Notes: Astros finalize team roster
Late spring transactions may benefit team in 2006
HOUSTON -- Regardless of how he performed on Saturday, Taylor Buchholz was pretty much a lock to make the Opening Day roster.
But throwing seven shutout innings against the Royals certainly didn't hurt his cause and that outing probably solidified his spot as the No. 5 starter.
That announcement will arrive at a later date, likely a few days before April 11, the first time the Astros will need their fifth starter. The only decision that had to be made by Saturday was the Opening Day roster, and it was no major surprise that Buchholz, pitcher Fernando Nieve and catcher Eric Munson all made the cut.
Munson's contract was purchased from Triple-A Round Rock, while infielder Kevin Orie was reassigned to Minor League camp.
The Astros will open the season with 12 pitchers: Brandon Backe, Buchholz, Mike Gallo, Brad Lidge, Trever Miller, Nieve, Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, Chad Qualls, Wandy Rodriguez, Russ Springer and Dan Wheeler.
Buchholz, who could have 10 days in between starts, will be available out of the bullpen beginning April 5, the final game with the Marlins. Carlos Hernandez, who was sent to Minor League camp last week, is also in the running for the fifth starter job.
The last night of Spring Training is an interesting dynamic. Players usually aren't told when they make the club; they're only called into the manager's office if they were cut.
So for Buchholz, the old cliche "no news is good news" certainly fits.
"It's a relief to find out," he said. "I'll sleep better tonight. That's what I came into Spring Training wanting to do, to make the team. I know I came in ready, and I'm happy with the way it went."
Manager Phil Garner did have a more detailed conversation with Nieve, who appears to be headed to the bullpen as a long reliever.
"They want to use me for whatever they want, probably long relief, pitching day by day," Nieve said.
The Astros will carry two catchers, Brad Ausmus and Munson. They have seven infielders -- Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio, Eric Bruntlett, Chris Burke, Morgan Ensberg, Adam Everett and Mike Lamb -- and four outfielders -- Jason Lane, Orlando Palmeiro, Willy Taveras and Preston Wilson.
Jeff Bagwell begins the year on the 15-day disabled list. The 40-man roster currently stands at 38.
Ring ceremony: The Astros will receive their National League Championship rings prior to their game with the Marlins on Tuesday, April 4. Two members of the 2005 club who are not on this year's team are also expected to attend: Roger Clemens and John Franco.
Soldiers from Fort Hood, many of whom the Astros visited during their annual Winter Caravan in January, will assist in the ceremony.
The first 30,000 fans at Tuesday's game will receive a National League Champs Replica Ring courtesy of Gallery Furniture. Vince Young, 2005 national champion Texas Longhorn quarterback, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the game.
Impact trades: The two trades the Astros made prior to breaking camp on Thursday seem like minor transactions, but the players the Astros acquired could provide valuable insurance in case of an injury on the Major League level.
Joe McEwing, acquired in a Minor League trade with Kansas City for a player to be named or cash considerations, had a big spring, batting .426 with six doubles, one homer and six RBIs. But he lost his job when Tony Graffanino was claimed off waivers from the Red Sox.
McEwing, 33, will play on an everyday basis for Triple-A Round Rock, although he won't be at one set position. He'll likely play at several spots in the infield.
Cody Ransom, 30, is expected to be Round Rock's everyday shortstop. Former shortstop prospect Tommy Whiteman was released, making room for Ransom, previously a Giants farmhand.
"Joe certainly gives us a great insurance policy at the Major League level," Purpura said. "He's certainly a Major League caliber guy, a Major League ready guy. He can step in and he's a great teammate, a great leader on a club even though he doesn't play all the time."
Donations: Former President George Bush and Astros owner Drayton McLane participated in a press conference at Minute Maid Park on Saturday to announce that the Bush-Clinton Houston Hurricane Relief Fund will join Wal-Mart and the Astros to fund $200,000 worth of structural repairs and new instructional equipment at Revere Middle School in West Houston.
Revere has a student body of 1,440 students -- 190 of whom are Hurricane Katrina evacuees.
"It's one thing to stand up here and congratulate Wal-Mart and what they're doing," Bush said. "It's even better to say, 'Hey, I think that's so great. I'd like to be your partner.' Barbara and I are so darn proud of Houston and all they've done to open its arms to all the people who lost their homes to [Hurricane] Katrina and [Hurricane] Rita. Our schools stepped up, took in extra kids and made them feel at home."
Odds and ends: The Astros extended their player development contract with the Class A Salem Avalanche of the South Atlantic League. The two-year extension continues the affiliation between the Astros and Salem until at least the 2008 season ... Lamb took a foul ball off his kneecap during Friday's game with the Royals and has a souvenir to remember it by. The imprint of the seams from the baseball were still visible the next day. "You can play connect-the-dots with the seams, which is never a good thing," Lamb said. "But it's entertaining, nonetheless." ... Garner has already called one team meeting and there will likely be another on Opening Day, but the one thing he's not going to mention is his desire for the club to not start off 15-30 as it did last year. "If they don't know that already then they've got a problem," Garner said. "That's not something I have to say to everybody."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.