KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- With a little more than two weeks remaining before the start of the regular season, Astros manager Brad Mills said the race for the final two spots in the pitching rotation has been whittled to right-handers Kyle Weiland, Jordan Lyles and Livan Hernandez and left-hander Zach Duke.
That means Lucas Harrell and Henry Sosa, a pair of young right-handers who were originally in the mix for a spot in the rotation, are now being considered for bullpen slots. They haven't been getting as many innings or the starts that the other four have gotten, so Mills' announcement wasn't surprising.
"If they were to show something and light our eyes, they might throw themselves back into that mix, but we're looking at spots in the bullpen as well," Mills said. "If they do something we feel would warrant them to get back into the mix, then we'll put them right back into the mix."
The top three spots in the rotation appear to be set with Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ, and the veteran Hernandez has been getting consistent starts and innings this spring and will likely have a spot. That would leave three pitchers battling for one rotation spot.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow isn't ready to put anything in stone.
"We're still looking at seven guys for five spots," he said. "A couple of the guys we thought might be rotation candidates [Harrell and Sosa] are being looked at more as long men and bullpen candidates. It makes sense, because we have 17 [spring] games left, and we really have to focus on not only figuring out who the last couple of guys are, but also making sure everybody's lined up properly to start the season."
Happ threw 83 pitches in an intrasquad game on Tuesday, and Duke threw 75 pitches.
Trade whittles Astros' spring roster to 47
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The trade that sent catcher Humberto Quintero and outfielder Jason Bourgeois to the Royals leaves the Astros with 47 players in Major League camp -- 22 pitchers, four catchers, 12 infielders and nine outfielders.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who has to get the roster trimmed to 25 in about two weeks, said another round of roster moves will be coming soon.
"We're going to have to probably send out another group sometime this week or over the weekend or early next week, because we're going to have to focus on the guys who need the playing time," Luhnow said. "There are some guys who are not going to get playing time unless they're in 'B' games or on the backfields. We've got to get it down to 25 two weeks from tomorrow, and we'll be taking steps along the way."
In addition to their five-inning intrasquad game on Tuesday, the Astros sent three pitchers into a Minor League game to get some work. Fernando Rodriguez threw 12 pitches, David Carpenter threw 13 and Wesley Wright threw eight.
Lyles pleased despite troubles in first inning
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The final pitching line for Astros starter Jordan Lyles wound up being a little messy Tuesday, but Lyles settled into a nice groove after a rough first inning against the Cardinals and gave the team a glimpse of what he's able to do.
Lyles, competing for a spot in the rotation, pitched five innings and allowed seven hits and four runs, with three runs and four hits coming in the first inning. He breezed through the second, third and fourth, throwing a total of 24 pitches in that span.
"I felt all right after the first inning," he said. "The first inning, I couldn't find the target and left balls out over the plate and they did a good job hitting them hard and not hitting them at people, unfortunately. Overall, I thought it was a good outing."
Astros manager Brad Mills said he'd like Lyles to throw more breaking pitches and do a better job at putting away hitters. Mills said 24 of Lyles' first 27 pitches were fastballs.
"When he's ahead in the count, his secondary pitches are too good and we'd like to see him use those a little bit more," Mills said.
Lyles is working on a new curveball grip, and he said he threw nine or 10 of them against the Cardinals.
"I'm still working on it, but I liked what I saw from it today and how it came out of my hand," he said.
Crane reacts to Berkman's AL remarks
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros owner Jim Crane said Tuesday that while he would have preferred to have kept the team he purchased in November in the National League, he understood baseball's decision to move the club to the American League next year as a contingency of the purchase.
Crane's comments to ESPN.com came in response to remarks made Tuesday by former Astros outfielder Lance Berkman, who played his former team as a member of the Cardinals. Berkman said Commissioner Bud Selig extorted Crane into moving the team to the AL.
Drayton McLane sold the Astros for $610 million after agreeing to a $70 million price reduction because Crane was required to switch leagues to balance out the leagues at 15 teams each. Major League Baseball paid McLane $35 million to agree to the league switch.
"I think it was a good deal for baseball," Crane told ESPN.com. "I think it was a good deal for our owners. Would we have preferred to stay in the National League? Probably, yeah. But that wasn't the deal that was presented to us."
Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president of labor relations and human resources, responded to Berkman's comments for the Commissioner's Office.
"The 15-15 allowed us to make a number of changes in the Basic Agreement, and the Basic Agreement was ratified 30-0," Manfred told ESPN.com. "It got ratified 30-0 due to the efforts of Commissioner Selig, and it got ratified 30-0 even though there were individual issues that the owners may not have agreed on. In the end, they fully supported the deal."
Lowrie fouls ball off foot, endures bruise
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros starting shortstop Jed Lowrie left Tuesday's game after four innings after fouling a pitch off his left foot. Lowrie, who went 0-for-1 with a walk, had the foot heavily wrapped as he talked to reporters after the game, but he said it wasn't serious.
"It's part of the game," he said. "It's not baseball season until you foul one off your foot or you get hit by a pitch. I think it was just a matter of not doing something stupid. Right now, it's just a bruise, so let's keep it at that."
Lowrie will likely be out until Friday, considering the Astros are off Wednesday and Lowrie isn't scheduled to make the trip to Port St. Lucie, Fla., on Thursday to play against the Mets.
"He's going to be OK," manager Brad Mills said. "He banged his foot pretty good, man, on that foul ball. It smarts more than anything else. They had it all wrapped up, so it doesn't swell."
Astros' board gets spring tour after club update
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros owner Jim Crane took the team's board of directors on a tour of the team's facility at Osceola County Stadium on Tuesday morning. The board held a meeting Monday night in Orlando, where manager Brad Mills and general manager Jeff Luhnow gave updates on the club and went over finances.
The board of directors, which is made up of principal investors, will vote on major decisions, but not be involved in day-to-day operations of the club.
"We'll try to create an atmosphere where they can participate in an owner's suite when we get home and get some special perks," Crane said. "They're over major decisions, like the budget, and we'd have to get some approval from them. Other than that, [president and CEO] George [Postolos] and Jeff will make the day-to-day decisions."
Crane said he expected the Astros' Opening Day payroll to be around $60 million on April 6, when the season begins against the Rockies.
"We'll see what happens as the season moves on, and whether Jeff makes any trades and what adjustments we might have to make throughout the season, depending on how things progress," Crane said. "I think we'll open [the season] where we're at now."
Crane has been in and out of spring camp for the past month and said he plans to take at least a couple of more visits to Florida. Earlier in the month, he traveled with the Astros to Tampa to take in a game at the Yankees' Steinbrenner Field, and he said he'd like to tour a couple of other facilities before spring camp ends.
"We're getting close [to the start of the season]," he said. "We're getting excited and ready for Opening Day."
Crane will meet with some fan focus groups this week in Houston to go over some designs for the team's new uniforms, which are expected to debut when the Astros move to the American League next year. The Astros have to have a design submitted to Major League Baseball by May 1. He's even sought input from some former players, including Jeff Bagwell.
"We want it to be a long-term uniform that will show well and fans will like it," Crane said.