Lyon, Lindstrom compete for Astros' closer job 

Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom pitched against each other in junior college about a decade ago.

They're two of the newest Houston Astros now, and the 30-year-old right-handers are facing off again, this time for the closer's role.

The Astros acquired Lyon and Lindstrom after Jose Valverde and setup man LaTroy Hawkins became free agents and signed elsewhere. It's up to first-time manager Brad Mills to decide who fills which role this season.

"That's management's decision, whatever is going to be best for the team, either way it goes," Lyon said Tuesday. "If he takes over the job of closer, I'll be happy for him. Hopefully, he'll do the same for me."

Lyon went 6-5 with a 2.86 ERA and three saves for Detroit last season, though he worked primarily as Fernando Rodney's setup man. Lindstrom went 2-1 with a 5.89 ERA and saved 15 games for Florida in 2009, though he missed time with shoulder and elbow problems.

"It's all about getting together and trying to form a bullpen combo at the end," Lindstrom said. "I'd like to be the guy to pitch the ninth, but if it's Brandon, I'll be hoping he can get the job done."

The Astros haven't started spring training without an established closer in more than a decade.

Billy Wagner recorded at least 30 saves in five of six seasons between 1998-2003. He was succeeded by Brad Lidge, who saved 122 games over the next four seasons. Valverde arrived after Lidge was traded to Philadelphia, and saved 69 games over the last two seasons.

Although Lyon signed a three-year contract worth $15 million, while Lindstrom signed a one-year deal worth $1.625 million, Mills said he's looking for the more consistent pitcher of the two and he's counting on the competition.

"I hope that is one of the hardest decisions I'm going to have to make all spring," Mills said. "If it's a hard decision, that means we've got some guys who are really battling."

Mills hasn't ruled out using both of them as closers, depending on the situation. Lindstrom primarily employs a fastball that can reach 100 mph, while Lyon relies more on craftiness.

Lyon fell behind in his workout schedule after he underwent a minor procedure in January to have a cyst drained in his throwing shoulder. The cyst was pressing against nerves and weakening his arm, and he's only thrown off flat ground through four days of spring training.

He said his arm is strengthening rapidly and he'll soon be able to throw off the mound.

"I came in here not feeling too great, not being with the training staff as much as I should have," Lyon said. "Since I've been here, it's been like a 180-degree turn, I've felt great."

Lindstrom can relate to arm problems.

He pitched in the World Baseball Classic last spring, strained his rotator cuff and missed part of spring training. He started the season as Florida's closer, but then missed a month with a right elbow strain, and was the set-up man for Leo Nunez for the rest of the season.

Lindstrom said that the injuries probably resulted from overworking his arm. He said one of the main lures of winning the closer's job is knowing exactly when he'll pitch and being able to prepare accordingly.

"It is a luxury for pitchers to know when you're going to throw," he said. "It's also earned, so I know I need to go out there and actually do my job in order to have that luxury."

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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