Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 2/15/14
The six save opportunities righthander Josh Fields pitched in last year were more than any Astros pitcher besides Jose Veras. No longer a kid at age 28, Fields is not a hard-thrower who only came into closing recently because of, say, an aborted attempt at starting. He was dominant as the stopper at the University of Georgia, where he set the SEC record for saves (41) and earned himself a spot in the first round of the 2008 MLB draft. He loves the job. “That’s what I love to do,” Fields said. “That’s what I did in college and that’s what I’ve always done.” In the final month of the 2013 season, Fields had a 1.74 ERA — more than three runs better than the 4.97 mark he had overall. It was his first year in the majors. Fields wants to close again, too. But even though the Astros have no named closer yet, Fields is an underdog. A veteran like Chad Qualls, one of several veteran additions to the pitching staff, seems the favorite. Jesse Crain, when healthy, is another who could close. “Josh Fields did a tremendous job at the end of the year,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said this offseason. “He’s certainly going to be an option for us whether it’s seventh, eighth, ninth inning, he’s certainly an option.” The value of the save as a statistic has been maligned in recent years because of its arbitrary nature, but relievers and managers alike appreciate definition of roles, if not the stat itself. Knowing generally what inning they are tasked with is generally reassuring for pitchers who are dealing with a lot of unknowns to begin. Fields isn’t disillusioned about the competition he’ll be up against. He knows why the veterans were added, and he said he’d “absolutely” understand if he’s not the last line of defense. “Honestly, I’d do whatever they want me to do,” Fields said. “Whatever helps the team out the most. I just want to be there, I just want to play in Houston. … I know they brought a lot of relief pitchers in this year, so a lot of guys with experience. So we’ll see. We’ll see what happens.” “It’s nothing personal, and that’s the one thing, it’s the biggest thing to understand: it’s business. They have to go with whoever they think gives them the best shot at that point in the game. I can’t say anything — if I was in their position, I’d be looking for that same guy.” Fields had a right forearm injury at the start of last year, after the Astros made him the top pick in the Rule 5 draft. That meant the team had to keep him on the roster the entire season lest he be offered back to his old club, the Red Sox. No such requirement exists this year, and Fields has minor league options — but he’s a favorite to make the bullpen, even if it’s not as a closer. “It was a lot of positives,” Fields said of 2013. “First half I struggled, that sucked. I obviously got hurt, that sucked. But I learned a lot just about being in the big leagues and understanding that it’s the same game. You make a pitch in A-ball and it’s going to get the same guy out in the big leagues. “Knowing that I have the ability to compete at that level was pretty good for the confidence.” Fields said he tended to be a thrower too much, at times. He spent the offseason at home in his native Georgia, working out, hunting deer and ducks and playing video games. “I did a lot of hunting. A lot of saving the world — Call of Duty,” Fields deadpanned. “It’s a tough job. Somebody’s got to do it.” He and a friend combined to shoot 78 ducks in three days in Missouri.
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