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Notes: Rotation battle down to Peacock, Valdez

@alysonfooter
March 14, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros only have a couple of roster decisions to make before Opening Day arrives in two weeks, but it's likely that at least one -- who wins the fifth starter job -- will not go down to the wire. Manager AJ Hinch said he

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros only have a couple of roster decisions to make before Opening Day arrives in two weeks, but it's likely that at least one -- who wins the fifth starter job -- will not go down to the wire.

Manager AJ Hinch said he would like to have that issue resolved "fairly soon," far before the team opens the regular season with a four-game set against the Rays in St. Petersburg.

"We'll have to pull the trigger eventually," Hinch said. "We're not in a huge rush, but that last week comes fast."

The competition is between right-hander Brad Peacock and lefty Framber Valdez and, based on spring performances alone (which don’t always tell the whole story), this is Peacock's job to lose. He'll enter his start on Saturday in Clearwater, Fla., not having allowed an earned run all spring. He's given up four hits across three outings, spanning eight innings, with a walk and five strikeouts.

Valdez's control has been more erratic. He's walked five batters in four appearances, spanning 9 1/3 innings. He's allowed six earned runs on 13 hits. He'll start Sunday against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Of the two final candidates, Peacock is more versatile -- he's seamlessly journeyed between the bullpen and the rotation throughout his career. Valdez has also pitched out of the 'pen, but has far less experience -- he made only eight appearances total in 2018, his rookie season, three of which were in relief.

If Valdez doesn't win the fifth starter spot he could join the 'pen, but it's more likely he would stay on a starting routine for Triple-A Round Rock.

Hinch does not expect the decision-making process to drag on until the end.

"It would be unfair to take it to the last start and expect one of them to jump into the bullpen [during Opening Week]," Hinch said.

McHugh struggles
Very little went right for Collin McHugh during his 57-pitch outing against the Marlins on Thursday, especially during a five-run second inning. McHugh allowed six runs on seven hits over 2 2/3 innings. Six of those hits occurred in the second frame.

"Nobody likes to have lasers hit all over the park against them," McHugh said. "The good things to take away from it are I got my three ups and downs and I got my pitch count elevated. I worked through a long inning -- all things you want to have under your belt once the season starts."

McHugh said he "wasn't fooling anybody today" with his fastball.

"I felt like any mistake I made, they hit hard," he said. "You're going to have days like that. It's frustrating. Nobody wants to have days like that in Spring Training."

Hinch said the focus will be on making sure McHugh goes longer in his next outing.

"Get his endurance up, make sure he gets into the fourth inning at least, maybe the fifth inning," Hinch said. "We can probably do that on the Minor League side, just to ensure that we utilize his next outing the best. He's going to be fine. Just a bad inning, bad day."

Worth noting:
• Jose Altuve, who has been held out of game action while he recovers from soreness in his left side, will play Friday in the Astros' home game against the Cardinals. The second baseman last appeared in a game on March 6.

• Lefty Cionel Perez, a candidate to make the Opening Day roster as a lefty in the 'pen, will pitch on Sunday against the Braves. He'll throw one to two innings, "depending how the innings shake out," Hinch said.

• Justin Verlander will start a Minor League game on Sunday at the home facility in West Palm Beach, Fla., at noon ET.

• Outfielder Josh Reddick played first base during a Minor League game on Thursday. Hinch emphasized that Reddick would be considered for first-base action during the regular season in an emergency situation only.

• Josh James, who was sidelined with a quad strain for part of Spring Training, has passed all tests, including live batting practice and PFP (pitchers fielding practice). He has been cleared to pitch Saturday in Clearwater, Fla.

Up Next
The Astros have split-squad action coming up on Friday, with half the team hosting the Cardinals at 5:05 p.m. CT and half the team traveling to Jupiter, Fla., to play the Cardinals, also at 5:05 p.m. The home game will feature right-handed prospect Forrest Whitley, who will be brought over from the Minor League side after he was cut from Major League camp a few days ago. He'll face Cardinals righty Daniel Ponce de Leon. Fellow veterans Wade Miley and Adam Wainwright will face off in the game in Jupiter.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.