HOUSTON -- One of the reasons the Astros' bullpen has flourished in the past three weeks has been veteran Chad Qualls, who's settled nicely into the closer's role and is throwing the ball as well as he has in the last couple of years.
Qualls saved consecutive games Thursday and Friday, throwing 1 1/3 innings for his fifth save in Friday's win. He has not allowed a run in 17 of his last 18 appearances, including each of his last 14 games covering 12 2/3 innings.
This season marks his first chance to close since he saved 45 games with the D-backs from 2008-10.
"I got the chance [to close] from [manager] Bob Melvin in Arizona in 2008 at the end of the year and hurt my knee, and it kind of derailed me for a little bit," he said. "I feel good. I feel like I've thrown the ball real well for the last year in Miami and the beginning of this year. I hit a funny patch there for 2 1/2 years, but I feel like I finally found my groove again and I'm having fun again and throwing the ball the way I'm used to and the way I enjoy throwing."
With Qualls firmly entrenched as closer, the rest of the relievers have been able to settle into their roles as well. The Astros' bullpen had posted a Major League-best 1.17 ERA in Houston's previous 17 games entering Saturday.
"When [Qualls] got going, it obviously helped our bullpen," manager Bo Porter said. "You had that guy at the back end, and you feel like if we had a lead in the ninth, it doesn't matter who's coming up, you can give him the ball."
Porter keeping rotation plans close to the vest
HOUSTON -- Astros manager Bo Porter still won't tip his hand about which pitcher will be removed from the rotation next week.
The Astros are on their second turn using a six-man rotation, and Porter announced Saturday that Collin McHugh would start Tuesday against the Angels, Jarred Cosart would pitch Wednesday and Brad Peacock on Friday.
It remains to be seen what will become of Brett Oberholtzer, who was called up last week to give the starters an extra day of rest and has gone 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in his two starts. He needed only 81 pitches to throw seven innings to beat the Orioles on Friday
Porter has said the rotation will return to five pitchers next week, and keeping Peacock in line makes it seem like Oberholtzer could be the odd man out.
"It's a good problem to have," Porter said. "The decision as far as keeping Peacock on turn -- we had to skip him because of the arm trouble [May 23], but I think when a guy comes back from an injury, the best thing you can do is try to keep him on turn, so you don't have a setback. As it stands right now, coming out of the off-day with those three guys, as far as the next two starters, we'll visit that on Tuesday."
More consistent time helping Presley find groove
HOUSTON -- When Alex Presley gets to the Astros' clubhouse, he takes a look at the day's lineup, and more often than not, he sees his name on the list.
Whether he's started in the outfield or as the designated hitter, Presley's been listed in the lineup in nine of Houston's last 10 games. Over that time, he's hitting .367, a sizable improvement over his batting average of .246 for the season entering play Saturday.
"It's been a lot more consistent lately, which I think has helped out a lot for me," Presley said.
Presley added that playing in consecutive games for a stretch helps him get in a groove with his timing. In past years, Presley's mindset has been impacted by inconsistent playing time. He felt extra pressure with each at bat.
"It has affected me in the past," Presley said. "I don't feel any of that here, which is nice."
• Right-handed pitcher Alex White has been activated from the disabled list and optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he was on rehab assignment. White was recovering from Tommy John surgery, and in his four rehab appearances with the RedHawks, he tossed five scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and no walks.
• Astros shortstop Jonathan Villar switched his jersey number Saturday to No. 2, which was worn last year by Brandon Barnes. Villar had worn No. 6 since his Major League debut last year. Villar said he wore the number in the Minor Leagues and decided to take it back.