Ex-Phillie Ken Giles fits in fine as Astros closer

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Houston Astros reliever Ken Giles reacts after the final out of a 6-4 win during a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays Sunday, April 23, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

NEW YORK - He is playing on a Houston Astros team that is 24-11, but closer Ken Giles won't ever forget his baseball roots with a team on the lower end of the standings.

The righthander was drafted in the seventh round by the Phillies in 2011, was in big leagues three years later, and became a closer late in 2015.

"They gave me my chance and I will always be thankful to them for giving me my opportunity," Giles said Thursday afternoon, before he earned the save in the Astros' 3-2 win over the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. "I took advantage of my opportunity and I learned so much from the Phillies, even though I was there for a short time."

He was with the big-league club for a little more than a year and a half before he was dealt to Houston on Dec. 12, 2015. Giles was traded along with infielder Jonathan Arauz for five pitchers-righthanders Vince Velasquez, Mark Appel, Harold Arauz, Thomas Eshelman, and lefthander Brett Oberholtzer.

Giles, who turns 27 in September, blossomed in his short time with the Phillies. His move to the big leagues was accelerated in 2014 when he began the season at double-A Reading, spent time at triple-A Lehigh Valley, and finished the year with the Phillies, going 3-1 in the majors with a 1.18 ERA in 44 games.

He became the Phillies' closer the next year after the trade of Jonathan Papelbon to Washington on July 28, 2015. Giles was 6-3 with a 1.80 ERA, with 87 strikeouts and 25 walks. He averaged 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

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Papelbon never connected with the fans, but he was known to have a good relationship with his fellow pitchers, including Giles.

"He was my mentor," Giles said. "He was the guy I looked up to and the guy I wanted to learn from if I wanted to be a successful closer. . . . I believe I took his words and I rolled with it."

It didn't happen immediately for Giles once he was traded. He got off to the rockiest of starts last season, sporting a 9.00 ERA in 11 April appearances as the Astros' setup man. He admits to putting too much pressure on himself.

"They were a playoff team [in 2015] and you want to impress and show everybody what you are worth," he said. "I didn't start well, but after that I showed my true potential."

The Astros didn't earn a playoff berth last year, posting an 84-78 record. After the first month, Giles' ERA was 3.23 the rest of the 2016 season. He eventually became the closer and recorded 15 saves while striking out 102. Giles became the first Astros reliever with 100 strikeouts since Brad Lidge had 104 in 2006.

"Some of these guys who throw hard, we forget there is maturation process as they learn the league learn themselves and where they fit in," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said.

Giles is known for his triple-digit heater. His fastball this season is averaging 97.1 mph, according to Fangraphs.com's PITCHf/x.

"I love everything about him," said Astros shortstop Carlos Correa. "He is a competitor, gives his best every time on the field, works really hard and he has closer stuff."

That includes a slider that this year is averaging 85.6 mph.

"He comes in and pounds it up in the zone and has a great slider," Astros catcher Brian McCann said. "He has a lot of things going for him."

Giles has 10 saves in 11 chances, but his ERA ballooned to 4.20 after he allowed a run and was saved by leftfielder Jake Marisnick, who threw out Jacoby Ellsbury at the plate after Gary Sanchez's RBI single, ending the game. Giles has 18 strikeouts and five walks in 15 innings.

"I am in more of a comfort zone this year," Giles said. "Things feel so much better this year."

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard