Notes: Don't count Chacon out
Astros pleased with right-hander's second start on Friday
TAMPA, Fla. -- Shawn Chacon kept his name in the running for the fifth spot in the Astros' rotation with an encouraging outing on Friday against the Yankees.
"You better believe I was [encouraged]," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "I thought he threw well. He was sharp, he moved the ball around the zone, had some good spin. I thought he had velocity. I was very happy with that. Chris [Sampson], I thought, threw well as well."
Though he gave up a pair of runs on four hits in the second inning, Chacon retired the side in order in the other two frames, and eight of the nine outs he recorded were via groundouts.
"Overall, today was what I was looking for," Chacon said. "Second inning, I think I just relaxed when I got two outs. Gave up that leadoff double to Alex [Rodriguez], got two outs, then I lost my focus a little bit and gave up some hits and the walk. But I'm happy with the way I came back against [Derek] Jeter and getting him to ground out with the bases loaded. Eight out of nine outs for ground balls, for me that's right where I want to be.
"Now it's just a matter of eliminating that one inning where I lose focus and not letting that happen and putting guys on bases. All and all, it was a pretty good outing."
Rodriguez doubled and came home on a two-out double by former Astro Jason Lane.
"The ball A-Rod hit was a first-pitch fastball, middle in," Chacon said. "Decent pitch, it was down at the knees. The ball Lane hit was definitely not a good pitch, 1-0 fastball up and away. You do that to big leaguers and they're going to hit them hard somewhere. Other than that, I think made some pretty pitches throughout the day. I worked on the breaking ball and changeups today when I was behind in the counts and got some ground balls that way, so I'm happy."
Chacon, who signed a free agent contract on Feb. 20, went 4-3 with a 3.52 ERA in 60 relief appearances and 1-1 with a 5.59 ERA in four starts for Pittsburgh last year.
"As far as the matter of stamina, I felt good in that last inning, so I'm extending a little bit, little by little," Chacon said. "I got out of whack a little bit in the second inning, mechanically. For me, when [catcher Humberto] Quintero came out and let me know what I was doing, I was able to make the adjustment and make some good pitches and get out of it. That tells me not only do I know what I can do, he does also and that's pretty good."
Cuts coming: The first round of roster cuts are coming soon.
"I've been losing sleep the last couple of nights just thinking about that," Cooper said. "I think that it has to happen sometime next week, the early part of next week. I'm trying to get these guys two or three times out there."
Most of the pitchers trying to win a roster spot have already had three appearances, and with rotation candidates needing to get more innings to stretch out their arms in preparation for the season, there won't be as many innings to go around. Twenty position players have already had at least a dozen plate appearances.
Adding a couple of split-squad games helps, but with the season roughly three weeks away and 53 players in camp, cuts are inevitable.
"You get down to numbers, so somebody has to go," Cooper said. "It's not an easy thing to do, and you want to try to give everybody as much of an opportunity as you can so it's fair."
Window closing: Fernando Nieve threw a bullpen session on Thursday, and Cooper said on Friday that the right-hander was fine. Nieve, 25, has been limited to non-pitching activities since straining his left hamstring on Feb. 28.
The time off the mound means that time is against Nieve, who is trying to come back after undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery last May, in terms of making the Opening Day roster.
"Time's running out," Cooper admitted. "It might be difficult for him to get the innings."
Nieve did not pitch last year, but scouts love his arm. With a fastball that was clocked as high as 99 mph before his injury, Nieve was seen as a future closer. He pitched a no-hitter in the Minor Leagues, and he was 3-3 with a 4.20 ERA, including 11 starts, for the Astros in 2006.
"He's got the ability and he's had a little bit of success," Cooper said. "I saw him a few years ago, know what he can do, like what I saw in '06. [So] it's not like he has to come and wow me, so to speak."
Extra bases: When Cooper was an agent, one of his clients was Yankees manager Joe Girardi. ... First baseman Lance Niekro was back in the lineup on Friday after being held out since bruising his foot on Wednesday against the Rays. ... Third baseman Ty Wigginton (quad) did not play for the second consecutive game, but he is expected to be back in the lineup on Saturday. ... Ryan Houston returned to the active list on Friday and pitched a scoreless inning against the Yankees. The right-hander had been out the last couple of weeks because of a strained hamstring. ... Jose Cruz Jr. and Quintero each went 1-for-3 against the Yankees. Cruz is batting .333 and Quintero .462 this spring.
Quotable: "I'm going to flip a coin in the morning." -- Cooper, on whether he would stay in Kissimmee, Fla., or go to Disney on Saturday to watch the other split squad. All kidding aside, Cooper plans to stay in Kissimmee to get another look at pitchers Felipe Paulino and Mark McLemore.
On deck: The Astros will play split-squad games on Saturday at 12:05 p.m. CT, with right-hander Paulino starting against the Nationals at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee and left-hander Wandy Rodriguez getting the start against the Braves at Disney's Wide World of Sports. Former Astro right-hander Tim Redding will start for Washington. Atlanta will go with left-hander Jo Jo Reyes.
Also scheduled to pitch for Houston against Washington are right-handers Jose Valverde, Doug Brocail and Mike DeJean and left-hander McLemore. Following Paulino against the Braves will be right-handers Brian Moehler, Dave Borkowski and Brad James and lefty Wesley Wright.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.