Wright's winter work impressing Astros
Transitioning from reliever to starter, lefty will get rotation shot
HOUSTON -- If his performance in the Dominican Winter League is any indication, Wesley Wright could have a future in the Astros' rotation.
The 5-foot-10 left-hander's transformation to a starting pitcher has gotten off to a promising beginning, with Wright going 0-1 with a 1.73 ERA in his first five starts for Azucareros de Este, which is based in the eastern city of La Romana in the Dominican Republic.
"My goal is to get stretched out and see how good I can be in that role, but I have no preconceived expectations," Wright said.
In 26 innings, Wright has yielded 17 hits, seven runs (five earned), no home runs, 12 walks while striking out 33. He's allowed two runs or fewer in all five of his starts, which have all been at least five innings.
"All the reports we've gotten have been very solid," Astros general manager Ed Wade said. "A couple of our pro scouts were down there and had a chance to see him firsthand, and the reports have been very solid on him. [Assistant general manager] David Gottfried had a conversation with Wesley in the last couple of days, and Wesley is feeling really good about the way things have gone for him down there."
Wade said Wright will come to Spring Training with a chance to win a spot in the rotation.
"We're going to give him every opportunity to try to win a job as a starter next year and see where it takes us," he said.
Wright, 24, was a starting pitcher in high school in Alabama, but he got moved to the bullpen after the Dodgers drafted him in the seventh round in 2003. Houston plucked him away from Los Angeles in the Rule 5 Draft in 2007, and he spent two years in the bullpen before the Astros discussed the idea of moving him to the rotation.
"We had some internal conversations about him late in the season, and then we approached Wesley," Wade said. "I had a conversation with him and Wes told me as an amateur he was a starting pitcher and he got into the Dodgers organization and they had a lot of high Draft picks that were starters and he ended up in the bullpen. He said he welcomed an opportunity to do this.
"I arranged a slot for him in winter ball, and he went down the instructional league to get his arm ready to go. And so far the results have been very solid down there. I think it's a clear indication that when a player is willing to go to winter ball and work on his craft, good things can happen."
Wright was named the Astros' Rookie of the Year in 2008, when he made 71 appearances and went 4-3 with a 5.01 ERA. Last season, he split time between the Astros and Triple-A Round Rock and struggled for consistency.
He was 3-4 with a 5.44 ERA in 49 games during four different stints with the Major League club and 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA in 13 games at Round Rock. He suffered from arm fatigue near the end of the season and was on the disabled list from Aug. 12-Sept. 1 with a left shoulder strain.
Wright has been used primarily as a left-handed specialist, but lefties hit .359 against him last season (righties hit .265).
"It seemed to boil down to command. It certainly wasn't a health issue and his stuff didn't fade," Wade said. "He's just got to make pitches and stay down in the zone and out of the middle of the plate, which fits the bill of every guy that stands 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate."
For Wright, the chance to learn to become a starter began before he went to instructional league at the end of the season.
"I'm a very observant person, and I watch the starting pitcher from different teams and the way they manage the game," he said. "It's a different mind-set than coming out of the bullpen. The main thing is to try to go as long as you can and keep your team in the game. There are definitely a lot of things I need to learn."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.