Notes: Duo finds positives

Notes: Duo finds positives

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The line scores to the right of their names in Thursday's box score might be cause for concern if this were April or May. But it's still March, as Astros rotation hopefuls Brandon Backe and Woody Williams are well aware.

For Williams, this spring is not about results but getting ready for the season, which is why the five earned runs on six hits and two walks in 2 2/3 innings he allowed against Cleveland on Thursday aren't as important as most of the 71 pitches Williams threw.

"I think I threw a lot better than the numbers are going to show," Williams said. "I threw a lot of good pitches they seemed to not put in play, they fouled them off. I went into a lot of deep counts, which is unusual for me, [but] a lot of positives to take from today."

Williams said his breaking ball wasn't as good as his first time out.

"I think I gave up four hits on breaking balls," Williams said. "[My] changeup was outstanding today, it allowed me to get back in the count. This is as good as I've felt in a long time, so it's a lot of positives.

"I'll take what I had out there [Thursday] against any team right now. It's just controlling counts. If I'm able to control counts, with the way I felt I'm going to win a lot of ballgames."

Backe went three innings and gave up four runs on seven hits. He struck out two and was pleased he did not walk anyone.

"I don't want to give up four runs even if it's a sandlot game, but these games ... it's not really about winning," Backe said. "[People] start to second-guess because they see the scores, but I'm out here working on pitches that are going to help me during the season, not win ballgames in Spring Training."

Backe worked on command of his fastball and his changeup through two innings, but got "a little ticked" after giving up four runs and went to his curveball in his final frame. He retired the side in order that inning.

"I threw a handful of them [curves] for strikes," Backe said. "[It] surprised me. I didn't expect the curveball to be so good. It seems like everything's there, I've just got to start getting the repetition and perfecting the strike zone.

"For the most part, what I can take out of this is I threw strikes. I threw the ball basically where I wanted it to go except for the home run [to 2006 first-round Draft pick Beau Mills], which was a fastball down the middle, and the double [by Kelly Shoppach, which scored a run], which was a fastball down the middle. I'm seeing the results that I want from the pitches that I'm throwing."

Astros manager Cecil Cooper isn't concerned.

"There were some positives I saw out of Woody today, Brandon I thought threw OK, he made a couple of mistakes, but other than that, I thought he was pretty sharp," Cooper said. "I'm seeing some good things."

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Wigginton sidelined: Cooper decided to sit third baseman Ty Wigginton for a couple of days because of what Cooper called "a little quad problem."

"It's minor," Cooper said. "Rather than stress him out, we're going to give him a couple of days [off] and get it right."

Wigginton said it was nothing more than "a little knot" in his right quad. He had first felt it on Sunday but has played since, including a start Wednesday at St. Petersburg against Tampa Bay, and characterized it as a minor matter.

"I'm good to go," Wigginton said. "[It's] not a big deal, they just want to be cautious."

Niekro cleared for action: Lance Niekro, who left Wednesday's game in the third inning after bruising his left foot, said he was feeling much better Thursday morning. So well, in fact, X-rays weren't required.

"I went home, iced it down about four times and kept it elevated, and it's much better," the first baseman said. "I'm feeling a lot better today."

Niekro wasn't in the lineup Thursday as the Astros decided to take a cautious approach.

"I could play," Niekro said.

Quotable: "Both have done well, I'm really really happy with what I've seen from both of them. [Humberto] Quintero is throwing probably better than any of them. They both look like they're handling the pitchers pretty good." -- Cooper, on catchers J.R. Towles and Quintero

On deck: Shawn Chacon's bid to land a berth in the rotation continues at Tampa on Friday when the right-hander faces the New York Yankees and Andy Pettitte in a 12:15 p.m. CT game. Right-handers Chris Sampson, Geoff Geary and Carlos Hines are also scheduled to pitch for Houston.

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