Right-handers Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell are locked in as the Houston Astros' top-of-the-rotation starters. Righty Jordan Lyles has a tentative hold on spot No. 3. The back end of the rotation remains wide open, though, after two weeks of spring training and the initial run of exhibition games.
The early favorites: right-hander Philip Humber and lefty Erik Bedard. Both are veterans coming off rough years. But both have a strong chance to open the season as starting pitchers, even though the rebuilding club is more focused on its long-term future than on 2013.
Manager Bo Porter said before the start of the Astros' spring training game Feb. 25 against the St. Louis Cardinals he wanted to watch Humber's control on the mound.
The 30-year-old right-hander was on target during his first inning at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., collecting three quick outs on eight pitches and hitting 92 mph.
But Humber's second frame was rough. He walked three batters, threw a wild pitch and loaded the bases. It took two mound conferences to settle the former Rice University standout down. Humber eventually escaped after allowing just one run, though he threw 35 pitches (17 strikes) during the inning. He took the loss, and he wasn't pleased with his overall outing.
"I just didn't throw strikes, that's all it was," Humber said. "It's not the ideal second inning you want to have. But for my first time out there, I'm not going to beat myself up over it.
"When I came in the dugout, I told them, 'My bad. I'll try not to let that happen again.'"
Pitching coach Doug Brocail made the first visit to the mound, giving Humber a "breather" and allowing him to regroup. Humber's off-speed pitches were rarely right, though. And he acknowledged throwing a 3-2 breaking ball to Allen Craig, who led off the Cardinals' second, was "stupid."
Even so, Humber likely is still the favorite for the No. 4 starting job.
If Bedard is healthy and on target by the end of the spring, he'll likely trail Humber and close out the rotation.
Bedard, 33, showed good early movement on his breaking pitches, and Porter said Bedard's veteran mindset paid dividends during the first stage of camp.
"I was really impressed. His cutter was really good, his changeup was good," Porter said. "He actually threw a couple sliders that were back-foot sliders that were swing-and-miss."
After going 7-14 with a 5.01 ERA with Pittsburgh last year and having not won more than seven games since 2007 with Baltimore, Bedard sees potential in 2013, but he's not getting overexcited.
"I feel good," Bedard said, "but it's early."