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01/18/10 5:10 PM ET

Wright put in work in hopes of rotation spot

Lefty built up arm strength while pitching in Dominican

HOUSTON -- Wesley Wright went down to the Dominican Republic this offseason hoping to improve his chances of making the Opening Day roster by getting himself stretched out to compete for a spot in the starting rotation.

Wright has been used exclusively as a reliever, appearing in 120 games in his first two seasons in the Major Leagues with the Astros in 2008 and '09, but he will begin camp in the mix to be a starter, challenging Bud Norris, Felipe Paulino, Yorman Bazardo and Wilton Lopez, among others.

"It was a good experience," Wright said of his stint in the Dominican Winter League. "I really enjoyed it. It was something that gives me a lot of confidence going into Spring Training, knowing that I have a recent history of being in the starting position. It's exciting. I'm looking forward to Spring Training and seeing the possibilities."

Wright made eight starts and was 0-2 with a 4.29 ERA with Azucareros de Este. In 35 2/3 innings, he allowed 34 hits, 20 runs (17 earned), walked 22 and struck out 40.

"We thought he did fine," general manager Ed Wade said. "We thought it was well worth the environment for him to go down there and get stretched out and be prepared to compete for a spot in the rotation and see where it goes.

"It certainly gives us another option from a starting point and broadens Wesley's horizons with regards to the different things he can do for the club."

Wright, 24, was a starting pitcher in high school in Alabama, but he was moved to the bullpen after the Dodgers drafted him in the seventh round in 2003. Houston got him from Los Angeles in the Rule 5 Draft in 2007.

"For me, I just want to be as versatile as possible," Wright said. "Versatility is the key to being able to stick around. The fact that I have been in the bullpen in the past and knowing I could go back, that's a good thing. Whatever to help the team win is a good thing. We'll see once Spring Training gets here."

Wright went at least five innings in his first five starts in the Dominican and threw as many as 90 pitches and as many as 5 2/3 innings.

"The main thing for me was learning how to face the lineup the second time around, just being able to make the adjustments to keep the guys off balance," Wright said. "The first time guys are trying to get a feel for you, and the second time they have a feel for what you have and you make the adjustments you need to make."

Wright was named the Astros' Rookie of the Year in 2008, when he made 71 appearances in his Major League debut and went 4-3 with a 5.01 ERA. Last year, he split time between the Astros and Triple-A Round Rock, struggling to find consistency.

He was 3-4 with a 5.44 ERA in 49 games during four different stints on the Major League roster 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).

"All avenues are open for him," Wade said. "Being left-handed, he brings significant value to the club. We're pretty confident that Tim Byrdak assumes a role as one of the lefties in the bullpen. If we were to decide to go with a second one, Wesley at this point in time has a great chance to stick in that role. But again, we'll go into Spring Training with an open mind."

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