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Astros Release Pitcher Nitkowski

March 25, 2002

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) _ The Houston Astros released journeyman pitcher C.J. Nitkowski on Monday, meaning the club probably will start the season without a left-handed long reliever.

Right-handed relievers Doug Brocail and Hipolito Pichardo will start the season on the disabled list.

Nitkowski, 29, signed a minor league contract Jan. 7. The non-roster invitee was 0-1 with a 7.20 ERA in eight spring appearances.

His departure means the Astros probably will go with either Scott Linebrink or Ricky Stone, both right-handers, in long relief. The only left-handers expected to make the team are starter Carlos Hernandez and closer Billy Wagner.

Octavio Dotel, Tim Redding, Nelson Cruz and newcomer T.J. Mathews will fill out the opening day bullpen.

Brocail is recovering from ``Tommy John″ ligament replacement surgery on his throwing elbow last April. Pichardo was shut down this spring with tendinitis in his right elbow.

The Astros also reassigned catcher Alan Zinter, infielder Tripp Cromer and outfielder Chris Prieto to the minor leagues.

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