Loretta happy with ‘super utility’ role in Houston

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HOUSTON (AP) – Mark Loretta could have gotten more money and possibly a full-time starting job with another team. In the end, the two-time All-Star decided that Houston was the place for him.

“One of my big things was to go to a team that I felt had a chance to win – a real chance to win,” Loretta said during a conference call Friday. “And I feel that way with the Astros.”

Loretta agreed Thursday to a $2.5 million, one-year contract, that has an additional $1 million in performance bonuses. He’s spent most of his 13-year career at second base, but will likely play several infield positions in Houston as Craig Biggio closes in on 3,000 hits. The 41-year-old second baseman is 70 away from the milestone.

Loretta passed on offers from both the Rangers and the Reds before signing with the Astros. A career .299 hitter, he batted .285 with 33 doubles, five homers and 59 RBIs last season with the Boston Red Sox. The 35-year-old said he can see himself as a “super utility guy” in Houston.

“I think second base, I’ll get some starts there when Craig needs a day off,” he said. “Same with third base. I can play first base and I can also play shortstop. I got into a situation in Milwaukee where I wasn’t necessarily playing at one position all the time, but I was still playing 3-5 days a week and I think that may happen here.”

Other factors in his decision to sign with the Astros were his relationship with manager Phil Garner, who was also his manager in Milwaukee, and his friendship with several Houston players.

Loretta spent his first seven seasons in Milwaukee, then was traded to Houston in August 2002 where he played 21 games for the Astros. He became a free agent at the end of the season and signed with San Diego in December 2002. He remained with the Padres until he was traded to the Red Sox in 2005 for catcher Doug Mirabelli.

“Phil Garner is an influence and been a mentor of mine in some ways,” Loretta said. “He was my first big-league manager. Phil’s an excellent communicator. I think Phil has a lot of attributes that it takes to be a good leader.”

Loretta lives near Astros catcher Brad Ausmus in San Diego, and the two train there together in the offseason. He shares an agent with Roy Oswalt and believes the pitcher started the process of general manager Tim Purpura and owner Drayton McLane pursuing him.

“I think Roy was instrumental in at least making initial contract with Tim and Drayton about the availability of myself,” Loretta said.

He also fondly remembers his short 2002 stint in Houston and thinks it was a springboard to his success since then. He hit a career-best .424 with two home runs and eight RBIs in 66 at-bats in that span.

“I really point to that as a turning point in my career,” Loretta said. “I was coming off of a couple of significant injuries in Milwaukee. I really probably had my best offensive month of my career. I just felt real comfortable and everything that I hit seemed to fall in.”

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