WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros' bullpen is pretty much set heading into next week's season opener. A left oblique injury to right-hander James Hoyt will prevent him from returning to Houston when the club breaks camp on Sunday, which means veteran left-hander Tony Sipp has secured the final
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros' bullpen is pretty much set heading into next week's season opener. A left oblique injury to right-hander James Hoyt will prevent him from returning to Houston when the club breaks camp on Sunday, which means veteran left-hander Tony Sipp has secured the final spot in the 'pen.
Sipp, the only lefty in the bullpen, will join Ken Giles, Will Harris, Chris Devenski, Joe Smith, Hector Rondon, Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh in the Astros' eight-man bullpen. Hoyt was competing with Sipp for the final spot, but he is on a regimented throwing program that will keep him from pitching in another Grapefruit League game, manager AJ Hinch said.
"We wanted Tony on the team to give us some balance and also because we feel like he's got a track record where he can help us," Hinch said. "This obviously makes it a little bit easier path for him. We're expected to open the season with Tony."
Sipp, 34, appeared in 46 games last year, allowing 24 earned runs, including eight homers, in 37 1/3 innings. He has posted a 5.33 ERA in 106 outings over the past two seasons after a terrific 2015, in which he posted a 1.99 ERA in 60 games and signed a three-year, $18 million contract at the end of that year.
The veteran has allowed five earned runs, nine hits and four walks in 7 2/3 innings this spring.
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"There's been a couple of outings where he's been working on some things and he didn't get the results he wanted, but again, this is a pretty good bullpen that's going to have some versatility," Hinch said. "Tony will need to continue to evolve and pitch well in order to pitch important innings and work his way into the type of roles he has as an Astro."
Hoyt, who underwent an MRI, said the injury isn't serious and he threw off flat ground from 90 feet on Thursday. He felt the oblique tug at him when he threw the final pitch of his outing Saturday against the Marlins.
Kemp still in the mix
Hinch said Thursday infielder/outfielder Tony Kemp is making a late push to make the club as the final position player over Derek Fisher, who came into camp expected to be in the outfield mix with George Springer, Josh Reddick and Jake Marisnick.
Kemp went 0-for-2 with two walks in Thursday's 15-7 loss to the Marlins and is hitting .231 (12-for-52). Fisher went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and is hitting .214 (9-for-42) with a homer, but Fisher has struck out 17 times and Kemp has struck out four times. Hinch maintained that he hasn't looked at one stat sheet the entire spring, and instead, he's been focusing on the quality of the at-bats.
"Kemp's a good player that has gotten overlooked from time to time," Hinch said. "He's continued to put up numbers in Triple-A and hasn't found his niche in the big leagues yet. He's putting on a pretty good push late to be an extra bench player for us. He can move around the field, mostly in the outfield.
"We haven't played him in the infield a ton, just given what Marwin [Gonzalez] can do whenever I give a day off to these guys. He's battling Fisher for the spot in the outfield that most people coming into camp thought Fish was the leading candidate, if not the guy to do it. We'll see how that plays out over the weekend. I appreciate what Tony can bring to a team. He is a specific fit for a club that we're trying to work around to see if it's the right puzzle piece for us. He can play in the big leagues, and he should be a big leaguer."
• First baseman Yuli Gurriel (left hand) is three weeks removed from surgery and has resumed baseball workouts.
• Hoyt is day to day with a left oblique strain.
The Astros will play a rare late split-squad game on Friday, facing the Twins in Fort Myers, Fla., at 12:05 p.m. CT and the Nationals at 5:05 p.m. CT at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches as the visiting team. Both games will be live on MLB.TV. Several Astros making the trip to Fort Myers will remain there for Saturday's game against the Red Sox, a list that includes Alex Bregman, Springer, Marisnick and Hinch.
Also making the trip to Fort Myers will be Fisher and Kemp and infielders J.D. Davis and Tyler White, who are competing for the starting first-base job to begin the season. The remainder of the players traveling to Fort Myers will be Minor Leaguers, with the exception of veteran reliever Joe Smith, who will pitch for the second day in a row Friday.
Trent Thornton will start Friday against the Twins and Francis Martes will start Saturday against the Red Sox. Both were in big league camp earlier this year. Gerrit Cole will start against the Nationals.
Brian McTaggart. has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.