Thatcher makes Astros' bullpen; Fields may not be ready

Thatcher makes Astros' bullpen; Fields may not be ready

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Veteran left-handed reliever Joe Thatcher was told after his outing Monday night against the Blue Jays that he had made the Major League club, which would round out the Astros' bullpen had it not been for the health of right-hander Josh Fields.

Fields is a lock to make the club when healthy, but he suffered a strained groin a week ago and has yet to throw off the mound, putting his readiness for Opening Day in doubt. Left-hander Kevin Chapman and right-hander Will Harris are still in camp and could make the team if Fields isn't ready.

With one spot remaining, the six relievers who have made the club are right-handers Chad Qualls, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek and Samuel Deduno, and left-handers Tony Sipp and Thatcher.

The Astros faced a Tuesday deadline to add Thatcher to the roster or pay him $100,000, and manager A.J. Hinch told him on the bench after he threw against Toronto he was on the team. With Thatcher and non-roster right-handed starter Roberto Hernandez set to be added to the 40-man roster, the Astros will have to make corresponding moves.

Thatcher has appeared in eight games this spring and posted a 1.23 ERA, allowing three hits and one run in 7 1/3 innings. An eight-year veteran, Thatcher split last season between the D-backs and Angels and posted a 3.86 ERA in 53 games covering 30 1/3 innings.

"He's been a lefty specialist before, and he's also been a guy who can get some right-handers out, early in his career," Hinch said. "The way our bullpen is shaping up, we're going to have some versatility. Our back-end guys are well-documented, and having lefties like Sipp and Thatcher gives us options through the game. We can match them up against lefties or [let them] stand on their own against right-handers."

Thatcher has fit in well this spring, and it didn't hurt that he, Qualls, Gregerson, Deduno and Neshek were all on the 2011 Padres. He will earn $1 million this season on a Major League contract, with an additional $1.3 million available in incentives.

"I feel good where I'm at," he said. "I feel like I performed well this spring. I'm a big believer [that] things happen for a reason."

Fields leaves game with injury

As for Fields, "It's getting tough," Hinch said. "At some point, we're going to run out of time. Now that we're a week away from Opening Day and he hasn't been on the mound for a long time, it's getting dangerously close. At the same time, we have to make sure that there are no setbacks and no length into the season that he wouldn't be available."

Fields, 29, appeared in a career-high 54 games, throwing 54 2/3 innings, last year in his second Major League season. He went 4-6 with a 4.45 ERA and led all Astros relievers in strikeouts (70), innings pitched and strikeouts per nine innings (11.5).

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.