The competition is down to Williams and Chris Sampson, who compiled a 9.17 ERA over five spring outings. If Williams makes the team, Sampson will most likely move to the bullpen. The club could send Sampson to the Minor Leagues to keep him in a regular starting routine, but Cooper shot down that idea prior to Friday's game.
"I don't think Chris is a Minor League pitcher," Cooper said. "He's a big league pitcher and I think he'll be on our roster. It's just a matter of where."
Williams pitched the fifth, sixth and seventh innings Friday against the Tigers in relief of starter Wandy Rodriguez. He was officially charged with giving up a triple to Miguel Cabrera to lead off the fifth, but the ball was actually a blooper that hit off the glove of a charging and diving Carlos Lee. Cabrera scored on Carlos Guillen's sacrifice fly, but Williams coaxed a foul popup from Edgar Renteria and grounder to the mound by Marcus Thames to end the inning.
Williams threw a scoreless seventh, but he didn't fare well in the sixth. He yielded a single to Ivan Rodriguez and walked Placido Polanco before giving up a single to Gary Sheffield that drove in one run. Cabrera tripled to deep center, driving in two runs, and Cabrera scored on a base hit by Clete Thomas.
"It wasn't as good as his last outing, but it was OK," Cooper said. The skipper also indicated he'd be speaking with other decision-makers later in the evening regarding Williams' fate.
"We'll talk about it later tonight, tomorrow," Cooper said. "Try to come up with something that fits for us and is good for us."
Williams was pressed about his status both before and after the game. He maintained his stance that he believes he can be successful as a starter this year, but also indicated that he sensed management had already made its decision.
"There's no worry whatsoever," he said before the game. "I've got a family waiting for me at home that will be there with open arms. I look forward to whatever happens. It's out of my hands. All I can do is go out there and do what I'm capable of doing. I'm not going to change anybody's mind tonight one way or the other. I'm sure they've got their mind made up of what they're going to do.
"There's no doubt in my mind I can go out and be successful and not be a guy going for a fifth spot in the rotation. You have one bad year -- it happened to be the worst year of my career -- and all of a sudden you're not good enough to pitch anymore. That's one thing I don't understand. I don't know how it's come to this. It is what it is and we'll see what happens."
The club has one other decision to make regarding which position player will occupy the final roster spot. Jose Cruz Jr. has the fifth outfielder job all but locked up, and now that Reggie Abercrombie has been outrighted to Triple-A Round Rock, three candidates, infielders Tomas Perez and David Newhan and catcher Humberto Quintero, are fighting for the last spot.
Geoff Blum's status may play into the final decision. The infielder was hampered for much of the spring with a sore heel, and if there is a chance he may need more time to recover, the Astros may be inclined to carry one of the extra infielders instead of Quintero.
Blum said after Friday's game that he was progressing well.
"They're doing a good job protecting me," he said. "They're not running me out there and killing me on it and they're giving me a chance to heal. It's not major improvements every day but it does feel better every day. That's a good thing."