Smith wins roster spot with Astros

Published 1:17 am Sunday, April 5, 2009

By Alyson Footer / MLB.com

HOUSTON — Jason Smith didn’t need a mathematician to tell him that he made the final cut on Saturday, considering his direct competition, Edwin Maysonet, had already been sent down to the Minor Leagues earlier in the week.

Still, until Smith received the official word that he indeed made the Astros’ 25-man Opening Day roster, he was a wreck. That was evident during Saturday’s game, during which he was hitless in three at-bats and made an error at second base.

Without a doubt, Smith admitted, he was feeling the pressure.

“Did you see today’s game?” he said, when asked if he was nervous. “There was a tremendous amount of pressure today. You kind of know, but still, something could have been done today. It could have been me [who was cut], so I could sit here and lie to you and say I didn’t feel any pressure.”

Letting out a deep breath, he allowed himself to smile just a bit, and said, “Now, it’s over.”

Smith’s jitters aside, the act of making “final cuts” was a mere formality on Saturday, because the Astros’ 25-man Opening Day roster has been set for a while. The club made it official following the game with the Indians, naming Russ Ortiz as its fifth starter and Smith as the winner of the final infield job.

Jose Capellan, Reggie Abercrombie, Lou Santangelo were all reassigned to Triple-A Round Rock.

Ortiz played his way onto the team with a sterling spring performance. He recorded a 3.18 ERA over seven outings, holding opponents to two earned runs or fewer in his final three appearances, all starts.

“I think Russ will be a big, big plus for us,” manager Cecil Cooper said. “He’s a guy that has three pitches and has consistently been in the strikezone all spring. Each outing, he’s been better, each time out. [He’s shown] a little bit better command — his fastball is starting to jump a little bit. He’s going to be a big part of our rotation this year.”

Ortiz’s contract status also helped him make this club. He signed a Minor League deal that included an “out” clause that would allow him to become a free agent if he did not make the Opening Day roster. Capellan has no such clause in his contract, which made him easier to send down. Ortiz had one of the best springs of all Astros’ starting hopefuls, so allowing him to leave because of a loophole in the contract would have made little sense.

Ortiz will work out of the bullpen until his first start, which will be April 16 in Pittsburgh.

Capellan, who will join the rotation in Round Rock with the Triple-A Express, impressed the Astros’ decision-makers this spring and provides depth should anything happen to the starters on the big club. He stumbled toward the end of Spring Training, however, allowing 14 earned runs over his final three outings. Prior to that, he did not allow a run in his first four appearances.

“I feel good because I tried 100 percent, and I’m pleased with myself,” Capellan said. “I’m going to keep working to come back here soon and to try to help the team.”

The other cuts carried even less anticipation than the Ortiz/Capellan decision. Smith, a veteran of eight big league seasons in addition to a host of Minor League tours over the past 12 years, had a slightly better offensive spring showing than Maysonet, although both hit well — Maysonet, .333; Smith, .373.

Smith has more versatility, having played everywhere in the infield, whereas Maysonet is primarily a shortstop. Also, Maysonet missed some time with nagging minor injuries, which allowed for Smith to pull away in the competition. One observer called Smith’s selection a “slam dunk.”