Astros ink Miller, invite three to camp

Astros ink Miller, invite three to camp

HOUSTON -- In the year and two months they've been working together, manager Phil Garner has been begging general manager Tim Purpura to give him two left-handed options in the bullpen. On Monday, Purpura delivered with veteran southpaw Trever Miller, who signed a one-year deal worth $1.3 million.

The contract also includes a vesting option worth another $1.3 million for 2007, which will go into effect if Miller makes 50 appearances this year.

Miller will join left-hander Mike Gallo, who was the relief corps' lone lefty specialist during the Astros' Wild Card finish in 2005.

"We've been looking for a lefty reliever to come in and stabilize our bullpen," Purpura said. "This gives Phil a lot of versatility. I talked to Phil last night and he's really pleased to have another lefty on board. It'll give him the ability to maybe use one lefty a little early in the game, another lefty later in the game."

This will be Miller's second tour with the Astros. He played for Houston in 1998 and '99 as part of a seven-year big-league career. He has also played for Detroit, Philadelphia, Los Angeles (Dodgers) and Tampa Bay.

Miller's recent history is impressive. In 2005, he was 2-2 with a 4.06 ERA over 61 appearances for the Devil Rays. The 61 appearances marked the second-highest total of his career, and he did not allow a run in his last eight outings of the season.

Left-handers hit .267 against him last season; right-handers, .289.

"Hopefully, [I'll bring] flexibility in the bullpen, a little bit of leadership in the clubhouse," the 32-year-old Miller said. "I'm not going to rock the boat. I'll work hard, be a leader and get some lefties out. I take a lot of pride in that, but that's not all I can do. I take pride in everything I do, including getting right-handed hitters out."

The club has changed dramatically since the last time Miller wore an Astros uniform, but the reputation is the same. The Astros had a good pitching staff back in the late 90s, and while the cast of characters is different, Miller noted the pitching is still highly respected.

"Ask the hitters around the league -- they don't like facing the Astros pitching staff," Miller said. "Roger [Clemens] was a big part of that, and who knows, he may be again this year. But even without him, you've got some serious arms here. Even watching from a distance, being in the American League and watching on television, you see the stuff these guys are throwing at the plate, and you know why they have success."

The club also announced that it has signed left-handed pitcher Carlos Hernandez and catcher Alan Zinter to Minor League contracts with invitations to Major League Spring Training. In addition, the Astros have invited Minor League right-handed pitcher Jared Gothreaux to Major League Spring Training.

Hernandez, who was taken off the 40-man roster in October, will continue his pursuit of a comeback, something he has yet to achieve since his 2002 shoulder surgery. The left-hander, who turns 26 in April, was 5-8 with a 5.56 ERA over 21 starts for Triple-A Round Rock in 2005, including 66 strikeouts and 54 walks.

He's currently pitching in the Venezuelan League under the watchful eye of Magallanes manager Al Pedrique, who serves as a special assistant to Purpura. So far, the reports have been favorable.

"It would be nice to have that lefty starter to go with Andy [Pettitte] in the rotation," Purpura said. "He'll get a chance to win a job in Spring Training. Hopefully, he has some of his velocity that he lost."

Hernandez's fastball is hitting the high 80s, and the club is encouraged by the progression of his curveball.

"It's kind of a roll of the dice, but it's worth it," Purpura said. "We know what he was when he was healthy. We've worked with him for over two years to try to get him back. It's low risk for us and low risk for him. He's in an organization where he's comfortable."

In other news, Jeff Bagwell's trip to Birmingham later this week may be postponed. Dr. James Andrews suffered a heart attack over the weekend, and while he is reportedly doing well, it's likely Andrews' appointments have been put on hold until further notice.

Bagwell had planned to visit the noted orthopedic surgeon in order to have his shoulder examined and find out if Dr. Andrews had any new ideas pertaining to Bagwell's ongoing rehab.

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.