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Who will be the fifth outfielder?

Who will be the fifth outfielder?

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros have about a week and a half until they have to whittle the roster to the final 25, and between now and the day before Opening Day, manager Cecil Cooper and general manager Ed Wade have tough decisions to make.

Eleven pitchers or 12? Three catchers or two? Who's the fifth outfielder? Left-hander in the 'pen, or go with all righties?

One of the more intriguing storylines focuses on the fifth outfielder. When Spring Training began, Cooper targeted three as the front-runners: Victor Diaz, Jose Cruz Jr. and Reggie Abercrombie.

Diaz was sent to Minor League camp on Wednesday, leaving Cruz and Abercrombie to fight it out for a backup outfielder job. David Newhan apparently is in the running, as well.

Newhan is listed as an infielder, but he can play the outfield, too, and considering that the Astros need to fill Kazuo Matsui's roster spot for at least the first week of the season, it might make sense to give the final roster spot to the veteran utility infielder.

"It's down to Cruz, seeing what Reggie can do and David Newhan," Cooper said.

After Wednesday's game, Cooper brought up Cruz's solid spring without being prompted by reporters. Cruz is hitting .319 and probably has the inside edge to win a job.

"He's had a tremendous amount of pressure, and he has responded in a big way," Cooper said. "Think about it -- your dad's here, you may come in here and be pressing to make the team. He's making a strong, strong case. Every time out there, he does something."

Assuming the Astros carry 12 pitchers, five position players -- Newhan, Cruz, Abercrombie, Tomas Perez and Humberto Quintero -- are essentially competing for two spots.

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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