Rockies, Astros Pull Five-Player Deal

Smarting from the loss of free agent Andy Pettitte, the Astros responded by adding righthander Jason Jennings in a five-player deal with the Rockies on Tuesday.

In addition to Jennings, Houston also receives righthander Miguel Asencio; while the Rockies get righthanders Jason Hirsh and Taylor Buchholz and outfielder Willy Taveras in return.

Jennings went 9-13, 3.78 in Colorado last season while logging a career-high 212 innings. A first-round pick out of Baylor in 1999, Jennings broke into the big leagues in 2001 and has been a regular in the Rockies rotation since 2002. Over his major league career, the 28-year-old is 58-56, 4.74 in 941 innings.

Asencio pitched the majority of 2006 at Triple-A Colorado Springs, going 8-7, 5.03 in 111 innings. Originally signed by the Phillies out of the Dominican Republic in 1998, Asencio was taken in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft by the Royals in 2001, then signed with the Padres as a six-year free agent in 2004. He signed with the Rockies last season and has major league experience with both the Rockies and Royals.

While the Rockies get a speedy leadoff hitter in Taveras, Hirsh is the biggest piece of the puzzle for Colorado. Ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Astros system prior to the 2006 season, Hirsh won Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year honors at Triple-A Round Rock after going 13-2, 2.10 in 137 innings.

In nine starts for the Astros, Hirsh went 3-4, 6.09 and allowed 11 homers in 45 innings. Hirsh, 24, was Houston’s second-round pick in 2003 out of California Lutheran University. He went 40-18, 2.90 in four seasons in the minors before making his major league debut Aug. 9.

Hirsh was also the pitcher of the year in the Double-A Texas League in 2005 after going 13-8, 2.87 at Corpus Christi.

Hirsh has an intimidating 6-foot-8 frame that creates an extreme down angle and his athleticism allows him to repeat his delivery well. He has good sink on his fastball–a two-seamer that sits at 91-93 mph, and complements that pitch with a hard slider and average changeup.

Taveras brings two things the Rockies were lacking–speed at the top of the lineup and a plus defender in center field. A key part of their 2005 World Series run, Taveras stole 34 bases for the Astros that season and swiped another 33 bags last season.

Signed by the Indians for $25,000 out of the Dominican in 1999, Houston selected Taveras in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft, then retained his rights by acquiring he and outfielder Luke Scott for lefthander Jeriome Robertson.

Buchholz was once one of the most promising pitching prospects in the Astros’ system. They acquired him from the Phillies in the Billy Wagner deal in 2003, and the 25-year-old righthander ranked as Houston’s No. 1 prospect the following year.

But he went 0-5 in his first six starts in Triple-A in 2004, then came down with a strained shoulder. The 2000 sixth-round pick had arthroscopic surgery on his labrum and biceps that November, and finished the next season strong in the Arizona Fall League.

His best pitch is a curveball, and his velocity has come back into the 92-94 mph range. But his changeup remains below average, and Buchholz went 6-10, 5.89 in 113 major league innings in 2006.

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