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Albuquerque’s Ken Giles looking to get groove back, head back to Astros

The 2018 baseball season has been decidedly stormy for Ken Giles.

He’s hoping this weekend will be a silver lining.

Giles, the Albuquerque native who helped the Houston Astros win a World Series championship last season, is currently pitching for Triple-A Fresno. He allowed a run and recorded a strikeout in a brief eighth-inning appearance Friday as the Grizzlies opened a three-day, four-game series with an 8-5 win at Isotopes Park.

It’s not the venue Giles had in mind for late July. He’s started each of the last two seasons as the Astros’ primary closer and is 46-for-50 in save opportunities during that span, including 12-for-12 this season.

But the 27-year-old right-hander has also had some well-publicized meltdowns. He struggled in the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers last fall, famously punched himself in the face this year after pitching in a non-save situation in a game the Astros eventually lost to the New York Yankees. And he was sent down after a July 10 game against Oakland. Giles allowed three straight singles in that one and reacted angrily when Astros manager A.J. Hinch removed him.

Giles said Friday he has chosen to put those crashes in his rearview mirror. The Rio Grande High alum is trying to make the most of his unexpected Triple-A stint.

“Trying to get my groove back,” Giles said. “That’s all I’m here to do. We had a lot of guys pitching well (in Houston) and I wasn’t getting many opportunities to work out the kinks. I’m getting opportunities here and I plan to take advantage, get back up and help the club.”

Giles certainly has the stuff to be an asset to Houston in the season’s second half. He features a nasty, biting slider and his fastball tops out north of 100 mph. Consistency and confidence have been more problematic.

“He’s working on delivery, location, just trying to sharpen up his pitches,” Fresno pitching coach Dyar Miller said of Giles. “He just needs to get a little confidence, feel good about himself and he’ll be back up.”

A little home cooking could help, too. Giles’ parents, Glenn and Diane Giles, live in Albuquerque and planned to attend this weekend’s games. His high school coach, Orlando Griego, turned out with current Rio Grande players Friday in a show of support.

Griego, a former closer at New Mexico State who was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers organization, understands the ups and downs Giles has endured.

“Closer is the position with the smallest margin for error,” Griego said. “The game’s always on the line and you need to be near-perfect. You have a bad night, your team might lose and you don’t know when you’ll get to pitch again and put it behind you. It’s tough.”

But Griego has seen Giles power through difficult times before. The right-hander who transferred to Rio Grande from Eldorado, struggled at New Mexico Junior College before finding his groove at Arizona’s Yavapai College. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011 and quickly evolved into an elite closer — which Griego fully expects him to be again soon.

“Even the best closers struggle sometimes,” Griego said, “especially in non-save situations. Ken Giles has the ability and he’ll put in the work. His best days in baseball are still ahead of him.”

Miller agreed.

“I give Giles a lot of credit,” Miller said. “His attitude’s been great since he got here, he’s one of the guys and he works hard. He doesn’t even complain about our crazy travel.”

Giles and his Fresno teammates arrived at Isotopes Park around 3 p.m. Friday, roughly 12 hours after they caught an airport shuttle in Fresno. Still, Giles talked Miller into letting him pitch Friday, his third appearance in four days.

If he has any say in the matter, Giles will pitch again before Fresno leaves town. The Isotopes and Grizzlies will complete a suspended game prior to today’s regularly scheduled contest and complete the series Sunday.

“I pitched here once in high school,” Giles said, “and I watched a lot of games here growing up. I sat in the stands to watch (then-San Diego State pitcher Stephen) Strasburg win a 1-0 game against UNM (in 2009). I’ve been looking forward to pitching here. Then I need to get back up and start sticking it to big-league hitters as soon as possible.”

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