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Brandeis Alumnus to start season with Houston Astros

By Ariel Wittenberg

Section: Sports

March 25, 2011

According to the Houston Astros’ website, Brandeis alumnus Nelson Figueroa ’98 will be in the starting lineup of the team this season, securing the final spot behind right-hander Brett Myers, left-handers J.A. Happ and Wandy Rodrigues, and right-hander Bud Norris.

“It’s the first time I think I’ve been called in the office for a good thing,” Figueroa said in an Astros’ press release. “It was nice to get that reassurance to be the fifth starter, and I’m looking forward to it. I was excited about the opportunity coming into camp, and I had a good camp. I had that one bad inning and a half or two innings against Philadelphia, but you take that out and I felt I was really consistent and continued to get better as we’ve gone on.”

Figueroa, the first Brandeis alumnus to make it to the major leagues, will start his first game April 6 against the Reds­—the first time in his 15-year professional career that Figueroa will begin a season on the Major League roster. He went 5-3 with a 3.22 ERA for the Astros last year after being claimed off waivers in July.

Prior to playing for the Astros, the now 36-year-old Figueroa played for the New York Mets. While he never started for them, in 2009 he became the first Mets pitcher to throw a complete game shutout at the team’s home park of City Field.

In October 2009, Brandeis retired Figueroa’s number “2” in honor of their home-grown major leaguer.

Figueroa spent last season with the Philadelphia Phillies, for whom he previously pitched in 2001. He has previously pitched for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Milwaukee Brewers and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Figueroa took the slot of Jordan Lyles, the clubs top prospect who posted a 1.98 ERA in five games this spring. Lyles was reassigned to start this year in the Minors to get more seasoning.

The team cut their roster to 42 from 49 during spring training, also optioning pitcher Sergio Escalona to the Minor Leagues and reassigning pitchers Patrick Urckfitz, Fernando Rodriguez and Casey Fien and outfielders Drew Locke and T.J. Steele.

Lyles starting in the Minors could eventually benefit the Astros financially because he has yet to accrue any Major League service time and could remain under the control of the club for an extra year if he doesn’t make a Major League debut until late in the season, postponing the start of his arbitration clock.

The Astros will open the season with a three-game series at the Phillies on April 1, with two of their three starters being former Phillies. One of those two, Myers, will start opening day against Roy Halladay.

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