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Tips From Baseball’s Newest Fireman on How to Thrive in an Evolving Bullpen Era

The Astros’ Chris Devenski shares what he’s learned as he enters his second year in the major leagues

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Chris "The Dragon" Devenski has an unpredictable, multi-inning role as part of the Astros bullpen. It’s worked for the second-year pitcher, though — so far he’s given up just one run through nine innings in 2017. He joined Ben Lindbergh and Michael Baumann on The Ringer MLB Show to talk about his role and what his tips are for being effective in a bullpen.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Stay Ahead in the Count

Chris Devenski: I always take pride of being ahead of hitters and being ahead in a count, and from there you can do what you want. That was one thing that [we preached] at [CSU] Fullerton. The managers I had there, the coaching staff, they preached "Get ahead. Strike one. Get ahead, get ahead." And then you can expand the zone. It was really instilled in me to get ahead of hitters. I’d rather give up a home run than have a four-pitch walk, in my mind, because you’re gonna beat me with your best stuff.

Have a Changeup and Fastball Ready

Michael Baumann: I wanted to ask about the changeup specifically, because just watching your first appearance of the year against the Mariners, you made a lot of guys look silly. When did you discover you had the feel for that? How do you get it to break like that?

Devenski: I discovered a feel for it back probably [in] 2012. I threw a no-hitter and threw like 105 pitches and I believe 60-some-odd changeups. And I had a lot of swing-and-misses on it. I took a lot of confidence away from that outing.

It was something I continued to work on. It’s a circle changeup grip. It’s that simple. I’ve been able to teach myself some key pointers on it to get depth and to have it work for me.

It’s a big pitch. That, along with having your fastball. I can’t forget that I have a good fastball too, and even my slider, I feel like, is good. I believe in all my pitches and am willing to go out there and give it all I got every night.

And a Slider, Too

Ben Lindbergh: And you adjusted your pitch mix during last season. I think you throw the changeup a lot, but it seemed like you switched from the curve to the slider and really trusted that pitch more as the season went on.

Devenski: I feel like my curveball was good, but it really didn’t play against right-handed hitters the way I experienced. So my pitching coach here, Brent Strom, [would] go over some things, and we started talking about this slider and it was just something I continued to work on and felt comfortable as I progressed throughout the year to be able to throw. That pitch is still nowhere compared to where the changeup can be at, but in time with hard work and preparation and all that, that could be a very good pitch in the near future.

Remain Flexible

Baumann: Last year, you were going anywhere from an inning to two innings to four or five innings, and this year it’s been one appearance of four innings, then three days off, then another appearance. Is that gonna be the new normal? How do you and Brent Strom and A.J. Hinch plan your usage out?

Devenski: A.J. told me that he didn’t really plan on using me like that, but the situation here called upon me to go that many innings. For now we just go and take it day by day and see what happens when I go out there on the field. If it’s a one-inning deal, two-inning deal, whatever it takes, I’ll be able to go out there and give my best effort every time.