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Then there were two...

Villarreal was officially crossed off the list as a starter, but if you couldn't see that move coming after his spring training performances, you must be Stevie Wonder. "It's just about getting him into a role that he has a chance to be most successful in. It makes us deeper,'' manager Bob Melvin said. This sent me scurrying to the dictionary to check on the meaning of the word "deeper", given that Villarreal hasn't been any good since 2003. I'm not aware than ulnar nerve transposition surgery is usually a boost to a player's career.

That leaves Gosling and Halsey in the race, and while the former wasn't quite perfect, he did throw four shutout innings against the White Sox "A" lineup, to leave him with a faint chance of passing Halsey. He could fit in two more starts before spring training ends, but it'd take a major blow-up by Halsey to open the door for Gosling. Meanwhile, Cannon and Medders went to minor league camp, bringing us down to 40 players.

We beat Chicago 5-4, with Hairston getting three hits including a homer. Word is, however, that he'll end up down in Tucson, playing left field on an everyday basis. Gonzo had two hits, while Tracy hit his first homer of the season. After Gosling, Bruney walked three and allowed a hit in two innings of work, then Juan "I used to be somebody" Acevedo retired just one of the five hitters he faced - that's 14 hits in five innings for him. Nance tidied up, allowing one hit in 1 2/3 innings and Cormier got the save despite allowing a homer to Carl Everett.

Nance's performance makes yesterday's comparison with Choate all the more stark, and it's getting harder to see how they won't find him a spot. I really wouldn't be surprised to see Valverde and/or Villarreal down in Tucson to start the season, and hopefully work out the issues that have caused them to post a combined ERA of 16.34 this spring (12.2 IP, 23 ER). They simply haven't shown a roster spot is justified - for my money, the opening day bullpen should be:
    Lyon, Nance, Choate, Bruney, Koplove, Aquino
though the last two haven't been exactly impressive so far, for a variety of reasons, and I'd like to find a spot for Tolar, who has been pretty good. Perhaps Melvin will go with seven in the bullpen to start with, since the schedule mean a fifth starter isn't much needed in April.

The shape of things to come: Royce Clayton is hitting .242 this season, 8-for-33. That puts him slightly below Sergio Santos (9-for-37), which leads me to speculate that we might just as well play Santos, and move Counsell to 2B. Baseball America said Santos "has one of the better infield arms in the organization", so we hopefully wouldn't be looking at Chad Tracy v2.0, defensively. It ain't gonna happen, of course (at least, not immediately), but Santos will be here sooner or later, and if Clayton continues to struggle, it could be "sooner".

Meanwhile on the other side of the infield, Cintron and Counsell are having almost identical springs: twelve games, 34 at-bats, eleven hits, two doubles. [Cintron does have a couple of homers; if Counsell surpasses that number by October, he's doing better than last year] Again, this is not going to change anything as far as Opening Day lineups go, but it's nice to see a bench player hit .324 in spring training. Hopefully it'll mean that we have a little more depth than 2004, where Sexson's injury drove a stake through the heart of our competitive chances.