Roster makeup depends on first base decision

Astros will also decide bench, bullpen, backup catcher in coming days

Roster makeup depends on first base decision

MEXICO CITY -- With a week remaining before they face the Yankees on Opening Day, the Astros will narrow their roster in the coming days, though the final roster won't be set until next weekend's exhibition games in Houston, manager A.J. Hinch said Sunday.

The Astros still have decisions to make regarding first base, which is tied to which players make the club off the bench, who fills the final spot or two in the bullpen and who takes the backup catcher role. Hinch said the team is still deciding whether to carry 12 or 13 pitchers. The next round of roster moves is expected Monday.

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"The pool of candidates will shrink a little bit over the next couple of days and will be more refined," Hinch said. "The declaration of a final roster is probably going to come in Houston [where the Astros play the Brewers March 31 and April 1].

Hinch said the decision on how many pitchers to carry out of the gate depends on how the team feels it could match up best with the Yankees, Brewers and Royals to start the season.

"We have an off-day in New York, and so that gives the pitching staff a little bit of breathing room at the beginning of the season," Hinch said. "We're just trying to take the best team to Houston that we can to break camp, and then obviously things will change. In the month of April, we're hoping to get healthier. Performance always matters and we're likely to use 35, 40."

If the Astros carry 13 pitchers and 12 position players, that means there's currently only one open spot for a position player, considering five outfielders (Colby Rasmus, Carlos Gomez, George Springer, Preston Tucker and Jake Marisnick), two catchers (Jason Castro and a backup) and four infielders (Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez and Luis Valbuena) are locks.

Four players remain in contention for the starting job at first base -- Tyler White, A.J. Reed, Matt Duffy and Jon Singleton. White has outplayed the other three and appears likely to make the club at this point. If the team carries 12 pitchers and 13 position players, two from among the four battling for first base could make the team.

Designated hitter Evan Gattis, who had hernia surgery last month, will be available at some point in April.

Straily's strong start

"The bench is tied into both the extra reliever and first base," Hinch said. Wandy Rodriguez, Dan Straily, Michael Feliz and James Hoyt are competing for the final one or two bullpen spots, though it appears it's between Rodriguez and Straily (out of options). Rodriguez will pitch in relief Monday, and Straily in relief on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Astros will either trade for a catcher to support Castro or give the job to Roberto Pena or Tyler Heineman in the wake of the injury suffered to backup Max Stassi (broken hamate bone).

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.