His first two outings of the season both lasted four innings, netting him a combined 11 strikeouts, with just three hits and one walk allowed. Devenski's fastball-slider-changeup repertoire is electric, with each pitch grading out as plus by both the scouting world and numerical results. His change in particular is a beast: Only six American League pitchers have generated more value from their changeups, and all six of those are starting pitchers with far more innings pitched. I've sung Devenski's praises many times, highlighting his fun circle-change grip, and the huge role he's played in the Astros' best-in-the-league record.
On the day of the Home Run Derby, players are lined up in a long row, with reporters getting 45 minutes to ask National League players questions, followed by the same for American League players. While the media swarmed the new prom king Aaron Judge, Devenski sat quietly by himself, taking it all in. This would not stand! Not for a player who might be my favorite to watch in all of baseball these days.
Given a rare extended window to chat as a result, I talked to Devenski about how he interacts with the rest of that loaded Astros bullpen, which pitching role he would want if he could choose anything he wanted, and yes, how he cultivated that unhittable changeup.
Jonah Keri: Your changeup has become of the most effective pitches in all of baseball. Was that natural talent? Did that start early? Did it take years of refinement? How did it come to be?
Chris Devenski: It kind of came to me at a young age, where I realized that a changeup could be an effective pitch -- just by seeing the reaction of the hitter. You see them swing and miss, and also just the way it happened. I remembered the first time I gripped the pitch and threw it [in high school], it was different from the way I throw it now. It was more like a split-change. Eventually I realized I could the same, or even better with the circle grip. And then it just became a matter of working on it as much as I could, refining it.
I threw a no-hitter with it in the minor leagues, in a game where I threw like 60-something changeups. I know what it needs to do, and I know how to make adjustments when something is a little off. I have a feel for it.
JK: I talked to Jeff Luhnow a few days ago (for a future edition of The Jonah Keri Podcast!). He said he would like to see you start games on a regular basis at some point. I know pitchers often have pecking orders for what they'd like to do. Maybe they want to start, followed by wanting to close, then something else. You've been so great at the role you have now. But if you were starting your major league career right now and could choose any role you want, what would it be?
CD: I want to start, and win 300 games! That's what I would want to do.
JK: You've definitely got the repertoire for it. But you're still out there getting batters out for multiple innings at a time. What was the process that led to you taking on that role?
CD: It started with me coming in as a long man when we were losing, just trying to keep the score where it was and give our team a chance to come back. And then it kind of transformed to where I would come in to protect leads. That started last year and it's happening even more this year.
JK: You're part of this really great bullpen that offers so many different looks. [Ken] Giles throwing high-90s heat. Harris with that great curveball. [Luke] Gregerson with the slider of death. Does that help you, having so many different guys throwing so many different kinds of pitches and pitching styles?
CD: You can learn so much just by watching the game, just by paying attention. The biggest benefit for me is really learning from those guys directly. You watch Luke and his nasty slider, I've watched it so many times, and then my own slider's gotten better over time. Ken too, I've watched his slider and learned some things as a result.
JK: Does that work the other way too? You've got this great changeup, are other guys learning from you too?
CD: I've definitely talked to guys, for sure. When they ask, I just always tell them to keep it simple. It's really just things like keeping that arm speed where you want it. Then after that, making adjustments. They all have their own way of doing things, but any time I can help offer tips here or there, I like doing it.