Rotation Intrigue Abounds For Houston Astros

Mar 14, 2012; Jupiter, FL. USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher J.A. Happ (30) delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. The Astros defeated the Cardinals 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE

There's still plenty of spring training to go, but it's never too early to start looking at how the rotation might start breaking down. Who's locked into spots, who has a shot and who might be on the outside looking in?

LOCKS

Wandy Rodriguez - The lefty is probably the odds-on favorite to start Opening Day. Suffice it to say he's going to be in the rotation.

Bud Norris - He's such a lock to make the rotation that Houston felt good enough skipping him for a start to get Kyle Weiland some work.

Livan Hernandez - I know, weird, right? How does this guy go from being a long shot for even making the team to being a lock for a rotation spot? Well, the move of Brett Myers to closer helped this quite a bit. That freed up a spot in the rotation that Brad Mills was only too happy to fill with a veteran like Livan. He's going to eat innings and has pitched well this spring.

PROBABLE

If we assume the above guys have locks on spots, that leaves two open. Let's run through the guys who have actually made starts this spring.

J.A. Happ - Ugh. This is business as usual with Happ. He makes a lot of money, but he hasn't been very good this spring. At least in his last start, he found the strike zone more often. But, that also led to him getting hit around more. The question that needs answering is if Houston is keeping him in the rotation because he'll end up there or if they're just showcasing him for a possible trade.

Zach Duke - Can you imagine the Astros keeping three lefties in the rotation? Neither can I, which means the last spot may come down to Duke or Happ. Since J.A. is the one who has three starts already this spring, count on him having the inside track, but I bet Duke gets strong consideration here.

Jordan Lyles - He was rushed a bit to the majors last season and, while he performed admirably, Lyles could use a little refinement in Triple-A. I wouldn't be surprised if he held onto the fifth spot, but kind of hope he does go down to the minors and work on things, like improving his velocity.

OUTSIDE CHANCES

Kyle Weiland - The only guy outside the ones listed above to have made a start this spring. Weiland certainly didn't disappoint, throwing no-hit stuff at the New York Yankees and flashing that heavy sinker he's known for. If we assume only one of Happ and Duke are making the rotation, Weiland has a shot at grabbing the fifth spot away from Lyles, doesn't he?

Paul Clemens - Those brilliant innings he threw on Wednesday may not be enough to get him a spot on the Opening Day roster, but it looks more and more likely that Clemens could contribute this season. He's got a ton of upside and could do some nice things if given a chance to start every fifth day. Maybe after Wandy's flipped at the trade deadline?

Lucas Harrell - Out of all the pitchers in camp without a start yet, Harrell has the most innings pitched with 5 2/3. Does that mean anything? Probably not, but I'd bet he gets a chance to extend and possibly start some of those split squad games coming up, just to get work in. If nothing else, he'll provide great depth at Triple-A.

Henry Sosa - Don't forget about Sosa, who doesn't have the innings of the guys above, but has also been pretty terrible in the early going. It's spring, so discount numbers. I like the 3 Ks in four innings with only one walk. Sosa has a shot to maybe be the long man in the bullpen.

And that's it, at least for me. Are there guys out there you think have a shot at actually making the rotation? How would you handicap the race at this point?

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