Mailbag: Where will Williams start?

Mailbag: Where will Williams start?

I hope Woody Williams can turn it around and perform better, but if he doesn't, what are the odds he won't have a spot in the rotation to start the season? I imagine he'll get a shot when the season starts because of what they're paying him, right? It's not as if he's taking some young stud's job. Is there any chance he could start the season in the Minors? Surely, he wouldn't be a bullpen candidate, would he?
-- Billy M., Austin

He'll definitely not start the season in the Minors, and I doubt he'd be effective in the 'pen. But you're on the right track with your other questions. If he doesn't put together one good outing from now until the end of Spring Training (and it looks like he'll have two more starts before the regular season opens), then I cannot see how they can put him in the rotation. If they do give him a shot, yes, it'll be because they owe him $6.25 million this year. They may just have to swallow hard and let him go, even if it means throwing away all of that money.

I'd like to give Woody the benefit of the doubt, but it's getting tougher as we get deeper into Spring Training. And you're also right in that he's not taking any young stud's job. Two of the young studs are on the shelf [Fernando Nieve, Felipe Paulino] and few other players on the proverbial bubble have done anything this month but pitch themselves out of contention.

Are the Orioles still interested in Mark Loretta?
-- Corey M., Galveston, Texas

If they end up trading Brian Roberts, I'm sure they'll be interested. But I have a feeling the Astros' odds of trading Loretta dropped greatly, in light of Kazuo Matsui's recent health issues. Matsui is going to start the year on the disabled list, and Loretta and Geoff Blum will probably absorb most of the playing time at second in the interim.

That said, the Astros also like David Newhan, so if they were to trade Loretta, Newhan might be able to slip onto the roster as a second utility infielder. But I believe the club's first choice probably would be to hang on to Loretta. He's a terrific hitter and will be a valuable weapon off the bench when he's not starting.

With Carlos Lee not liking the fifth hole, do you think that maybe Cecil Cooper will put him in cleanup with Lance Berkman hitting third and Miguel Tejada hitting fifth?
-- Joshua S., Houston

That appears to be the way Cooper's leaning. I'd venture to guess we won't be seeing Lee hitting fifth this year, and Berkman appears pegged for third. Tejada said he's fine with hitting fifth and that's probably what we'll see on Opening Day.

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With all of the talk of switching the lineup around, why is Hunter Pence being relegated to the sixth spot? Based on his performance last year, he's one of the best hitters on the team and he will miss out on at-bats hitting sixth instead of in the top three.
-- Terry V., Friendswood, Texas

With Matsui out for at least the first week, Pence could move up to the two-hole. Loretta will also see time up there as well. I believe the lineup will be a work in progress, and I do not believe Pence will be in the six-hole the entire season. That said, he's the type of hitter who can hit anywhere, whereas some are only comfortable in certain spots (see Lee). That's one of the reasons why Cooper feels so comfortable hitting Pence sixth -- because he'll just go up and do his thing, without thinking about who's ahead of or behind him.

Now that Felipe Paulino is out of the mix, who do you see as the frontrunner for the fifth spot in the rotation?
-- Wes C., Houston

If the season were to start tomorrow, it wouldn't surprise me to see Roy Oswalt, Brandon Backe, Wandy Rodriguez, Shawn Chacon and Chris Sampson rounding out the starting five.

In response to the comment about Hunter Pence's nickname, I was trying to teach my girlfriend all the names of the players, and the only way she can remember his name is because it sounds a lot like "underpants." Sadly, this name has stuck pretty well so far.
-- Randy S., San Antonio

Trust me, you are not the only one who has referred to Pence as just that. I've heard it from fans, players and a front office member or two. Hopefully, that's one that won't stick.

Do you believe the Astros can make the playoffs?
-- Michael S., Magnolia, Texas

After what I've seen from the pitching this month, Michael, go ahead and mark me down for no.

If the Astros keep three catchers, how will that impact Wesley Wright's chances of making the team? What are his chances in any case? He's looked good so far.
-- Raymond M., Rome, GA

Cooper is really, really high on Wright. With Matsui starting the year on the DL, the club may see that as a good way to carry three catchers to start the season, if it doesn't end up taking another utility infielder. I believe Wright has a good shot to make the team. Heck, they need a left-hander and they actually have a left-hander in camp who's throwing strikes. Why give him back to the Dodgers? Take a chance on the kid.

I don't know if this is the correct forum, but I wanted to thank the Astros, the radio folks and for broadcasting all the Astros Spring Training games. I've noticed that not many clubs do that, and I just wanted to express my appreciation to all those involved.
-- Kylene M., Sewanee, TN

The broadcasting team will be happy to hear that. You're right, most clubs do not broadcast every game. The Astros have always carried every game on the radio, and they put nine games on the TV schedule this spring as well. Very impressive.

What is Cecil Cooper's strategy as far as the basepaths go? Is he going to let Michael Bourn, Matsui, and Pence run? And while we're on the subject of Bourn, what kind of on-base percentage do you expect to see from him this season? If he's going to hit leadoff, he needs to have a high OBP.
-- David T., Alden, Iowa

Cooper's going to let them run, and he appointed Gary Redus as the baserunning coach this spring to work specifically with the players you mentioned. The Astros added speed to the team during the offseason and they're excited about it. I also expect Bourn to have a high OBP. I don't think anyone realized how much plate discipline he has, and if he performs during the regular season like he has this spring, the Astros have a gem on their hands, and at the top of their order.

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