Found February 21, 2012 on
Fox Sports Houston:
By Mark Mitchell
The theme of the Houston Astros spring training is competition, and one of the most contested battles is who will emerge to earn spots in the starting pitching rotation.
With Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers and Bud Norris assured -- use that word cautiously with this team - the first three spots in the rotation, a variety of candidates are vying for the final two slots. J.A. Happ and Jordan Lyles have the inside track, but neither is in a strong enough position to feel that the jobs are theirs to lose. Livan Hernandez, Kyle Weiland, Zach Duke, Henry Sosa, Lucas Harrell and Paul Clemons are names mentioned as realistic contenders to earn the remaining starts.
The only certainty in the competition is that both ends of the experience spectrum are represented. For instance, Lyles has 15 career starts, all coming last year with the Astros, while Hernandez is in his 15th major league season. Talk about generation gap, Lyles was 6 years old when Hernandez made his first major league appearance.
But here they are, both on equal grounds fighting for a job. And both have reasons to believe they will earn a spot in rotation.
One of the most durable pitchers in baseball over the last decade, Hernandez "eats innings," as baseball people like to say. The 37-year-old ranks first among active major league pitchers in quality starts (259), games started (474) and innings pitched (3,121.2) and second in complete games (50). As impressive, he has never made a trip to the disabled list.
"The thing about Livan, is he knows how to compete and give the team a chance to win by going deep into games," explained Mills. "He knows how to pitch and is the type of guy that can create an atmosphere with other pitchers that they can learn something."
And teaching a pitching staff filled with young arms, something he did the last two years with the Washington Nationals, is a large part of the role that he willing accepts and enjoys.
"This game is serious," said Hernandez, who joined the Astros after signing a minor league contract in January. "If you want to be around for a long time, you have to do it the right way."
Lyles has the potential to last, the question is: has he matured into a reliable starter? Last year he turned heads in spring training, enough to pitch in 20 games for Houston after being called up in May at the tender age of 20. While he posted a 2-8 record with a 5.36 ERA in two stints with the Astros, he flashed the ability that made it clear he can pitch effectively at this level.
"Last year I was just learning what the big leagues are all about," said Lyles, who was the Astros' first-round pick in the 2008 supplemental draft. "I've been there now and know what to expect. It's different, but in the end of the day it is just trying to make your best pitch and playing catch with the catcher."
He makes it sound so simple. Now Lyles, or Hernandez, or Happ, or somebody need to show Mills and the Astros they are ready to anchor the backend of the starting rotation.
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(Eds: With AP Photos.) As bad as last season was for the Houston Astros, it was worse for Jason Castro.
The season never really happened for the team's standout young catcher, who tore his right ACL during the second exhibition game a year ago. He had reconstructive surgery March 4 and spent the entire season rehabbing the knee.
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Astros third baseman Jimmy Paredes, who has been in camp several days already, doesn't plan to swing a bat until the first official full-squad workout on Sunday. Paredes injured his left wrist in January while playing in the Dominican and has been getting treatment.
Three days into spring camp, veteran catcher and Houston native Chris Snyder couldn't be feeling better. Snyder is coming off back surgery that forced him to miss the final 3 1/2 months of the season, but he said his back feels great.
The oldest Astros player in camp is 15-year veteran Livan Hernandez, who signed a Minor League contract with hopes of winning a rotation spot. The 37-year-old Hernandez said he signed with the Astros because he heard great things about the organization.
Jason Castro remains the Astros' catcher of the future, and he came to Spring Training in good health and with plenty left to prove. Despite losing a year to injury in his young career, Castro is thankful to be back on the field and back in his element.
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The candidates come in all shapes, sizes and ages. From the robust 15-year veteran Livan Hernandez, to the tall, slender 21-year-old Jordan Lyles, the Astros have made sure to create a wealth of competition for their starting pitching rotation.
The Astros have plenty of live arms in camp, and it's the belief of general manager Jeff Luhnow to develop the club's best arms as starters until it's deemed they're best suited for the bullpen.
Pitcher Lucas Harrell was sporting a big bruise on his right forearm Tuesday, one day after he suffered the first injury of the spring when he took a ground ball off his arm during pitchers' fielding practice (PFPs).