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2009 Houston Astros Preview: Pitchers

 

As we embark on yet another Grapefruit League season, you can’t help but feel thrilled about the prospect of watching the Astros play again this year. Granted ... this was not a great team last year. They were above average, though offensively, they were fun to watch. This year, the Astros will probably fare no better in a tough NL Central Division, but we can dream ... can’t we?

Houston Astros hats & merchandise There are many questions regarding the Astros this season that have truly yet to be settled. Besides Roy Oswalt, a certified staff ace, will the rotation prove to be anything less than a liability? Will the bullpen continue to be our strength, or was last year an absolute fluke? Will the young Astros farmhands finally fulfill their promise? Here is this year’s pitching preview and outlook.

Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Brandon Backe, Brian Moehler and Mike Hampton are the preemptive picks for the rotation. With that being said, the organization is not completely sold on this idea. In the off season the Astros brought in re-tread, Russ Ortiz and Rule 5 draft pick, Tyler Lumsford, to compete for a spot. Add perennial farmhands, Fernando Nieve, Felipe Paulino and Polin Trinidad to the mix, and this could be the beginning of a pretty interesting race for the fifth spot in the rotation. This is assuming that Backe regains control of what was a truly horrific end to the season and Ortiz and Hampton can prove that they are both really and truly healthy. Hampton has already has had problems in Spring Training, having had to return to Houston for what is being called an irregular heartbeat. Although the front office and manger Cecil Cooper are calling this minor, you have to wonder if Hampton will ever make it back. Ortiz has been guaranteed nothing and is only in camp to fight for a spot. Paulino and Nieve have all the promise and talent, but have often been injured or fighting through injuries. The real Wild Card here in the organization is Bud Norris. Norris was solid in AA Corpus and is being touted by the likes of Jeff Bagwell for his makeup. Time will only tell. If any of the pitchers on the depth chart above him struggle, we could see Norris in action this year.

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The bullpen was one of the bright spots of the team last year. The ‘Pen was among the league leaders in fewest runs allowed, holds, saves and cumulative ERA. The bullpen remains intact and with a year under their belt together they could be the bright spot again this year. Jose Valverde, Wesley Wright, Tim Byrdak, Geoff Geary and Chris Sampson will set out this year to prove that last year was no fluke and that the Astros knew what they were doing when they put this group together.

When all is said in done, the Astros have serious issues in regards to their pitching staff. The quality of the rotation behind Oswalt is tough to gauge, but Wandy is serviceable and Moehler appeared to be a quality option. Hampton started to get on the right track at the end of last season, but starts this season off on the wrong foot and Ortiz hasn’t been serviceable in nearly three seasons. Backe is streaky to say the least and Lumsford hasn’t been that good in AAA. The Astros are hoping that at least two pitchers step it up this year, and that may be a tall order. A tall order, indeed.

 

By: Jordan Fleck
MLBcenter.com staff writer


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