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Kansas City 9, Houston 6

HOUSTON (AP) -- Kansas City right-hander Denny Bautista showed
again Sunday that he might already be over those rookie nerves.

Bautista pitched 5 2-3 scoreless innings and Alberto Castillo
hit a two-run homer, leading the Royals to a 9-6 victory over the
Houston Astros in the final exhibition game for both teams.

Inserted into the Royals' rotation despite a disappointing
audition at the end of last season, Bautista closed out his
impressive spring with a dominant effort against the Astros. He
gave up only three hits, struck out five and walked two, showing
poise that he clearly lacked after being called up from the minors
in 2004.

"It's very simple ... he's more calm," Royals manager Tony
Pena said. "He doesn't let anything bother him now. He can make a
mistake and get by with it because of his stuff. Time will tell but
he can be real good."

The 24-year-old Bautista is yet another one of the intriguing
prospects the Royals will count on this season, and like most of
them, he's optimistic that things can be different for the longtime
AL Central doormat in 2005.

Bautista spent all winter and spring tinkering with his awkward
mechanics, and the changes seem to have paid off: he finished
spring training 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA.

"I did a lot of things differently," said Bautista, who went
0-4 with a 6.51 ERA in five starts in the final month of last
season. "This year, I've got command of my fastball."

Meanwhile, the Royals -- of all teams -- made sure the Astros'
search for a fifth starter will last into the regular season.

A day after essentially being promoted into Houston's rotation,
Brandon Duckworth followed with a woeful four-inning start.

Duckworth allowed eight runs on 10 hits, including homers by
Castillo and Angel Berroa. He was finally chased in the fifth after
giving up a walk and two singles, drawing a smattering of sarcastic
applause when he trotted back to the dugout.

"If you're gonna let one game bother you, you shouldn't be
here," Duckworth said. "I'm just going to keep throwing and doing
what I was doing before today ... doing what I've been doing all
spring."

On Saturday, Duckworth got the initial nod over top prospect
Ezequiel Astacio in the competition to be the fifth pitcher when
Astacio was optioned to Triple A Round Rock.

The 29-year-old right-hander, who split 2004 between Houston and
then-Triple A New Orleans, outlasted seven other pitchers during
spring training with six solid appearances, including three starts.

And though Duckworth looked shaky in a six-inning outing against
Cleveland last week, Houston was comfortable enough to pick him
over Astacio, who had a team-best ERA of 1.35 in five spring
appearances.

That move might only be temporary after Duckworth's struggles on
Sunday.

"Brandon has obviously got to stop the big innings and he's got
to make better pitches," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "Today
he got some up and over the plate and they hammered him."

The Astros will have workouts on Monday before opening the
season against St. Louis on Tuesday, a rematch of the NL
championship series that the Cardinals won in seven games.

Kansas City will make a much quicker turnaround, leaving Houston
immediately for a Monday afternoon season-opener at Detroit.

"I don't know who invented that," Castillo said.
^Notes:@ Kansas City DH Calvin Pickering homered for the second
straight day, a solo shot in the sixth. ... Astros manager Phil
Garner still hasn't announced his starting lineup for Tuesday's
game against St. Louis. Garner was coy about when he might release
the lineup. "I'm going to make you guys come back tomorrow," he
said, grinning. "And I might do it tomorrow."... Houston rookie
outfielder Luke Scott homered in the seventh, giving him a
team-high seven for the spring.