Astros have several options for final 'pen spot

Wandy, Cotts among group of pitchers competing for job

Astros have several options for final 'pen spot

VIERA, Fla. -- The first major roster domino should fall for the Astros later this week when they have to make a decision whether to keep left-handed pitchers Wandy Rodriguez or Neal Cotts, both of whom have outs in their contracts on Saturday.

Both veterans are competing with a handful of arms for the final spot in the bullpen. Barring injury, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek, Tony Sipp, Will Harris, Josh Fields and Ken Giles will occupy six of the seven available bullpen slots on Opening Day. That leaves Rodriguez, Cotts, Brad Peacock, Dan Straily, Michael Feliz, James Hoyt, Jandel Gustave and Kevin Chapman in the mix for the final spot, giving manager A.J. Hinch several options.

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Rodriguez, Straily and Peacock would be used in long relief if they make the club. If Cotts makes the team as a lefty specialist, it could be up to Fields or Harris to pitch multiple innings in the absence of a true long reliever. Straily is out of options, which could factor into things.

Hinch praised Hoyt prior to Monday's game, and it's clear he'll impact the club at some point this season. Things should begin to clear up this weekend.

Hoyt strikes out Mercer

"The way I see it with the last spot in the 'pen, [being able to pitch] multiple innings is going to be important," Hinch said. "Obviously, quality over any sort of characteristic is always going to win out. I'm hopeful that we start to pare down [the roster] a little bit throughout the week. It looks like we're going to have our choice.

"Do you want to go length? Do you want to go left-handed? Do you want to go right-handed? Do you want a specialist? It's no secret those are our options, and they're all going to have one guy in that category that fits. We'll have to determine what fits best."

Rodriguez, a non-roster invitee, is scheduled to pitch in relief Thursday. He's allowed seven hits and three runs in 12 innings this spring and has been working with a lower arm angle, which he found success with while facing the Phillies' Ryan Howard on Sunday.

"I just want him to get outs," Hinch said. "I don't care what arm slot, I don't care what handed, what pitch they use. Whoever gets the most outs is who we should keep."

Cotts, who was signed a week into camp, allowed two hits over two-thirds of an inning Monday during a 5-3 loss to the Nationals. He will pitch perhaps one more time prior to Saturday's deadline.

"We'll see as the week goes along," Cotts said Monday. "I don't get too hyped up about things."

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