HOUSTON -- Astros manager Bo Porter pulled reliever Chad Qualls aside following a team meeting two weeks ago and told him he would be handling the ninth inning. On Friday, Porter told the media Qualls was his closer.
After going with a closer by committee for the first month of the season, Porter acknowledged the veteran would be his handling full-time closing duties -- something he had in essence been doing when available since the May 2 team meeting.
"We have a lead in the ninth, Chad Qualls will get the ball," Porter said. "He's really been good of late, and it actually looks like his velo is back, his heavy sinker has been working -- it's ground ball after ground ball. If we have a lead and he's available, he'll get the ball."
Qualls, 35, had been one of a handful of relievers who had been in the mix to close, including Josh Fields, Anthony Bass and Matt Albers. Bass and Albers are on the disabled list, and Fields recently returned from Triple-A after struggling to close games.
"It's news to me today that Bo had told [the media] I was the 'closer,'" Qualls said. "It's good news for me, and I'm not going to do anything different and be the same person."
Qualls, who returned to Houston as a free agent in December for his 11th big league season after starting his career here, has definitely been throwing better lately. Since blowing a save April 19 at Oakland, he has recorded nine consecutive scoreless outings, with nine strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings. Entering Friday night's series opener against the White Sox, the Astros as a team had converted only seven of 15 save chances.
"I don't like to blame the fact I was ridiculously sick, but in Oakland I hadn't picked up a ball in about seven days, and my fastball was really flat," he said. "I think I was only throwing 90 or 91 [mph] maybe and felt really out of sync. I wasn't really locating and up in the zone.
"Since then, my sinker's been moving a lot, I'm down in the zone and my slider feels good. As long as I continue to feel these pitches and throw the ball where I want to throw it and keep the ball down in the zone, I'll be successful."
Qualls has extensive experience closing games. He converted 24 of 29 save chances in 2009 with Arizona and 12 of 16 with the D-backs in 2010. He has converted two of three in save situations for the Astros this year.
"It's nice that I have done it before, but it's still pressure situations and pressure innings," Qualls said. "With the way we've been playing -- we haven't won very many games -- there's a lot more stress put on the later innings. The games that we're winning, we need to win those games, where as opposing teams that are winning all the time, if they blow one, it's OK. You can win one the next day. There's a little bit more pressure on us, because we haven't been winning that many games."
Porter doesn't buy into the notion relief pitchers perform better when their roles are defined.
"I've always said this: When the phone rings and your name is called, whatever the situation is, it's your job to execute in that situation," Porter said. "It doesn't matter if it's the fifth inning, sixth inning, seventh inning, eighth inning, ninth inning. When you're on a team and you're called to execute a situation, it's your job to do the best you can to execute."