Door swings wide open for young pitchers after Livan is released.

When Spring Training first started, it was generally understood — especially after Brett Myers was moved to the bullpen — that barring a complete Grapefruit League meltdown, Livan Hernandez would be in the Astros’ rotation to start the season.

That was before a couple things happened. One, a bunch of young starting pitching candidates put together a nice showing throughout the exhibition season, and two, they all pretty much outpitched Hernandez.

I wouldn’t categorize Livan’s spring as disastrous, but a 5.63 ERA over 16 innings and two unimpressive starts toward the end isn’t going to merit a spot in the rotation on a team that has made it very public it’s getting younger, less expensive and building for the future.

So the final two spots in the rotation are available for three candidates: front-runners Kyle Weiland and Jordan Lyles, and Lucas Harrell, who impressed with five strong innings against the Marlins on Wednesday. Manager Brad Mills mentioned Henry Sosa should be part of the rotation conversation as well.

Is eliminating Hernandez from the equation risky? Absolutely. He may be older and doesn’t throw as hard as the others, but his track record — good for around 200 innings most years and not one stint on the disabled list — is a pretty significant security blanket for a team that has so many unproven, young pitchers in its rotation. The hope is that everyone can pitch 160-200 innings. There are no guarantees that will happen, however, which could create issues
for the bullpen.

That said, it’ll be interesting, and hopefully enjoyable, watching the young pitching develop. Lyles hasn’t had a terrific spring but there’s more upside to a 21-year-old who throws hard and is still learning how to pitch at this level. This is also the year we’ll likely find out if Bud Norris will be the rotation anchor so many predicted he would be years ago when he was coming through the system. If so, he can be a nice complement to Opening Day starter Wandy Rodriguez at the top of the rotation.

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Norris had a good showing in his final Florida appearance Friday night at Osceola County Stadium. He allowed one run on four hits over six innings against a Braves split-squad team and reported no lingering issues from an elbow/triceps strain that slowed him briefly last week.

“I’m glad they gave me the extra two days to get to 100 percent,” he said.

It’s likely Norris will throw a few innings during the Astros’ exhibition game with the White Sox on Tuesday.

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It’s my professional obligation every February to bring you photos of Truck Day, the annual baseball rite of passage that involves getting really excited about an 18-wheeler being loaded at Minute Maid Park with everything from seeds and gum to jerseys and interesting baseball undergarments.

Fans dig this stuff, because it of course means something much more than just a bunch of burly, sweaty guys spending the better part of eight hours loading stuff onto a truck. Truck Day signals the beginning of a new season and foreshadows six glorious weeks of Spring Training.

Full disclosure: I prefer reverse Truck Day, which is, by definition, the day the crew loads everything back onto the truck and sends it on its merry way to Houston.

The sight of this truck, an in-the-way monstrosity that sits in front of the complex for a full day, makes people positively giddy. (Sometimes there’s even hugging involved. Not because we’re all one big happy family 24/7, but because we’re all universally thrilled with the idea of coming home and prefer for it to happen sooner than later.) So please indulge me as I post the obligatory truck photos from the loading process today. The finish line is visible, and we’re almost there. I can assure you, everyone here cannot wait to get home and get the real stuff started.

Training room supplies! If that doesn't get the Opening Day adrenaline flowing, I don't know what will.

Loaded and ready...almost.

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Quick links:

Dave Raymond and Chris Snyder help answer the question, “Who are these guys?!?!?”

Opening Day festivities detailed here

Opening Day ticket information detailed here

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3 Comments

So long ‘Stros! Those of us Astros fans who actually live in Florida don’t like the reverse moving day. But it is time to get the season started (almost) and for everyone to go home.

Good luck Astros and crew!

I like the move. C’mon, youngsters, get us to .500!

I think they could have easily afforded to keep everyone around and have Livan as a strong veteran influence on a very young staff that has seen plenty of guys come up through the ranks but fail to help the team win any games. -Manwall.com

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