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Astros know 1 thing about pitching staff: it will be different from last year

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. - The Houston Astros know one thing about their pitching staff this year: It will be different from last season's crew.

That has to be reassuring, because Houston's 4.79 ERA was the worst in the major leagues as the Astros lost 111 games.

As they prepared for the first organized workout for pitchers and catchers Sunday, general manner Jeff Luhnow said "the rotation is definitely up for grabs," and manager Bo Porter said there may be as many 11 pitchers competing for the four starting spots behind Scott Feldman.

The 31-year-old Feldman, who went 12-12 with the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles last season, signed a three-year, $30 million contract on Dec. 6.

"I think it's safe to assume Feldman's in the rotation," Luhnow said Saturday. "Beyond that, clearly we have some players that did well last year — (Brett) Oberholtzer and (Jarred) Cosart and (Brad) Peacock. (Jerome) Williams is going to be in the mix, Lucas Harrell is going to be in the mix. Wojo (Asher Wojciechowski) had a great year at Triple-A, Rudy Owens. Other guys are going to be looked at, but I'd say there's nothing certain except Feldman's in the rotation."

Peacock and Harrell are the only candidates who started last season in Houston's rotation,

and Harrell was only a spot starter after July 5. Bud Norris, Erik Bedard, Jordan Lyles and Philip Humber, who started a combined 79 games, are gone.

Feldman, a 17-game winner with the Texas Rangers in 2009, comes in as something of a reluctant ace.

"I just want to be myself and make sure that I'm a good example for the younger guys," he said. "Except for one other time, I've always been competing for something so I don't take anything for granted. I know I have to go out there and perform and do well."

Bringing in veteran pitchers like Feldman and Williams, and relief pitchers Chad Qualls and Jesse Crain will stabilize the staff, according to All-Star catcher Jason Castro.

"I think this year we have a pretty good mix of experience and youth. I think that those guys we've brought in will be able to teach and lead some of the younger guy," Castro said. "I was glad to see some additions that we made, and I definitely think we've made some great strides and improvements and we haven't even stepped on the field yet."

Cosart, Oberholtzer, Peacock and Dallas Keuchel, all of whom finished the season in Houston's rotation, are 25 or younger. One of Luhnow's off-season projects was to counter that inexperience in the starting rotation and in the bullpen.

"Not only Feldman, but Williams and (Matt) Albers and Qualls and Crane, these are all guys that have been in major league clubhouses that have been successful, and I think they're going to show our younger guys how to compete at the major league level," Luhnow said.

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