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03/29/07 6:00 PM ET

Nieve disappointed in performance

Rotation hopeful struggles with location; Albers impresses

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Fernando Nieve was hoping for a good showing in his final Spring Training outing and admitted that he was disappointed with the results of his four-inning performance against the Tigers on Thursday.

Nieve allowed three runs on seven hits and tossed 74 pitches, entirely too many considering the number of innings he pitched.

"My location wasn't as good as it was the last time," Nieve said. "I need to be consistent. It's part of the job."

Nieve said that his arm felt a little bit weak and speculated that could be due to pitching on short rest. He threw four scoreless innings four days earlier, on Sunday against the Mets.

One of five candidates competing for the final two spots in the Astros rotation, Nieve ended his Grapefruit League season with a 3.60 ERA, after allowing eight earned runs over 20 innings, spanning six appearances.

Asked if he thought he helped his case with his performance on Thursday, Nieve answered, "I don't think it was a good job. I have to learn to pitch through the bad days, keep my head up and be ready for next time."

Matt Albers, another rotation hopeful, followed Nieve on Thursday, tossing 50 pitches over four scoreless innings. He yielded four hits but did not walk a batter, a good sign considering that was an area where he struggled this month.

"I was locating my fastball pretty well," Albers said. "Used both sides of the plate. I was just working a lot on throwing sinkers over the plate -- I was struggling doing that a little bit this spring. Everything felt good. I worked my curveball and changeup in and fastballs on both sides of the plate."

Albers, who struck out five Tigers batters on Thursday, ends his spring season with a 2.50 ERA, having allowed five earned runs over 18 innings. His walks detracted from his overall performance, however. He issued 12 free passes over seven appearances.

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Albers doesn't know if he'll start the season in Houston or Triple-A Round Rock, but the laid-back 24-year-old doesn't appear to be worried.

"Wherever I go, I'm going to try to do the same thing I was working on today -- making pitches, getting guys out," he said.

Nieve and Albers were the only players from Major League Spring Training camp who played the final Grapefruit League game in Lakeland. The rest of the squad flew to Round Rock, where the Astros were slated to play a game with the Express, their Triple-A affiliate, on Thursday evening.

General manager Tim Purpura indicated on Wednesday that everyone who was still on the Spring Training roster would go to Houston for the two-game exhibition series with the Royals on Friday and Saturday. Final cuts, along with the announcement of the starting rotation, will probably be revealed following Saturday's game, which begins at 1:05 p.m. CT.

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.