BRADENTON, Fla. -- Felipe Paulino made progress toward locking up the fifth spot in the Houston Astros' starting rotation, pitching five strong innings Tuesday in an 11-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Paulino gave up one run and seven hits. He struck out six and walked just one.
"That's what I'm looking for," he said. "All spring training, my mechanics have been getting better. All the work I've done is coming together. The ball was coming real smooth out of my hand."
The 26-year-old Paulino and veteran Brain Moehler are vying for the last rotation spot. Astros management would seem to prefer that Paulino, who is younger and has a livelier arm, wins the battle, but his control issues this spring have made them think twice. He came into the game with a 6.00 ERA in three outings, with six walks in six innings.
Paulino has been working on staying closed as he delivers the ball, which helps boost his velocity. He's also been trying to maintain a consistent release point.
"Last year, I just used my slider and fastball in spring training," Paulino said. "This year, it's been different. I've tried to use all my pitches -- my two-seamer, my four-seamer, my curveball, my slider, my changeup. That's made me a better pitcher. All my pitches were working today."
"I'm just trying to do the best I can," he said. "It's not my decision. The Astros have waited for me the last two years, so I know I have to do something better this year."
In his worst outing of the spring, Pirates starter Ross Ohlendorf labored through 3 2/3 innings. He allowed seven runs and nine hits.
"I was in bad counts a lot," Ohlendorf said. "I wasn't commanding the fastball like I needed to."
Ohlendorf said command has been an issue for him at times this spring.
"I wouldn't say it's been great," he said. "I can't say why. I know today I was overthrowing. That's probably it."
Pirates manager John Russell picked LHP Zach Duke his opening-day starter. The Pirates play the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 5 at PNC Park. ... Houston's Lance Berkman, on the mend from arthroscopic knee surgery, has more range of motion and less swelling in his left knee. But he has not yet begun swinging a bat and might start the season on the disabled list. ... The Pirates optioned infielder Neil Walker and pitchers Kevin Hart and Chris Jakubauskas to Triple-A Indianapolis. Catcher Hector Gimenez, outfielder Brian Myrow, and pitchers Brian Burres, Wil Ledezma and Jean Machi were reassigned to minor league camp. ... Hart's departure means rookie Daniel McCutchen will be the Pirates' No. 5 starter. ... There are 37 players, including pitcher Jose Ascanio, who is expected to begin the season on the disabled list, in the Pirates' camp.