With very few roster spots available when camp opened, two players who were not on the Astros' postseason roster have won Opening Day jobs leaving one last position open.
Stassi: Giving Max effort
(c) Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle
Max Stassi has batted just .143 this spring but has shown enough defense to make the Astros as the backup catcher behind Brian McCann. Stassi will likely face more lefthanded pitching than righthanded to platoon with McCann. Last year's backup, Evan Gattis will perform mostly as a designated hitter and will be thought of as an emergency catcher.
Stassi was out of options so he would have needed to clear waivers before being sent back to the minors. He's seen call-up action during the last five seasons, batting .253 in only 44 games in the big leagues. However, he hit .135 in Houston the past two years. Maybe a regular role will relaunch his offense. Stassi came to the Astros as part of one of Jeff Luhnow's earliest trades. He arrived with Chris Carter and Brad Peacock from Oakland for Jed Lowrie.
The other late lock is Tony Sipp, the lefthander who almost pitched his way off the team. Coming off a year where he tossed 37-1/3rd innings with a 5.79 ERA, the 34-year-old southpaw has lowered his spring ERA to 5.19 and struck out the side Friday in his one inning of relief. Sipp is in the final year of a three-year $18 million contract. He's slated to be the only lefty in the bullpen.
Despite a 15-7 thrashing from the Marlins on Thursday, the Astro machine continues to hum this spring led by outstanding starting pitching. On Friday, a split squad led the Minnesota Twins, 2-0, into the bottom of the ninth on a pair of solo blasts by J.D. Davis. However, Trent Thornton surrendered a two-run homer so the game went into the books as a 2-2 tie.
Back in West Palm, Houston took a 3-0 lead on the Nationals behind Gerrit Cole. Washington managed a run in the third then five relievers, including Sipp, shut the door to finish with a 3-1 twilight victory to improve their Grapefruit mark to 18-8-4.
Cole was not sharp, lasting only 3-1/3rd innings while allowing two walks and five hits. He also struck out six. Still, the Astros projected starting pitchers have been more dominant than not in Florida.
The Astros will depart camp with 13 pitchers and 12 non-pitchers on the roster. The final spot is left between Davis and Tyler White until first baseman Yuli Gurriel is reinstated after a broken hand and a five-game suspension. Davis has scorched Grapefruit pitching with a .359 average and five homers through Friday.
The last two Florida contests will be this weekend against the Red Sox and Marlins. After which, the club will fly back to Houston for a two-game exhibition set against the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday and Tuesday. Play opens for real for the Champs on Thursday against the Rangers in Arlington.
- Bob Hulsey