Since the decision was made to move Brett Myers to the bullpen, competition for spots in the Astros rotation has heated up. Wandy Rodriguez and Bud Norris will anchor the rotation and the next three spots could go to the pitchers who do the most to impress Brad Mills this spring. J.A. Happ was an early front-runner but his inconsistent performance thus far has to be a reason for concern. At this point I would say Livan Hernandez has nailed down the #3 spot in the rotation. Hernandez started the first spring game and is currently in line behind Wandy and Bud the way the rotation schedule is set up. Hernandez, the most experienced starter in camp, has never been on the disabled list in his 15-year career. He pitched more innings than any other pitcher in the decade of the 2000’s. Hernandez may not be the best pitcher on the team but he is the definition of an innings-eater and exactly what this club needs.
Happ may have lost his hold on the #4 spot and there are several hurlers in camp that are hungry to claim it. Jordan Lyles and Zach Duke were stretched out yesterday, tossing four innings apiece. Duke allowed a couple of homeruns, including one to slugger Jose Bautista. Duke was pleased with his outing, noting that he would have pitched to Bautista differently with first base open in a regular season game. Duke hasn’t done much over the last six seasons and I don’t view him as a realistic candidate for the rotation. Lyles will be in the rotation somewhere this season. Whether it is Houston or Oklahoma City has yet to be determined. If Lyles starts the season in OKC it should only be a matter of time until he gets recalled to the big club.
Kyle Weiland has made a couple of appearances in relief this spring and is scheduled to start Monday against the Yankees. Weiland, 25, was acquired from the Red Sox in the Mark Melancon deal and his time could be now. Mills wants to see what the youngster can do against top-notch competition, hence the assignment to face the Bronx Bombers. If Weiland fares well against the Yanks his stock will certainly be on the rise. Lucas Harrell is another candidate who will get a long look this spring. The 26 year-old is one of my personal favorites for the #5 spot due mostly to his full arsenal of pitches, none of which are straight.
Aneury Rodriguez and Henry Sosa round out the cast of starting candidates. Both have struggled early this spring and may have fallen out of the mix. Rodriguez spent all of 2011 in the majors due to his Rule 5 status and will probably start this season in AAA. He has good stuff but has experienced only limited success in the majors. He has been more successful at the AAA level and spending time with Burt Hooton could be beneficial for Aneury. Given his limited repertoire Sosa could be better suited for the bullpen. Sosa went 3-5 with a 5.23 ERA in ten starts for the Astros last season. His 3.88 walks per nine innings suggest the 26 year-old still needs to harness his command.
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Today’s game against the Tigers was rained out. Scheduled starter Wandy Rodriguez threw a 60-pitch simulated game to stay on schedule. Bud Norris is slated to pitch a simulated game tomorrow so the Astros can get Kyle Weiland a start against the Yankees.