Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 4/5/12
The Astros will open the 2012 Major League baseball season on Friday against the Coloriado Rockies with a roster that may have some surprises for fans. For one thing it turned out that Wesley Wright and Fernando Abad were not competing with each other for the left-handed bullpen spot. Both made the club as the team elected to go with only four outfielders and thirteen pitchers. There is little doubt this decision was made in part because it was decided to hold on to Rule V draftee Rhiner Cruz even though there still remains question how much or in what role he will fill on the pitching staff. At the same time only four outfielders is not as strange as it may seem since first baseman Carlos Lee can still play left field if needed and backup infielder Matt Downs is a many-gloved player. He can play the outfield or on the infield at first, second or third pretty well and shortstop in a pinch. The versatility of a number of players also left a spot open for outfielder Travis Buck. Of all the roster decisions, this one may have seemed the most debatable. But it is not hard to decipher some of the reasons why the lefty-hitting Buck made the team and the lefty-hitting J.B. Shuck did not. Those two, along with the right-handed hitting Justin Ruggiano were in a battle for the outfield backup roles. So why did Buck win? Buck won partly because he had a good, if not great, spring. Buck hit .280 with a home run, four RBIs and five doubles. He has had more major-league experience with A's and Cleveland. Both Shuck and Ruggiano could be sent out. Shuck still had options and Ruggiano had signed a minor league contract in the first place. Actually, so did Buck, but he performed just a bit better as a hitter and is being rewarded with the Opening Day roster spot. Shuck hit .255 and with little power. He is superior defender to Buck but does not have the power potential -- important for a pinch hitter. Ruggiano only batted .205. As a righty hitter he could have won the backup spot had he performed better since there is a dearth of right-handed bats on this team. Still, both Shuck and Ruggiano will be only a phone call away should Buck not get the job done. There is still some question whether Jed Lowrie will be physically able to start the season at shortstop. Brian Bixler was asked to hang around just in case Lowrie needs to go onto the DL. GM Jeff Luhnow, who has proved to be an honest and open leader, likes what has been put together with this year's team, though he admits that it is probably short of being a big winner. The goal is to start the road back to that level. He told the media earlier in the week that this is the sort of club -- heavy with unproven younger players -- that is what is needed to start that journey. While most of the focus is almost always on the everyday players and hitters, the fact is that this team will do as well as the pitchers allow it to. The road to finding out about that area starts on Friday.
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