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03/21/09 4:33 PM ET

Outing doesn't hurt Capellan's shot

Right-hander remains a contender to make Astros rotation

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Jose Capellan ended one very impressive streak on Saturday, but it in no way hurt his chances to crack the rotation when the Astros set their Opening Day roster in two weeks.

Capellan allowed five runs during the fourth inning of his start against the Blue Jays, marking the first runs he's allowed all spring.

When Alex Rios crossed the plate with two outs in the fourth, it ended Capellan's scoreless streak at 15 2/3 innings, a run that lasted through four outings, including an exhibition start against Team Venezuela prior to the start of the World Baseball Classic.

Manager Cecil Cooper wasn't as focused on Capellan's shaky inning as much as he looked at what he did after. Capellan yielded a one-out double to Rios in the fifth, but he coaxed an infield popup from Vernon Wells and a groundout from Adam Lind.

"You see what happened in the next inning," Cooper said. "He went right back out, and boom, boom, boom."

Said Capellan: "It was just that one bad inning. The other innings, I felt good and I was throwing the pitches where they were calling them. I missed a few in that inning, and they took advantage."

Capellan is in a neck-and-neck race for the fifth starter job with Russ Ortiz, whose background, track record and contract status likely put him ahead by a hair. Ortiz has 110 Major League wins, a World Series appearance and, perhaps most importantly, an out clause that allows for him to become a free agent if he does not make the club out of Spring Training.

Capellan, with five Major League wins and no such clause in his contract, might be the odd man out to start the season. But he's making this decision anything but easy for Cooper and general manager Ed Wade, who have watched the pool of fifth-starter candidates dwindle down from six to these final two.

Cooper wasn't swayed either way after Capellan's six-inning outing against the Blue Jays and said the right-hander is very much in the mix.

"Today didn't change my mind at all," Cooper said. "We're going to just keep running him out there. Really other than one, two pitches, maybe three pitches today that he made mistakes on -- and they were actually all on his breaking ball -- if he didn't do that, he's got maybe one run [allowed] at the most. That's the first time he's been scored upon."

Capellan made his first appearance of the spring on Feb. 27 and turned in two shutout innings. He stretched it to three scoreless against Venezuela on March 4, followed by three more on March 9 against the Nationals.

He lasted 4 2/3 innings in a start against Atlanta on March 15, which preceded Saturday's outing in Dunedin.

Ortiz was impressive early and late, with a couple of shaky outings in between. He turned in his best performance of the spring on Friday, when he threw six shutout innings against the visiting Reds. Ortiz had allowed three runs in each of his two previous outings and has a spring ERA of 3.63.

The only way Ortiz and Capellan could both make the rotation is if one of the other projected four starters is injured. Wandy Rodriguez has had his health problems this spring, but Cooper expects the left-hander to have built up enough innings to be ready for his first start opening week.

That means someone probably more deserving of a spot -- based solely on spring performances -- will be the odd man out.

Like the old saying goes, that's a good problem for a manager to have.

"They seem to be taking it to heart," Cooper said. "They are competing for a spot, all of a sudden, and that's good. They are making strong cases."

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