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Astros' rotation tougher to crack with Myers

Astros' rotation tougher to crack

HOUSTON -- With veteran right-hander Brett Myers joining the Astros' roster this week, the battle for spots in Houston's rotation will be a little more interesting when Spring Training begins in a little more than five weeks.

Myers, who went 73-63 with a 4.40 ERA in eight seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, last week reached a $5 million contract agreement with the Astros -- a deal that comes after the team was thought to have been done with its winter shopping.

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Myers could be plugged into the middle of the rotation and would give the Astros a pitcher capable of eating up innings and reaching double-digit wins. He made at least 30 starts in all but one season from 2003-08 but missed much of last year after undergoing hip surgery.

It appears Myers, 29, will be put into the No. 3 spot in the rotation behind Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez, who are a bona fide 1-2 punch. Youngsters Bud Norris and Felipe Paulino will likely compete for a rotation spot, along with veteran Brian Moehler, whose $3 million option for 2010 was picked up shortly after the '09 season ended.

Myers was limited to 18 games last year because of an injured right hip suffered in May that required surgery in late June. Myers rejoined the team in September as a relief pitcher, but strained his right latissimus dorsi muscle and missed more time.

Astros general manager Ed Wade, who wouldn't comment on Myers until the deal is announced, said early last week the club didn't want to add a pitcher with name recognition who would impede the development of a younger pitcher. Wade also didn't want to add a starting pitcher who was coming off a significant health issue.

Myers underwent hip surgery last year, but his arm has been sound throughout his career and he's young enough and has a solid track record on the mound to justify putting him in the rotation at the expense of younger arms such as Norris or Paulino.

"At some point in time, we do need to begin a transition into a younger club and be mindful of the fact we do have prospects coming and we have to create opportunities for them to get their feet on the ground at the big league level," Wade said last week, prior to the Myers' deal.

Despite the signing of Myers, the Astros' formula for long-term success hasn't changed. Wade believes a club should be drafting, signing and developing their own players, especially starting pitchers.

Norris, 24, was drafted in 2006 and made his Major League debut last year, pitching in 11 games, 10 starts. He won his first three starts and last three starts to finish 6-3 with a 4.53 ERA. Paulino, 26, was signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2001 and is 5-12 with a 6.40 ERA in 28 career Major League games, including 20 starts.

They both were front-runners for a spot in the rotation prior to the Myers signing, but the competition appears to have gotten a little tougher.

"People say you've given a lot of chances to Felipe Paulino, and the results haven't been good, but when you look at his age and the weapons and what he brings to the game and if you're opened-minded about it, you'd say this kid deserves every opportunity to show what he's capable of doing if handed the ball every fifth day," Wade said. "Bud Norris falls into a different category. He's established a good record of success at every level coming through the organization, and I wouldn't want to get into the position of slowing that progress down.

"If the right guy comes along and Felipe Paulino or Bud Norris has to wait his turn, then so be it. We don't want to create another health issue and/or create an impediment that doesn't allow these kids to progress."

Wade said Paulino's name has surfaced routinely in trade talks during the offseason. He was 3-11 with a 6.27 ERA in 23 games (17 starts) last year. He showed signs of progress and didn't have good run support, but he also got rocked on more than one occasion.

"He's got a big arm, and as I told Felipe at the end of last season we want this to work out here in Houston, but it's going to take stepping up now and not six months from now or nine months from now," Wade said. "He needs to step up and show he's prepared to take advantage of the opportunity.

"To his credit, he spent a lot of time conditioning with [strength and conditioning coach] Gene Coleman, and he's continuing to progress. We need to give this kid the ball and find out what it's all about. Felipe has been a project his entire career, and though he made good progress under [former pitching coach] Dewey Robinson, maybe [new pitching coach] Brad Arnsberg can show him one or two things he can grasp and will help him."

Brian McTaggart 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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