Carlos Pena (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Let the games begin, Please!


Doesn’t Spring Training seem like it’s lasted longer than usual this year? That’s because it actually has — thanks to the World Baseball Classic. I don’t know about you, but I am more than ready to get the regular season started. Thankfully, the Astros and Rangers will be opening the season a day earlier than everyone else. Sunday night’s opener pits Bud Norris against Matt Harrison and will air on ESPN at 7:05 Central.

That means there are only three more days of meaningless exhibition games. But it still seems like an eternity. Thursday the Astros play split-squad games against the Braves and Tigers. After that, the ‘Stros head to Houston for a pair of tilts with the Chicago Cubs at Minute Maid Park.

At this point, most of the drama of Spring Training is over. The roster is pretty much set, with the possible exception of the last two bullpen spots. And then there’s the number four spot in the rotation. Based on his outstanding showing thus far, Brad Peacock seems like a lock. But the Astros insist that a decision has not yet been made. Edgar Gonzalez didn’t do anything in Wednesday’s start against the Mets to help his case. Alex White gets the start against the Cubs on Friday and Peacock is scheduled to start Saturday.

A couple of spots on the 40-man roster opened up today when Tyler Greene was officially released and Sam Demel was claimed off waivers by the Yankees. Rick Ankiel and Erik Bedard are expected to slide into those two spots.

Here’s what the Opening Day roster should look like.

Catchers (2)

Jason Castro and Carlos Corporan

Infielders (6)

Bret Wallace 1B/DH, Carlos Pena 1B/DH, Jose Altuve 2B, Matt Dominguez 3B, Ronny Cedeno SS, Marwin Gonzalez Util.

Outfielders (5)

Chris Carter LF/DH/1B, Justin Maxwell, Rick Ankiel, Fernando Martinez, Brandon Barnes

Starting Pitchers (5)

Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell, Philip Humber, Brad Peacock, Erik Bedard

Bullpen (7)

Jose Veras, Wesley Wright, Xavier Cedeno, Hector Ambriz, Alex White, Rhiner Cruz, Josh Fields

For me, the biggest surprise in this group has to be Barnes. Although I must say I am glad he made the team. Not only did his hot bat earn him a spot on the roster, but Barnes is also the best outfield defender on a team that could use some help in that area. Barnes won out over J.D. Martinez, who will start the year at AAA, but should be back in Houston later in the season.

I also thought that last year’s Rule 5 guys, Marwin Gonzalez and Rhiner Cruz, would be heading to the minors to start the year. But both have had a good spring and earned a spot on the Opening Day roster. Cruz held batters to a .208 average and only issued two walks in eight appearances.

Gonzalez beat out Tyler Greene in what was billed as the battle for the role of starting shortstop and leadoff hitter. Marwin made Greene expendable but won’t be filling either of those roles just yet. Veteran Ronny Cedeno was brought in to handle shortstop duties and Jose Altuve will be inserted back into his familiar leadoff spot in the Astros batting order.

The wait is almost over. Soon the games will count in the standings and we’ll see if this group of youngsters can silence the critics.

 

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