HOUSTON -- Eric Bruntlett had been preparing himself for this day since early January, when he read that the Astros had signed Mark Loretta to a one-year deal.

Bruntlett knew in his heart of hearts that he probably didn't have a place on the Astros' roster, but that dose of reality didn't make it any easier when he was called into manager Phil Garner's office on Saturday and was told he was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock.

Bruntlett, who homered in his final at-bat during Saturday's game, was upset for two reasons. He was overcome with disappointment that he's not going to be with the Astros on Opening Day, but he's also not pleased that he cleared waivers, meaning none of the other 29 Major League teams wanted him on their 25-man rosters, either.

"I was hoping somebody else would have wanted me," Bruntlett said. "I guess not. I'll go to Round Rock and go from there."

Bruntlett was one of four players unhappy with the Astros' final cuts. Catcher Eric Munson and right-handers Matt Albers and Fernando Nieve are also headed for Round Rock.

But along with the disappointment, there was elation. Chris Sampson learned he had won the fifth starter job, and Wandy Rodriguez also was informed he retained the No. 4 spot that was earmarked for him when the spring season started.

Non-roster invitees Brian Moehler and Rick White also made the cut, filling out the bullpen. Sampson will start the season in the 'pen until the 10th game of the season -- the first time the club will need its fifth starter.

Sampson emerged from the clubhouse looking somewhat dazed and admitted he was a little overwhelmed by the news.

"I'm kind of at a loss for words right now," he said. "I'm very excited, very thankful."

As he addressed the media outside of the clubhouse, a happy scream erupted down the hall as his family -- his wife, mother, uncle, aunt and niece received word about Sampson's fate.

"What really stood out in my mind is I had the horrible start against the Nationals," Sampson said, referring to his March 22 outing during which he allowed 10 runs over 2 1/2 innings. "The very next start I go out and give up only one run in five innings. I bounced right back. I showed them I can get knocked down, and I can get right back up, and I can go after it again."

Moehler's spot on the team was also solidified with one outstanding effort. In his final Florida start, facing the powerful Yankees Opening Day lineup, he held his opponent to two runs over six innings.

"That opened our eyes," general manager Tim Purpura said. "Maybe this is a guy that after surgeries and bad luck and things like that, maybe he's at that point. That certainly opened our eyes."

Moehler, 35, would have been satisfied with starting or relieving. He just wants to play in October for the first time in his career.

"I'm more happy that I have a chance to play for a team that has a chance to go to the playoffs," he said. "I've never experienced that. All I care about is getting to the playoffs."

The final string of outings weighed heavily on the decision-making process for all pitchers. Purpura and Garner convened Saturday morning with two rosters -- one if Rodriguez pitched well against the Royals, and one if he didn't.

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Fortunately for Rodriguez, he pitched well, holding Kansas City to two runs over six innings.

"We were watching Wandy pretty closely," Purpura said. "Had he scuffled today that would have changed our minds."

Said Rodriguez: "I had to do well because I had two bad outings. I think I was making Garner crazy."

Of those who were demoted, Albers appeared to have taken the news the best.

"There's just not room for me right now," he said. "I did decently well in Spring Training. I feel good about going into the season at Triple-A. I'll just try to go out there and pitch well, keep learning and get better so when I come up here I can come back a little more comfortable and fit right back in."

Of all of the decisions that were made Saturday, general manager Purpura categorized Bruntlett's demotion as the most agonizing call he made.

"No doubt," Purpura said. "That's the one that you kind of thought about from the day we got Loretta. Where does he fit? How does he fit? The balancing act you go through, you want to do what's best for a player but you also have to do what's best for the club.

"I said to Bruntlett, 'If something happens to Adam [Everett], you're our guy. If you're not in the organization and something happens to Adam, we're in big trouble.' Part of Phil's job and my job is to have the right guys here if that occurrence happens."

"This was a difficult day," Garner said. "But I'm not the guy that has to go down. We huddle, we make decisions and the good news is they were tough decisions. That means guys played well, guys did their jobs.

"In all of our cases here, we like our personnel. We like our pitchers that we sent out, I love Bruntlett and Munson and it's not fun to have to do this. But it's what needed to be done."