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Hoyt in line to be major relief weapon

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

JUPITER, Fla. -- James Hoyt is a near-lock to be in the Astros' bullpen at the start of the season. Barring an injury -- and Hoyt was slowed briefly by some lat discomfort -- Hoyt will make an Opening Day roster for the first time in his career. He figures to be a big weapon for manager A.J. Hinch.

Hoyt worked his second Grapefruit League game in Thursday's 3-0 win over the Cardinals and retired all three batters he faced, though he didn't get any strikeouts. Hoyt struck out 28 batters in 22 innings last year in his big league debut, after leading all Triple-A pitchers in strikeouts per nine innings (15.22) and strikeout rate (43.9 percent) last year at Fresno (minimum 40 innings pitched).

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JUPITER, Fla. -- James Hoyt is a near-lock to be in the Astros' bullpen at the start of the season. Barring an injury -- and Hoyt was slowed briefly by some lat discomfort -- Hoyt will make an Opening Day roster for the first time in his career. He figures to be a big weapon for manager A.J. Hinch.

Hoyt worked his second Grapefruit League game in Thursday's 3-0 win over the Cardinals and retired all three batters he faced, though he didn't get any strikeouts. Hoyt struck out 28 batters in 22 innings last year in his big league debut, after leading all Triple-A pitchers in strikeouts per nine innings (15.22) and strikeout rate (43.9 percent) last year at Fresno (minimum 40 innings pitched).

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Hoyt, who made his debut at 29 years old, said he dedicated himself to getting some rest and not throwing in winter ball.

Video: Hoyt discusses his preparation for Spring Training

"I took time to rest and not throw a baseball, which was new to me," he said. "I'm always throwing. Just worked my way and felt great coming in and felt good. I had a little bit of a hiccup [with the lat], but I felt good today."

Hoyt throws a mid-90s fastball and has a good slider, but his out pitch is a split-finger he'll throw down in the zone. He gives Hinch a weapon to get right-handers (.196 average against) and left-handers (.212) out.

"He handles the opposite side very well," Hinch said. "When he can stay in the strike zone early and have some finish pitches in the dirt, for whatever reason the hitter doesn't see it."

Hoyt said he got "slider happy" last year and is looking to establish the split more.

"I want to see swing and miss," he said. "It's a pitch I'm throwing down in the zone. It's not really a pitch to get me over. It's swing and miss, down to lefties and righties and pound it right on the plate."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros, James Hoyt