Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 5/24/12
If the Astros are in a rebuilding mode, one major element appears ahead of schedule. For the month of May the Astros' staff ERA of 2.75 leads all of Major League Baseball. If one considers that sample too small, the season-long ERA is 3.44 ranks sixth. The relievers' performance has been especially impressive: The bullpen has a WHIP of 1.19, 7th among all 30 teams for the season. (WHIP is a better barometer for relievers than ERA because it accounts for how many baserunners are allowed as opposed to ERA which may be skewed by one poor outing). Starters Bud Norris and Wandy Rodriguez have been nearly unhittable in recent weeks. Norris is a candidate for pitcher of the month with a 4-0 record and a .35 ERA for the month. Rodriguez is 4-4 with a 2.14 ERA on the season. "We're going to try to push each other," said Norris. "I'm trying to catch Wandy, Wandy's trying to catch me. Happ is trying to catch me, I'm trying to catch Happ. I think we've all been throwing the ball really well and we're pushing each other to get better each and every day, really feeding off each other. I think that's definitely helped out." In terms of the bullpen, pitching coach Doug Brocail credits much of the success thus far to the veteran leadership of Brandon Lyon and Brett Myers. "It's nice to have guys on your staff that the younger guys can look up to, can follow," said Brocail. "If you look down in the bullpen, there's no screwing around. There's a lot of talk down there and when I call down I know it's all serious business." Of course all the encouraging signs can be tempered with the fact that the season is not even close to midpoint. But the counter to that is that many of the arms on the staff are in the early stages of a career. While there's a decent chance Rodriguez will be traded this season, Norris is only 27 years old. In the bullpen, Wilton Lopez, who has a .75 WHIP in 25 23 innings, turns 29 in July and Rhiner Cruz, another impressive arm out of the pen is 25. The key with Lopez and Cruz is sustained health. Wesley Wright, the lefty specialist who has a 2.19 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, is 27 years old. Yes, the stats for relievers often fluctuate dramatically from one season to the next, but for the moment, success beats the alternative. "We play a lot of close games and when you play a lot of close games, (relievers) get a lot more opportunities to go out there," said Wright. "Whenever there's a lot more on the line guys tend to pitch a little bit better. I think it's a product of being in lot of close games and having a bullpen with guys that are able to do a lot of different things." Brocail doesn't want his staff to get too involved with reading their stats. "I know numbers don't lie," said Brocail. "But if you look at those numbers and say ,'Hey we're the best.' I want our guys to go out as if it's a 1-0 ballgame all the time. You can say we're (good) on paper but we have a lot to do, still." As the season moves forward, the pitching staff will have quite the challenge to continue at the current pace. But potential trades may also play a role, if the club decides to move Rodriguez or Myers in a trade for young prospects.
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