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As The Rubber Turns: Astros' fifth starter competition is down to two

With Brandon Backe out for at least another ten days with his strained intercoastal muscle, his candidacy to retain his position as the Astros' fifth starter is all but over. Felipe Paulino and his Magna Carta-esaque 12.60 ERA, and Clay Hensley are out of the running as well. That leaves two men to vie for the final spot in our starting rotation: Russ Ortiz and Jose Capellan.

In their recent performances, Ortiz was less than great in 3.2 innings of work against the Phillies. He walked three and stuck out two in his time on the hill, a performance which did not please Ortiz. Still, he has the experience that Cecil Cooper seems to covet, and has been healthy thus far.

In the other corner stands Jose Capellan, the former Milwaukee Brewer reliever. Cappellan was stellar once again on Sunday, pushing his scoreless innings streak to 12.2 this spring. His strikeout to walk rate stands at 7:0. He will have to prove to the coaching staff that he can sustain a full season's worth of innings, as his career is dotted with both injury and inconsistency.

As it stands, the advantage goes to Ortiz, from everything I can garner about the competition. What would be interesting is whether or not Capellan can make a push to take Brian Moehler's spot in the rotation. A shaky performance last Tuesday against Atlanta continued an up and down spring for the veteran. Time is running out for these pitchers to make their cases as to who will be in the rotation come April 6th. Ortiz may have the edge right now, but Cappellan has youth and ability on his. After a week that saw Wandy return, Backe go down, and Nieve go out, our rotation for 2009 is becoming more clear cut.


Jose Capellan stretched his scoreless innings streak to 12.2 on Sunday