Notes: Bullpen to play bigger role

Notes: Bullpen to play bigger role

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Astros could have a rotation filled with two extremes next year: very young pitchers, and old grizzled veterans. And that's why Russ Springer probably isn't going to be in a Houston uniform in 2007.

The projected rotation, of course, begins with Roy Oswalt, 29 years old and in the prime of his career. After that, it's 40-year-old Woody Williams, and a slew of candidates who fall into one of two categories: a) less than one year of big league experience (Jason Hirsh, Matt Albers, Taylor Buchholz, Fernando Nieve) or b) a decent amount of time in the big leagues, but without much success (Wandy Rodriguez).

Because of the young makeup of this rotation, the Astros sense they will need to rely more on their bullpen, which is why they're looking for more horsepower in the middle before turning leads over to Chad Qualls, Dan Wheeler and Brad Lidge.

The club is eyeing candidates who can pitch multiple innings, several times a week, and Springer, in the Astros' estimation, doesn't fit the bill. They'll likely replace him with one or two pitchers who do.

"Russ has done a tremendous job for us," Garner said. "But we're looking at a lot of kids. We need somebody in that bullpen who's going to get abused. By that, I mean they're going to have to pitch multiple innings, multiple days. It's going to be the job description."

Chris Sampson and Dave Borkowski have resumes that fit the Astros' needs in that area, and will likely begin Spring Training as the front-runners for the job of long reliever/spot starter.

The "kids" aren't the only reason why the Astros feel the need to strengthen the 'pen. If Andy Pettitte signs with the Astros and Roger Clemens returns next year, the Astros will have three pitchers 35 or older, two of whom are at least 40. While Pettitte is entirely capable of recording a complete game here and there, those days are probably over for the other two.

Hence the need for more power in the 'pen.

"Let's face it, if Rocket comes back, he's not an eight- or nine-inning pitcher anymore," Garner said. "There runs a chance that you've got three days in a row that [the starting pitcher is] not going to get past six innings most of the time."

Springer, who nicknamed the bullpen "one heartbeat" in 2005, is largely responsible for the cohesiveness of the relief corps, a trait not lost on the Astros' decision makers.

"He's been very good in a leadership role in the bullpen," Garner said. "I think he's helped the maturation process for Lidge, for Wheeler, for Qualls, and a lot of our younger players. But we really have to consider the whole staff and we have to look at adding somebody that can throw multiple innings."

Overblown? Immediately following the signing of Carlos Lee, whispers about his extra-large frame began circulating as some observers wondered if he had gained an alarming amount of weight since the end of the 2006 season.

Lee is listed at 6-foot-2, 240 pounds. Garner, for one, feels the skepticism about Lee's weight gain are exaggerated.

"One of our physicians who gave [Lee] a physical does not think he's overweight," Garner said. "I think he's just a big man. I think he plays with a lot of pride and I think you'll see him play with a little bit of intent on proving people wrong about that. I never felt like [weight] was an issue."

Astroline: Sampson will be the guest on Astroline, the club's offseason call-in radio show, on Wednesday beginning at 7 p.m. CT. Hosted by play-by-play announcer Milo Hamilton, Astroline is broadcast each week from Live Sports Cafe, located at 407 Main Street in downtown Houston.

The show airs on the club's flagship station, KTRH 740 AM, and on

Sampson, a resident of Channelview, was 2-1 with a 2.12 ERA over 12 games (three starts) for the Astros in 2006.

Astroline is in the midst of a five-month run leading into the 2007 Major League Baseball season. Fans can either attend the show in person at Live Sports Cafe or call (713) 212-KTRH.

Odds and ends: The Astros had their organizational dinner Tuesday night, which included all Major League and Minor League staff in town for the Winter Meetings. ... Garner arrived to the Meetings with his left arm in a cast, having undergone surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. ... While addressing reporters during a scheduled 30-minute session, Garner downplayed the notion that Astros players may resent Clemens' "freedom clause," which allows him to be away from the team when he's not scheduled to start: "The next guy that wants a freedom clause, I will say, 'Just as soon as you finish getting your seventh Cy Young and you're considered one of the best or maybe the best, certainly the best right-hander in the last 20 years and maybe the best right-handed pitcher of all time, we will put you in that category and let you have a freedom clause.' The next guy that can come up and tell me that, we will do it."

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