Found February 21, 2012 on Fox Sports Houston:
By Mark Mitchell FoxSportsHouston.com 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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