Ausmus, 38, is in the final year of two-year, $7.5 million contract that he signed before the 2006 season. He is making $4 million this season and will be a free agent at season's end. A 13-year veteran, Ausmus is batting .234 with three homers and 24 RBIs in 333 at-bats (109 games) this season, entering Friday night's game against the Pirates. He previously had not ruled out the possibility of retirement before making up his mind to play another season.
Ausmus is expected to be part of a free agent group of catchers that could also include Paul Lo Duca, Jason Kendall, Jorge Posada, Michael Barrett, Jose Molina and perhaps Ivan Rodriguez, assuming the Tigers do not pick up Rodriguez's $13 million club option for 2008.
The Astros are considering bringing Ausmus back next year as a backup and mentor to whoever becomes the club's No. 1 catcher. Friday's meeting was an informal one.
"We were just talking, we had our conversation about possibilities, nothing specific, and certainly no formal or any type of negotiating or anything like that, we were just talking," Ausmus said. "I've always said over the past two contracts spanning over four years, other than home in San Diego and Houston, I probably wouldn't play again. I would say for the most part that probably still holds true, but you never say never."
Bullpen audition: One perfect inning isn't enough of a sample to stamp him as a sure thing next spring, but Astros manager Cecil Cooper liked what he saw from reliever Dennis Sarfate in the right-hander's perfect inning against the Cubs on Thursday night.
"He's got a pretty powerful arm," Cooper said, referring to Sarfate's 97-mph fastball. "If he can be anywhere close to what he was last night, he'll be a guy that can help us."
Sarfate, 25, was a starter in the Milwaukee organization until 2006, when the Brewers made him a reliever. He was 2-7 with a 4.52 ERA in 45 games at Triple-A Nashville, with 68 strikeouts and 47 walks in 61 2/3 innings, when the Astros acquired him last week for cash considerations.
"Pitching from the stretch, as opposed to the windup, that kind of simplifies things a little bit and usually cuts down on the movement you have," Cooper said of the switch from starter to reliever. "He wants the ball, wants to pitch and is excited about the opportunity. Any time you can bring an arm like that along, it's a plus."
Sarfate, who also throws a curveball, slider and split-fingered fastball, is enjoying pitching out of the bullpen.
"The thing about going five or six innings wasn't me, I like to go in there when the game's on the line. The adrenaline rushes in when the game is on the line and it's a different feeling," Sarfate said. "Starting was fun, but I think coming into the game [later] is a lot better."
After seven years in the Brewers system, Sarfate was ready to move on.
"It was time for a fresh start with a new organization [and] the Astros seemed to be the best fit," he said. "Me and my fiancee were praying for this. Hopefuly this will be a good fit, and I'll get a chance to make the team next year."
If he keeps pitching like he did against the Cubs, he has a chance to do that. The curveball he retired Chicago's Mike Fontenot on drew praise from Cooper.
"I usually use that as an out pitch," Sarfate said. "The slider is just something to keep the righties off my fastball, get them out in front. I've never experimented with a two-seam [fastball]. I've always been kind of a four-seam, 'let it go' type of pitcher. Maybe that's something I'll work on in the offseason. The fastball is the key. If I can spot that up, I think I'll be in pretty good shape."
Clemente Award for Biggio: Craig Biggio was honored as the Astros' recipient of the 2007 Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet before Friday night's game. Biggio is one of 30 Major League Club nominees for the national 2007 Roberto Clemente Award, which is given annually to the Major League player who combines outstanding skills on the baseball field with devoted work in the community.
The Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet is part of the company's official sponsorship of Major League Baseball and recognizes those players who best exemplify the game of baseball through sportsmanship, community involvement and positive contributions to their teams.
The award is named for Clemente, a 12-time All-Star and Hall of Famer, who was killed on New Year's Eve 1972 while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. This award perpetuates Clemente's memory and character by recognizing current-day players who truly understand the value of helping others.
"[Biggio] is a true champion and leader on and off the field," said Astros chairman and CEO Drayton McLane. "He truly embodies the spirit of this prestigious honor, and we are proud to have him as our nominee. His work with the Sunshine Kids and in the Houston community during his 20-year career in an Astros uniform has been amazing, and Craig would be a most deserving national winner of the Roberto Clemente Award."
Extra bases: The Astros activated left-hander Stephen Randolph from the 15-day disabled list on Friday. "He's another guy we really need to kind of take a look at," Cooper said. "A guy that throws 93-94 and is left-handed? You just don't want to give up on a guy like that." ... Left-hander Troy Patton threw lightly in the outfield for approximately five minutes on Friday. The 22-year-old hasn't pitched since he made a relief appearance at New York on Sept. 7 because of a sore biceps tendon. "It felt all right," Patton said. "I really didn't push it today. I basically got it a little warm and then shut it down." Patton will throw again on Saturday before a determination is made about his next start. ... Carlos Lee was not in the starting lineup for the first time this season as Cooper wanted to look at some of his youngsters. Shortstop Mark Loretta was also given a breather. Cooper started Josh Anderson in center (batting leadoff) and Cody Ransom at shortstop. Hunter Pence or Luke Scott will not start on Saturday.
On deck: The Astros and Pirates continue their battle to stay out of the National League Central cellar at 6:05 p.m. CT at Minute Maid Park. Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (8-13, 4.65) will go for the Astros against Pirates right-hander Matt Morris (9-9, 4.59).