.

Devenski is 26 years old. His fastball at times crackles at 95 mph. Devenski's slider is solid, and his changeup is one of the best pitches in the Majors, a swing-and-miss weapon that would make Trevor Hoffman proud.

Not that long ago, middle relievers were used when a team was hopelessly behind and didn't want to burn up any of its best relievers. Now, teams are conceding nothing.

"What clubs are starting to realize is you don't want to give up on any game," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said.

And there's the role Devenski had on Wednesday, when he entered a 2-2 game in the eighth and threw four hitless innings to allow Houston to win 5-3 in the 13th.

Devenski on his relief outing

This is what the Astros have come to expect from Devenski. In 44 relief appearances since he made his Major League debut last April, his 1.54 ERA ranks fourth among all qualifying relievers.

Here are the names of the three relievers ahead of Devenski on that list: Zach Britton, Miller and Aroldis Chapman.

Devenski threw 60 pitches against the Mariners on Wednesday and got 10 swings and misses, nine of them on changeups, according to Statcast™.

Devenski's fastball averaged 93 mph, his changeup 82.5 mph. During one sequence, there was a 14-mph difference between his pitches. Hitters simply can't adjust their timing, and given Devenski's aggressiveness in the strike zone, it's an effective combination.

Here's some 2016 Statcast™ data on Devenski's changeup:

• Third-lowest slugging percentage (.240) in the Majors

• 10th-lowest batting average (.193)

• Seventh-lowest whiff rate (39.4 percent)

• Second-highest percentage (31.6) of changeups thrown among pitchers with at least 1,500 pitches

To have a changeup that good at a relatively young age speaks volumes about Devenski's understanding of arm speed and timing.

Devenski strikes out the side

"I think I realized it when I was playing shortstop in junior college," Devenski said. "I always considered myself a good hitter. This guy threw me three straight changeups, and I swung and missed all of 'em. Next at-bat, same thing. Missed three changeups.

"I was talking to my hitting coach in the dugout and asked, 'What's going on here?' I told him it looked like a fastball, and I was swinging right through it."

One year later when Devenski switched from shortstop to pitcher, he had those at-bats in mind.

"With the arm speed I have, maybe I can reverse that," Devenski said.

That's the key. Devenski's fastball and changeup are thrown with the same arm action, giving hitters no time to adjust.

"You're going to get a hitter on arm speed," Devenski sad. "You're going to fool 'em on that. I've trusted throwing it with as much arm speed and conviction as I have. I've been able to keep that good movement on it."

And there's Devenski's makeup.

"I don't think fear enters into his mind at all," Luhnow said. "That's a big reason he's as good as he is. His mound presence is incredible as is his desire to be out there and to compete every single day. He'll take the ball with the same intensity every single time regardless of the score."

Devenski's first career win

Devenski arrived in one of Luhnow's first trades, this one in the summer of 2012, in a deal that sent veteran right-hander Brett Myers to the White Sox.

Luhnow credits assistant general manager Mike Elias for picking Devenski out of the White Sox's farm system.

"We wanted guys with high upsides," Luhnow said, "and that's what Devo has. He battles every hitter as if it were the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series."

As Houston catcher Evan Gattis said, "He's one of the best competitors I've ever been around. His arm speed is excellent, but it's what that [changeup] does after he throws it. It's got great movement and creates great deception."

How long will Devenski have this role? He'd logically become a starter or a closer as his career unfolds. But teams are also beginning to understand the value of having someone who does exactly what Devenski does.

"I can see him doing a little bit of everything," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I think he could get the last three outs of a game if we needed that. I don't think one particular role will define this guy. His demeanor, his pitch repertoire, his ability to throw strikes, his mentality, it bodes well for him."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.