The Astros have suffered a rash of injuries late in camp, with starting pitchers Brett Myers (groin) and Roy Oswalt (hamstring) and starting shortstop Tommy Manzella (quadriceps) nursing various strains. First baseman Lance Berkman is two weeks removed from minor knee surgery, and there's a possibility he could begin the season on the disabled list.
The injuries will go a long way in determining the makeup of the roster, which must be trimmed to 25 players by next Sunday. Mills still has work to do. He has to pick a starting catcher from between Jason Castro and J.R. Towles, has to determine the fourth and fifth starters and sort out the bullpen.
Right-hander Felipe Paulino, who's competing for a spot in the rotation, helped his chances Sunday by holding the Marlins to five hits and four runs (two earned) in 5 2/3 innings in his fourth start of spring. He would have finished the sixth having allowed two runs had shortstop Edwin Maysonet not made a two-out error on the final batter Paulino faced, which led to two unearned runs.
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"He threw the ball extremely well and the way he competed was real good," Mills said. "Some guys got some hits off him and he really seemed to bear down and get right after the next guy. He threw the ball very well. I'm very pleased."
Paulino, 26, went 3-11 with a 6.27 ERA in 23 games (17 starts) for the Astros last season. He stayed in Houston in the offseason to work on his conditioning and opened eyes in camp by posting a 3.78 ERA in 16 2/3 innings, covering five starts (six games). He allowed 20 hits, nine walks and struck out 12.
"He's really starting to set himself apart," Mills said. "He's doing a real good job."
Paulino said he struggled with finding a suitable release point during his 91-pitch outing Sunday. He said he was pleased with the spring that he had, and said the decision was in the hands of Mills and general manager Ed Wade.
"It's the only spring I got an opportunity to show what I've got," Paulino said. "Houston gave me an opportunity and I say thanks for that. I'll have to throw one more game [likely next weekend in Houston against Toronto], and we'll see what happens."
Casey Daigle, whose 0.77 ERA this spring has put him squarely in the bullpen mix, threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings Sunday, and fellow non-roster right-hander Gary Majewski needed only four pitches to throw a scoreless inning, lowering his ERA to 5.91.
"They both threw the ball pretty well, but because Paulino went so deep in the game and we have to stretch him out, they didn't get a big chance to show a whole lot of stuff, but at the same time, the chance that they did they did pretty good job," Mills said.
With right-handers Wilton Lopez and Sammy Gervacio putting together terrific springs, Mills and Wade have some challenging decisions to make in the bullpen.
Newcomers Matt Lindstrom and Brandon Lyon are locks for the 'pen, with right-hander Jeff Fulchino and left-hander Tim Byrdak likely in good shape. Right-hander Chris Sampson had had a good spring, and right-hander Brian Moehler will be in the bullpen if he's not in the rotation.
"It's going to make it tough, no doubt about it," Mills said. "That's exactly what we were hoping when this whole thing started because we're going to go through quite a few pitchers. Every team does during a Major League season, and so we wanted these guys to put themselves in a situation where they were able to show us that something that would make us want to bring them to the big leagues, and they have done exactly that."
No matter which pitchers make the Opening Day roster, Mills said most of them will be up to help the Major League club at some point this season. Still, the next days will bring some bad news to some players in camp.
"You never like delivering bad news, but at the same time, I'm not going to say it's bad news, because we're going to go through a number of players, and these guys being the last cuts, if they go down there and pitch and play like they're capable, they're probably the first guys we see back," he said.