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Astros remove Williams from rotation

Astros remove Williams from rotation

HOUSTON -- With a slew of young pitchers to look at and only so many spots available in the rotation, veteran right-hander Woody Williams was bumped from the rotation on Sunday, and told reporters he'd be surprised if he pitched again this year.

The official word is that Williams will move to the bullpen. But the 41-year-old doesn't expect to see much time as a reliever, if any at all. In his eyes, he's stepping aside in order to give the Astros more time to look at the young pitchers, including Felipe Paulino, who will take Williams' spot and pitch on Tuesday against the Brewers.

"It's sad that the season's come to this, and it's sad that we're doing as poorly as we are, but it's a good time to look at some young kids and see what they can do and give them some experience," Williams said. "I always remember my first time up in the big leagues. Being a September callup for them is special, and it's a good time to put some excitement out there."

There appears to be some question about whose idea this was. Interim manager Cecil Cooper said Williams "volunteered" to step aside, but Williams had a different perspective when asked about it following the Astros' landslide win over the Pirates on Sunday.

"It was their idea, but I completely understand what they're trying to do," he said.

Cooper said he talked to Williams "a day or two ago about it," and that Williams was willing to give up his rotation spot for one of the prospects.

"We need to see if these young guys are going to be a part of our future," Cooper said. "We were hoping to get Paulino in one of those spots, and this was a perfect time."

The Astros have one mainstay in the rotation -- ace Roy Oswalt. The club wants to continue to take a look at Wandy Rodriguez, who has had mixed results this year, as well as Brandon Backe, who is coming off elbow surgery and appears to be a part of the 2008 picture.

Matt Albers is also a youngster the Astros want to continue to evaluate, which leaves only one spot in a five-man rotation. The odd man out is Williams.

"We went to Woody and he said, 'I'll do it,'" Cooper recalled. "'For the betterment of the organization, I'll do it.' That shows a lot about what kind of character he has."

Williams is signed through 2008 and will be paid $6.25 million. The club holds an option for 2009 at $6.75 million, with a $250,000 buyout. He'll likely fall short of reaching an incentive bonus which would have paid him $250,000 if he reached 200 innings pitched this year. Through Sunday's game, he had logged 187 2/3 innings.

Because he's signed through '08, it's safe to assume Williams will be back with the Astros next season. But as he spoke on Sunday, it was clear he wasn't taking anything for granted on that front.

"I don't know," Williams said. "It's up to [the Astros]. They hold that. If they want me back I'm going to be back, obviously. If not, then move on somewhere else. There's 29 other teams. If one of these guys takes my job then they deserve it. I don't think the way I pitched, that any one of them can."

Williams ends his season as a starter with an 8-15 record and a 5.04 ERA. He had several poor outings but was also the victim of low run support and a struggling bullpen. He had a decent second half, going 4-5 with a 4.58 ERA, a vast improvement over his first-half numbers: 4-10 with a 5.34 ERA.

"I think I've proven to a lot of people that I'm healthy, one, and I can go out there and put up quality innings," Williams said. "You look at my numbers, they're not going to be great, but at the same time, I don't think it's as bad as the numbers show.

"I'm going to leave this year with a very positive attitude. I did the best I can. I left it all on the field and it just wasn't meant to be."

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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