The Astros released minor-league pitcher Darin Downs on Thursday, reports ESPN.com. Downs produced a 5.45 ERA over 34 2/3 innings during the 2014 season, but he has not appeared in the majors during the 2015 season.
The Astros optioned third baseman Matt Dominguez and pitchers Jake Buchanan and Max Stassi to the minors Sunday while reassigning shortstop Carlos Correa, infielder Gregorio Petit, catcher Tyler Heineman and pitchers Darin Downs and James Hoyt to minor-league camp. Dominguez opened last season as the team's starting third baseman but found himself behind in the race for a bench role this spring. "[Luis] Valbuena had an amazing spring so far and is basically going to be our third baseman and that leaves Matt in competition with some of the other guys for an extra spot on the roster, a spot off the bench, and right now we feel like there's a couple of other guys ahead of him and he needs to play every day," general manager Jeff Lunhow said, per MLB.com "Right now he'll go down to Fresno and play third and play some first and be ready when the need arises." Correa is the team's top-rated prospect but has yet to play above high Class A. "Carlos is going to be a star player in the big leagues. It's just a matter of time," Luhnow said. "Having never had an at-bat in Double-A, he needs to go get some regular work in the high minors. He did a great job for us on the field as well as off the field and I think he's got a lot of fans in the organization and he impressed the big league staff, which is what you want as a young player."
Astros manager A.J. Hinch announced that LHP Tony Sipp had earned a spot in the bullpen. "Sipp's on the team," Hinch told MLB.com's Brian McTaggart. There are still three pitchers battling for the final spot in the Astros pen: Kevin Chapman, Joe Thatcher and Darin Downs . Thatcher is the most experienced, but he's not on the team's 40-man roster. Still, he appears to be the favorite. "Thatch has thrown well and has some experience," Hinch said. "Chapman is still in the mix."
Astros manager A.J. Hinch indicated that the team is likely to use a seven-man bullpen this season, leaving two spots open for competition this spring, the Houston Chronicle reports. "Likely," Hinch said of a seven-man bullpen. "There's always a chance that (changes) depending on how the schedule plays out, and there's always a debate on how many pitchers to carry during interleague. Now interleague is pretty much year round, so I mean, in a perfect world with our roster, it's likely to carry a seven-man 'pen. If we feel like we need an extra pitcher or injury happens, there's different ways to shape our roster, then we will, but likely 12." The two open spots will likely be filled by a left-handed pitcher and a long reliever. The competition for the second lefty in the pen likely comes down to Kevin Chapman and nonroster invitees Joe Thatcher and Darin Downs. The long relief role has a broader list of candidates, including Alex White and Asher Wojciechowski, who will prepare both as starters and relievers. "We're going to stretch out a lot of our guys," Hinch said. "Some of them are because they're competing in that fifth starter spot, some of them are bullpen guys. Will Harris is going to throw multiple innings. Obviously (Sam) Deduno has been a starter in the past, he's in a competition for the fifth man spot. Wojo, White, those guys are going to need to, going to plan for the season on both fronts, whether it's a starter or reliever. But we're preaching multiple innings. It's important if you have a seven-man bullpen that you have a couple of guys that can get four, five, six outs if needed and be a bridge to the rest of the bullpen."
The Astros announced Tuesday they will have 17 non-roster invites for spring training, including starting pitcher prospect Mark Appel and shortstop prospect Carlos Correa. Appel was the No. 1 pick in the 2013 MLB draft, while Correa was the No. 1 pick in 2012. The other non-roster invitees are outfielder Andrew Aplin, pitcher Darin Downs, infielder Matt Duffy, catcher Luis Flores, infielder Nolan Fontana, catcher Tyler Heineman, pitcher Jordan Jankowski, infielder Dan Johnson, infielder Colin Moran, catcher Roberto Pena, infielder Gregorio Petit, pitcher Brady Rodgers, infielder Joe Sclafani, pitcher Jason Stoffel and outfielder Preston Tucker. Correa (No. 1) and Appel (No. 2) are considered the team's top two prospects, according to Baseball America. Moran (No. 7) is also considered a top-10 prospect.