WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- There's a noticeable difference in the way closer Ken Giles navigates his way around the clubhouse these days. Giles is clearly much more comfortable in his skin and his surroundings after a tumultuous first year in Houston in which his early-season struggles led to stress and self-doubt.
Following an eventful year-plus in which the Phillies dealt him to the Astros, he got married and had his first child, Giles is ready to put it all together on the field this year. Astros manager A.J. Hinch has said Giles will close in most situations in the regular season.
"I had a big plate in front of me," Giles said. "There was probably a lot of adjusting, but I think I did very well adjusting to what I needed to do."
Giles appeared in 69 games for the Astros in 2016, working his way into the closer role in the second half. He saved 15 games in 20 chances, posting a 4.11 ERA with 102 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings for a 14.0 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio that ranked fifth in club history as a reliever. He surrendered eight home runs, including three in his first four outings.
"Coming in and not knowing anybody, that was probably the biggest thing," Giles said. "I had to build a bond with these guys, build a relationship. Building a relationship isn't easy because you have to earn that first and that respect. It probably didn't go well the first round, my first month. After that, I showed them who I really was and what I was capable of doing, and everything started getting easier and easier and easier."
The 26-year-old still has the stuff -- the 101-mph fastball and sharp slider -- that allowed him to dominate at times last season. And now that he's in the right frame of mind, Giles is coming to camp with more muscle strength after hitting the weights. He says he feels stronger, both mentally and physically.
"I think he's settled in a little bit," Hinch said. "He's had a full season with all of those guys. He has an expectation upon himself. The weight he carried around as far as wanting to dominate so soon after the trade and all that comes with that, we're pretty far past that."
The stress of his on-field struggles took its toll on Giles, who admitted he was making things too complicated and needed to simplify his mechanics.
"Everybody knows what they're capable of doing, and if they're not meeting their expectation, of course you're going to be really hard on yourself," Giles said. "For me, I'm just a big, hard-headed guy. I want to go out there and compete and do well for my teammates, and I want to win. That's all I basically want to do is win, and if I'm not having fun doing it, I'm not going to be very happy, and I'm going to make myself more stressful. This year, I'm a lot more relaxed, laid-back -- just go out there and compete and win games for these guys."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.