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Jennings ready to step up for Astros

Jennings ready to step up for Astros

HOUSTON -- Jason Jennings has spent his entire Major League career as a pitcher in the pressure cooker that is Coors Field, and unlike many who have tried before him, the right-hander actually had a nice run of success in his mile-high surroundings.

So when the Astros obtained Jennings in last week's trade that sent three well-regarded players to Denver, they felt confident they were getting someone who had a pretty good chance to thrive at Minute Maid Park.

Once dubbed "Coors Light," the Astros' downtown ballpark has shed much of the stigma of being a band box. But it remains undoubtedly very kind to hitters, especially down the left-field line. These elements are not likely to bother Jennings, who will assume a top-of-the-rotation role along with Roy Oswalt, the first of the Astros' new generation of pitchers to be seemingly unfazed by the dimensions of Minute Maid Park.

The Astros have had their eye on the right-hander for quite some time. A former first-round pick of the Rockies in the First-Year Player Draft, Jennings' numbers suggest the Astros' newest acquisition brings durability and stamina, two qualities that are a must for a No. 2 starter.

Jennings threw 200-plus innings in two of his last three seasons, falling short of that mark in 2005 after fracturing his right middle finger while sliding into second base attempting to break up a double play. He made 20 starts that season, but recovered well in 2006, throwing a career-high 212 innings while posting a career-low 3.78 ERA.

He won nine games and lost 13 last season, playing on a team that posted 86 losses and a last-place finish in the National League West. Jennings is looking forward to a fresh start with a contender, especially one that's just four hours down the road from his hometown of Dallas, where he lives with his wife, Kelly, and their two children.

"I look at it as a new opportunity, a better opportunity," Jennings said. "It'll be my first chance to play with a winning team. With the Rockies, every year we'd go into Spring Training pretty much hoping to win, but not expecting to win.

"The feeling around here that I'm getting, and the feeling that I'm going to bring myself, is the expectation to win. I've seen it firsthand from the other dugout. This team is committed to it."

Jennings is relieved for two reasons: he has been traded to a contender, and the speculation as to where he would land this winter has ended. He admitted hearing his name in trade rumors on an almost daily basis was quite unnerving, and he's just glad that part of it is over.

"It was frustrating," he said. "I talked to my agent afer reading stuff here and there. I'm [traded] to New York, I'm [going to] Chicago, I'm here and there [according to the rumor mill]. You don't know what to believe, what's a rumor and what's not. I finally got the call from [Rockies general manager] Dan O'Dowd in Denver and he told me I was a Houston Astro. It was a perfect ending to the frustration we had. It was exciting to get that phone call."

Jennings will be a free agent after the upcoming season, and the Astros are hopeful they will be able to come to terms on a contract extension with the right-hander. Houston general manager Tim Purpura said he has not talked about it with Jennings' agent, Casey Close, but expects to begin a dialogue at some point in the future.

"This deal happened so quickly," Purpura said. "We had been talking to Colorado for some time, just kind of flirting with the idea [of making a trade]. But we really brought it together quickly. We didn't even explore [an extension].

"Jason and I haven't talked about it. I expect we will delve into that at some point. I'll be in contact with his agent and see how things sit that way. Our goal was to get a no. 2 starter. That was our goal. From there, you deal with the other issues as they go along."

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

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