Serious White eyes Astros' bullpen spot
Veteran reliever working hard to earn job with Houston
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Rick White has pitched 11 years in the big leagues, and he hopes he's not quite done yet.
At 38 years old, the right-hander finds himself in a somewhat undesirable position to have to win a job during Spring Training with no guarantees that he'll be on the roster Opening Day.
Looking for an edge, he took a few liberties during the offseason to make sure he gave himself the best possible chance to make the club after signing a Minor League contract with the Astros with an invitation to Major League Spring Training.
White simply took his workouts more seriously, and in the process, dropped 20 pounds.
"It was one of those things where when you get this late in your career, you don't ever want to come to camp as a non-roster invitee because there's too many young kids that are good," he said. "I told myself I needed to work out more. I told myself if I want to play another couple of years, I have to work a little harder."
He conveyed to general manager Tim Purpura, through his agent, that he had dropped significant weight. Purpura received word that White was "very serious about his conditioning, and that's always good to hear," the GM said. "But the proof's in the pudding. When a guy shows up and you see what he really looks like, whether or not [losing weight] was really the case."
In White's case, he spoke the truth. The burly reliever showed up to Kissimmee in good shape, determined to prove he was serious about making this club.
But being well-conditioned is only going to get him so far. Non-roster invitees are solely judged on performance, and sometimes, even good auditions aren't enough. White, however, has been one of the most effective relief pitchers. Through Friday's game, White had not allowed a run over five spring outings, spanning eight innings. He's yielded four hits and two walks while striking out three.
He also is proving to Purpura and manager Phil Garner that he can handle the multiple-inning assignment that appears to be a requirement for middle relievers this year. Three of his five spring outings have spanned two frames.
"That was one of the things we had talked about before I signed here," White said. "They wanted to know if I could go two. I said, 'Yeah, that's what I've done most of my career.' In the last couple of years, managers have used me less than two innings. It had nothing to do with me, it was just the way they wanted to do it. I had to show them that I could still go two innings, and so far, it's worked out."
White is competing with a number of bullpen hopefuls, including Dave Borkowski and Chris Sampson, who is also competing for a spot in the starting rotation.
There will probably be room for more than one multiple-inning reliever. If the Astros utilize a 12-man pitching staff, the bullpen will have seven relievers, opening up three spots to join mainstays Trever Miller, Chad Qualls, Dan Wheeler and Brad Lidge.
White, who has pitched for 10 teams and had a brief stint with the Astros in 2003, is 41-53 with a 4.31 ERA over 584 career Major League appearances, all but 18 as a reliever. In 2006, he split the season between Cincinnati and Philadelphia, which claimed him off waivers in June.
White was 3-1 with a 4.34 ERA over 38 relief appearances for the Phillies. He had hoped to re-sign with them, but when that didn't happen, he expressed interest in the Astros.
From a statistical standpoint, White appears to be comfortable pitching at Minute Maid Park. In 17 career appearances there, he has allowed eight earned runs over 26 2/3 innings for a 2.70 ERA. He's walked six and struck out 24.
This spring, White has been throwing mostly sinkers -- a good pitch to master if he's going to pitch at hitter-friendly Minute Maid.
"Right now, everything's working for me," he said. "The sinker's a lot better right now than what it has been the last couple of years, especially in Spring Training. I don't know if that's because of the fact that I'm getting over my body more compared to when I was a little heavier. I've really got no answer for that."
While he has no guarantees, White plans to give Astros management something to think about as it mulls over the final roster cuts, which have to be made the night before Opening Day.
"I don't know what I'm going to do if it happens that I don't make it, but I'm going to make it as hard on them as possible," White said.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.