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Astros Sign Two Middle Relievers

December 22, 2001

HOUSTON (AP) _ Free agent pitcher T.J. Mathews agreed Friday to a $1 million, one-year contract with the Houston Astros, who also signed pitcher C.J. Nitkowski to a minor league deal.

``Mathews gives us an experienced relief pitcher who has filled a number of roles throughout his career, including closing,″ general manager Jerry Hunsicker said. ``His versatility will also complement our bullpen.″

Mathews, 31, has a career record of 32-26 with a 3.84 ERA and16 saves, pitching for Oakland and St. Louis. He was a combined 1-1 with a 4.30 ERA and one save in 30 relief appearances last season for the Athletics and Cardinals.

In addition to his base salary, Mathews can earn $800,000 in performance bonuses: $75,000 each for 30, 35, 40 and 45 games, and $100,000 each for 50, 55, 60, 65 and 70 games.

Nitkowski, 28, returns to the Astros after pitching for Detroit and the New York Mets. He has a career record of 16-30 with a 5.37 ERA in 270 games, including 44 starts.

``We see him primarily as a reliever,″ Hunsicker said. ``C.J. gives us a left-hander to add to our bullpen.″

If Nitkowski is added to the major league roster, he would get a $750,000, one-year contract.

Houston declined to offer a contract to reserve outfielder Glen Barker, who became a free agent Friday.

The Astros, who took the speedy Barker from Detroit in the 1998 major league draft, primarily used him as a pinch runner and late-innings defensive replacement.

Barker, 30, has a career batting average of .232 with three homers and 18 RBI. Hunsicker said this week’s signing of Brian Hunter filled the club’s need for a fast outfielder.

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