Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 3/27/12
The Astros released outfielder Jack Cust and pitcher Zach Duke early Tuesday. It should have come as no surprise. Neither had performed at all as expected during the spring. Since both had to win spots on the roster with nothing guaranteed, their failures spelled their doom. Cust and Duke had once been promising players. Playing ten years mostly in the American League, Cust's big years were in Oakland. With a high on base percentage and some power, the A's overlooked his leading the league in strikeouts three straight seasons in exchange for 26, 33 and 25 home runs those same three years between 2007 and 2009. In 2011, playing for Seattle in a part time role, his numbers started to fall. The Astros brought him to camp as a non roster player with an eye toward his power helping the club in that department. After going 1-25 in the spring, the Astros cut the ties. Duke came to spring with a shot to make the team and maybe even in the starting rotation. But, like Cust, he could not get it done. He was 0-3 with an 11.30 earned run average in four starts. In 14 and a third innings he surrendered 25 hits including five home runs. Opposing hitters racked up a .379 average when they faced him. Duke had once been a promising lefty for the Pirates. He was even the club's designated all-star game rep as recently as 2009. He never had a winning record in six years with the Pirates, but he won in double figures twice. Nothing he showed for the Astros in the spring indicated he had enough left to help the team. While both Cust and Duke may have failed, but bringing them to the Astros camp was a good idea. As club general manager Jeff Luhnow told Brian McTaggart of MLB.com, "The young players have stepped up and demonstrated they are ready to be on this ballclub. We had to have a contingency plan (when the team signed players like Cust and Duke) which is to have some veterans around in case the young players showed they weren't ready. It didn't happen." Luhnow is not ready to name names yet. But from following recent exhibition games and going over the stats sheet it is not hard to figure that J.B. Shuck and possibly Brian Bixler have shown the ability to take a roster spot that might have been open for Cust, and that Kyle Weiland could be that extra starter that Duke was trying to be. Livan Hernandez was the third veteran "outsider" inked by the Astros in the off season. He has performed well enough to expect him to be elevated to the active 25 man roster and secure a spot in the starting pitching rotation before Opening Day. All is not well, though. Starting shortstop Jed Lowrie headed off to Atlanta for an appointment with a hand specialist. He was diagnosed with a hand sprain more than a week ago and is still feeling some nerve problems. Fingers are being crossed in the front office that Lowrie will get a clean bill of health and be able to get back into the lineup for some key at bats leading to opening day soon. Fernando Abad seems to have secured a spot in the bullpen as a lefty specialist. Whether a second lefty joins him is yet to be determined. Who makes the final roster in general is still in question, but matters are starting to sort out. The Astros break camp in a week and after an exhibition in Corpus Christi will return to Houston for a pair of exhibitions with the White Sox before opening night Friday, April 6 against the Rockies.
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