By pitching five effective innings in relief of Erik Bedard on Monday, Lucas Harrell saved the Astros bullpen in a 6-1 loss to the Reds at Minute Maid Park. The bullpen will be well rested for Tuesday’s game with Cincinnati.
In the bigger picture, Harrell is hopeful of saving his job for next season.
“I’ve said all along I want to start here next year,” said Harrell. “I want to be one of the guys that helps lead the team to win.
“This year I didn’t really pitch well. It’s one of those things where I kind of beat myself a lot. I got to get back to doing the things I did last year. To make sure I have a chance to make the team next year.”
Harrell has had an up and down year in 2013. Mostly down. He began the season in the rotation but struggled. Except for a spot start, he’s been used as a long reliever. He’s made 22 starts and 12 relief appearances this year. In 11 of his starts he has allowed two or fewer runs.
Last season Harrell led the Astros in wins (11), innings (193.2) and starts (32). He was the club’s most consistent starting pitcher, going five or more innings in all but one of his 32 starts. He entered the 2013 season battling Bud Norris as the ace of the staff.
On Monday, Harrell relieved Bedard in the top of the fifth inning with the Astros down 4-0. Harrell gave up two runs in his first inning, but held the Reds scoreless his final four innings.
“Very promising,” said Astros manager Bo Porter. “What I liked was he was back to getting ground balls (for outs). That’s when he’s at his best, when his sinker ball is moving. You start to see bats being broken and jammed shots.
“That’s when you know the late life is there and the ball is really moving. It’s ground ball after ground ball. He gave up the two runs, but from a standpoint of progress, that was a pretty good outing for him.”
In Harrell’s prior relief appearance on Sept. 3 versus Minnesota, he pitched three scoreless innings.
For the season Harrell is 6-16 with a 5.93 ERA. In 145 2/3 innings the right-hander has allowed more walks (86) than he has strikeouts (84). On Monday Harrell allowed only three hits with four walks and three strikeouts.
“What worked for me best was getting strike one, getting ahead (in the count),” said Harrell. “Any time I’m behind, it’s been a thing where I’ve struggled. Main focus right now is to just get ahead.”
Just as important as Harrell’s strong showing, was that the other relievers got an extra day of rest.
“Any time you can save the bullpen from having to pitch in a game like that where the starter goes four (innings), you can come out and throw five innings, and now everybody is fresh for (Tuesday) in case of a tight game,” said Harrell. “Now they (relievers) can pitch in a tight situation and have a fresh arm.
“To help the bullpen was huge. That was my main concern. Not to let them use anybody else.”