March 2010

Day 40: Wandy struggles again, roster comes into focus

Say what you will about the health of Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman and the concerns about young players at shortstop and catcher, but left-hander Wandy Rodriguez means as much to the Astros success in 2010 than anyone.

That’s why the club has to be concerned about Rodriguez, who had a poor spring. He was battered for nine hits and nine runs in 2 1/3 innings in his final Grapefruit League start Thursday against Atlanta, finishing with a 1-4 record and a 12.10 ERA.

“I’m worried because I don’t feel ready and the season’s here,” said Rodriguez, who flew to Houston on Wednesday night to be with his wife, who’s scheduled to give birth to the club’s second daughter on Tuesday.

Rodriguez, who led the team in innings, wins and strikeouts last year, allowed at least three earned runs in five of his six spring outings and never pitched more than four innings. Astros manager Brad Mills said Rodriguez and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg will keep working before he takes the mound Tuesday against the Giants.

“They have to keep moving and working on something,” Mills said. “That first inning seems to be a pretty good bugaboo.”

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Roy Oswalt threw 81 pitches in 5 2/3 innings in a Minor League game Wednesday and said he feels ready to go for Monday’s opener. He was caught by J.R. Towles, and Carlos Lee (2-for-7) and Tommy Manzella also played in Minor League games. Manzella got tested on defense and could finally return to the lineup Thursday.

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The Astros’ roster is at 25 players after Lance Berkman, Alberto Arias and Yorman Bazardo were placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday and non-roster outfielder Jason Bourgeois was told he would begin the season in the Minor Leagues.

Houston has yet to officially announce its roster, so nothing is set in stone. Cory Sullivan, a non-roster outfielder, appears to have won a spot, and manager Brad Mills confirmed Sammy Gervacio has won a spot in the bullpen.

Thus, here’s the roster as it stands now with 25 men:

CATCHERS (2) — J.R. Towles, Humberto Quintero.

INFIELDERS (6) — Geoff Blum, Kaz Matsui, Tommy Manzella, Pedro Feliz, Jeff Keppinger, Chris Johnson.

OUTFIELDERS (5) — Carlos Lee, Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, Jason Michaels, Cory Sullivan.

PITCHING STAFF (12) — Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, Bud Norris, Felipe Paulino, Brian Moehler, Jeff Fulchino, Sammy Gervacio, Chris Sampson, Tim Byrdak, Matt Lindstrom, Brandon Lyon.

DISABLED LIST (3) — Lance Berkman, Alberto Arias, Yorman Bazardo.

Mills also said Bud Norris would start the fourth game of the season, which certainly comes as no surprise.

What happens to the rotation after that is a mystery. The Astros could bring Roy Oswalt back on regular rest Saturday and go with a four-man rotation, or they could give the ball to Felipe Paulino. But Paulino was having a hard time moving Wednesday after suffering from a back spasm.

Stay tuned.

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Here’s the breakdown from Wednesday’s 10-5 loss to the Braves at ESPN Wild World of Sports at DisneyWorld:

The good: Michael Bourn went 2-for-3 and is ending the spring on a hot streak. He has six hits in his last eight at-bats and is hitting .302. Kat Masui went 2-for-4 and is hitting .294, and Pedro Feliz (2-for-4) and Chris Johnson (2-for-3) continued their strong springs.

Johnson, who was told Wednesday morning he had made the Opening Day roster, is hitting .302 this spring and leads the Astros in home runs (six) and RBIs (17).

Brian Moehler, who will start the season in long relief out of the bullpen, threw two scoreless innings and Chris Sampson threw another scoreless inning to lower his ERA to 2.31. Gervacio showed he was human by allowing two hits and one run in one inning.

The bad: Wandy Rodriguez allowed nine hits and nine earned runs in 2 1/3 innings in his final spring start. Rodriguez got knocked around all spring, finishing 1-4 with a 12.10 ERA. The Astros have to hope Wandy gets things ironed out before he pitches Tuesday against the Giants.

What they said: “I feel great again, but I don’t know what happened with me. I think maybe my location, but I threw a lot of quality pitches today and some of them they swung badly and they got a base hit.” – Rodriguez.

What’s next: The Astros wrap up Grapefruit League action by playing host to the Detroit Tigers at 12:05 p.m. CT at Osceola County Stadium. Casey Daigle, a non-roster invitee who was reassigned to the Minor Leagues earlier this week, will start for the Astros. Jeff Fulchino, Matt Lindstrom, Tim Byrdak and Brandon Lyon are also scheduled to pitch. The game could mark the return of shortstop Tommy Manzella, who hasn’t played in nearly two weeks because of a strained quadriceps muscle.

 

Johnson makes team, Astros get roster to 25 players

With first baseman Lance Berkman and pitchers Alberto Arias and Yorman Bazardo going on the disabled list Wednesday, the Astros saw their roster trimmed to 26 players. Manager Brad Mills then informed rookie third baseman Chris Johnson he had made the Opening Day roster for the first time, putting them at 25 players ahead of Sunday’s deadline to set the 25-man roster.

Outfielder Jason Bourgeois, who battled hamstring injuries for much of the spring, was reassigned to Minor League camp, but he will travel with the team to Houston this weekend.

Geoff Blum will start at first base on Opening Day, and Johnson’s role remains unclear. Things could change between now and Sunday (waiver claims, injuries, etc.), but here are the 25 players the Astros have remaining in camp:

CATCHERS (2) — J.R. Towles, Humberto Quintero.

INFIELDERS (6) — Geoff Blum, Kaz Matsui, Tommy Manzella, Pedro Feliz, Jeff Keppinger, Chris Johnson.

OUTFIELDERS (5) — Carlos Lee, Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, Jason Michaels, Cory Sullivan.

PITCHING STAFF (12) – Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, Bud Norris, Felipe Paulino, Brian Moehler, Jeff Fulchino, Sammy Gervacio, Chris Sampson, Tim Byrdak, Matt Lindstrom, Brandon Lyon. 

DISABLED LIST (3) — Lance Berkman, Alberto Arias, Yorman Bazardo.

 

Berkman placed on DL

The Astros placed first baseman Lance Berkman and pitchers Yorman Bazardo and Alberto Arias on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday, retroactive to March 26. They will be eligible to come off the DL on April 10, meaning they will miss the first four games of the season.

“Obviously it stinks to have to start the year on the DL, but I’ll get off quick and never look back,” Berkman said. “I hate missing any games at all, but as long as it doesn’t turn into an ordeal. Really just being eligible to come off Saturday (April 10) is good news.”

Berkman had arthroscopic knee surgery March 13 to clean out loose particles in his left knee and was progressing until he suffered a setback Tuesday.

Arias and Bazardo have right shoulder problems.

The moves leave the Astros with 26 players, meaning they have to make more cut to get down to 25 players.

 

Day 39: Busy, busy day at Astros camp

What a day at Astros camp.

The day began with the news the Astros had made nine roster moves, which essentially gave the starting catching job to J.R. Towles, and ended with Lance Berkman telling MLB.com he suffered a setback Tuesday in his recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery. In between, Bud Norris pitched well against the Phillies and Matt Lindstrom was named closer.

Other than that…

Let’s start with the biggest news, which is Berkman. It’s growing increasingly unlikely he’d be ready for Opening Day. He felt so good taking batting practice Tuesday he said he was about “70 percent” certain he’d be ready for Monday. After trying to run, his hopes diminished.

“When I tried to run, I just couldn’t do it,” he said. “They’re going to back me down for a few days and see what happens.”

The recovery time on the surgery was two to four weeks, and Berkman has barely passed the halfway point. If he starts the season in the disabled list, he would have to miss at least the first four games of the regular season before being eligible to return.

Astros GM Ed Wade plans to meet with Berkman and head athletic trainer Nate Lucero on Wednesday to talk about the slugger’s immediate future.

“I was hopeful that by increasing activities that it wouldn’t irritate it, and apparently it’s going to,” he said. “I need to drop down to where I just swing a little bit. Today I took ground balls and moved around a good bit, and it didn’t respond like I wanted it to.”

If Berkman starts the year on the DL – and that is a good possibility – that would create another opening on the roster. We’ll get to that later. But if Berkman is placed on the DL, the earliest he’s be able to play in the fifth game of the season, April 10, against Philadelphia.

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Lindstrom, who had a terrific spring, was named closer by manager Brad Mills after Tuesday’s game against the Phillies. The hard-throwing right-hander hasn’t allowed an earned run in eight appearances this spring, though he nearly did Tuesday after he loaded the bases with no outs and worked his way out of the jam.

Lindstrom came to camp competing with Brandon Lyon for the closer’s role, but Lyon was behind and didn’t appear in a game until March 18. Lyon had a cyst drained in his right shoulder in January and had to get his arm strength back.

But Lindstrom left little doubt with how well he’s pitched.

“He’s throwing the ball well, and obviously with Brandon Lyon slow getting out of the gate from the cyst, it’s a logical move to make having him down there close to games in the ninth inning and still have an alternative to run with Lyon at some point,” Wade said.

Lyon, who signed a three-year, $15-million deal, has 54 career saves, including 26 with Arizona in 2008. Lindstrom has saved 20 games in his career, including 15 with Florida last year.

“We told Brandon Lyon he was going to be extremely valuable for us and going to be extremely valuable getting to us getting to that point as we go forward,” Mills said. “Nothing against Brandon at all, but when Matt did throw the ball as well as he did and Brandon was getting slow in getting going, that was probably it.”

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The Astros trimmed their roster by nine players Tuesday morning to get to 29, and in the process awarded an Opening Day roster spot to catcher J.R. Towles, who was competing with No. 1 prospect Jason Castro for the starting position. They haven’t announced Towles is the starter, but the belief all along was Towles and Castro were competing for the starting spot with Humberto Quintero as backup.

Castro was among nine players told by Mills and Wade they weren’t going to make the Opening Day roster. Castro and right-hander Casey Daigle were reassigned to Minor League camp, and right-hander Wilton Lopez and utility man Edwin Maysonet were optioned to Triple-A Round Rock.

In addition, non-roster invitees Gary Majewski (right-hander), Gustavo Chacin (left-hander), Drew Meyer (infielder), Chris Shelton (first baseman) and Kevin Cash (catcher) were reassigned to Minor League camp, but will remain with the team through this weekend’s exhibition games in Houston. Daigle will remain with the team until after he pitches Thursday’s Grapefruit League finale.

What does this all mean?

Towles is going to be the starting catcher. He told reporters team brass told him he was going to be the everyday guy. That’s not surprising. Castro had a very good spring, but Towles had a better spring at the plate and has some experience. And what’s wrong with Castro getting his feet wet in Round Rock?

The moves also leave the Astros with 14 pitchers, two of which (Alberto Arias and Yorman Bazardo) are injured. They’re likely going to carry 12 pitchers so it appears here are the 12: Roy Oswalt, Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris, Felipe Paulino, Brian Moehler, Matt Lindstrom, Brandon Lyon, Jeff Fulchino, Chris Sampson, Tim Byrdak and Sammy Gervacio.

Gervacio had a great spring and deserved it, but Lopez and Daigle had great springs and were sent out. I’m guessing we’ll see those guys again soon.

What about the infield? The Astros have seven infielders remaining, including Lance Berkman, who could be headed to the disabled list. If Berkman is disabled, that leaves Geoff Blum, Kaz Matsui, Tommy Manzella, Pedro Feliz, Chris Johnson and Jeff Keppinger as the six infielders.

That’s why I was somewhat surprised they sent out Maysonet on Tuesday. If Berkman is disabled, Maysonet seems to be a much better fit to make the team as a utility infielder than Johnson, who’s a third baseman. Johnson has had a great spring, but they still want him to play every day. It will be interesting to see what they do if Berkman is disabled.

The Astros need to trim one more outfielder from among the two non-roster players: Cory Sullivan and Jason Bourgeois. Let’s be honest: Sullivan is the guy, especially considering Bourgeois had had trouble staying healthy.

So final four roster cuts could be the four injured guys: Berkman, Arias, Bazardo and Bourgeois.

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As far as the game goes, the Astros beat the Phillies 5-2 on Tuesday to improve to 13-12 with two Grapefruit League games left. Philadelphia pretty much had its Opening Day lineup on the field, except for pitcher and catcher, so this was a good test for Bud Norris.

Here’s the breakdown:

The good: Norris held the Phillies to six hits and two runs and struck out seven batters in five innings. He had a 1-2-3 first, allowed two runs and three hits in the second and one hit in each of the other three innings.

“I felt great,” he said. “The plan was to go out there and throw strikes and compete and give my team a chance to win the game. I competed and made a lot of pitches.”

Lindstrom walked two batters and allowed a hit to load the bases with no outs in the sixth, but he got two strikeouts and a groundout to escape and keep his spring ERA spotless. Jeff Fulchino threw a scoreless inning and had two strikeouts, Tim Byrdak allowed one hit and struck out one batter in one inning and Chris Sampson struck out three batters in one inning.

At the plate, Michael Bourn went 4-for-5 with two doubles, a triple and a stolen base and appears to be fully recovered from his strained oblique. Carlos Lee went 2-for-3 with an RBI double and a three-run double, and Pedro Feliz had two hits. Hunter Pence scored two runs.

The bad: They were 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position. OK, now I’m nitpicking.

What they said: “I thought he threw the ball really well. It scared the daylights out of me when he stuck his hand up there, but at the same time I thought he threw the ball really well and it was so nice to see. The ball was coming out of his hand really good, even after he was hit in the hand.” - Mills on Norris, who was hit in the pitching hand by a line drive in the third.

What’s next: The Astros will send left-hander Wandy Rodriguez to the mound Wednesday against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at 12:05 p.m. CT. Rodriguez is scheduled to throw only two innings before catching a plane for Houston, where his wife is scheduled to deliver the couple’s second child Thursday. Moehler, Sampson and Gervacio are also scheduled to pitch. Right-hander Roy Oswalt, who had an injection into his lower back Monday in Houston, will start a Minor League game Wednesday. Shortstop Tommy Manzella will also play in that game.

Berkman suffers setback

Astros first baseman Lance Berkman‘s road to recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery took a slight detour Tuesday when the five-time All-Star said his left knee “swelled back up a good bit” after taking ground balls and trying to run.

Berkman, who had surgery March 13 to clean out loose cartilage, was in good spirits at the batting cage prior to Tuesday’s game and — prior to running — said he thought there was a 70 percent chance he would be ready for Opening Day. He’s not as hopeful now.

“When I tried to run, I just couldn’t do it,” he said. “They’re going to back me down for a few days and see what happens.”

The recovery time on the surgery was two to four weeks, and Berkman has barely passed the halfway point. If he starts the season in the disabled list, he would have to miss at least the first four games of the regular season before being eligible to return.

“I was hopeful that by increasing activities that it wouldn’t irritate it, and apparently it’s going to,” he said. “I need to drop down to where I just swing a little bit. Today I took ground balls and moved around a good bit and it didn’t respond like I wanted it to.”

Lindstrom named closer

Astros manager Brad Mills said Tuesday right-hander Matt Lindstrom will be his closer to start the 2010 season. Lindstrom, acquired in a trade from Florida in December, hasn’t allowed an earned run in eight games this spring, striking out eight batters and allowing five hits in 8 2/3 innings

Lindstrom came into Spring Training competing with Brandon Lyon for the closer’s role, but Lyon didn’t pitch until March 18 after having a cyst drained in his right shoulder in January. Lyon, who signed a three-year, $15-million deal, has 54 career saves, including 26 with Arizona in 2008.

Lindstrom has saved 20 games in his career, including 15 with Florida last year.

“We told Brandon Lyon he was going to be extremely valuable for us and going to be extremely valuable getting to us getting to that point as we go forward,” Mills said. “Nothing against Brandon at all, but when Matt did throw the ball as well as he did and Brandon was getting slow in getting going, that was probably it.”

Lindstrom and Lyon were two one of the Astros’ biggest offseason acquisitions following the departure of closer Jose Valverde and setup man LaTroy Hawkins in free agency. In 191 career games – all with the Marlins – Lindstrom went 8-8 with a 3.88 ERA and 20 saves in 171 2/3 innings, striking out 144 batters and walking 71.

 

 

Astros trim nine from roster

The Astros trimmed their roster by nine players Tuesday morning, and in the process awarded an Opening Day roster spot to catcher J.R. Towles, who was competing with No. 1 prospect Jason Castro for the starting position.

Castro was among nine players told by manager Brad Mills and general manager Ed Wade they weren’t going to make the Opening Day roster. Castro and right-hander Casey Daigle were reassigned to Minor League camp, and right-hander Wilton Lopez and utility man Edwin Maysonet were optioned to Triple-A Round Rock.

In addition, non-roster invitees Gary Majewski (right-hander), Gustavo Chacin (right-hander), Drew Meyer (infielder), Chris Shelton (first baseman) and Kevin Cash (catcher) were reassigned to Minor League camp, but will remain with the team through this weekend’s exhibition games in Houston. Daigle will remain with the team until after he pitches Thursday’s Grapefruit League finale.

“They have done a great job of leaving a good impression with not only myself, but the whole coaching staff and the front office as well,” Mills said.

The roster moves leave the Astros with 29 players in camp, meaning four more cuts will have to be made before Sunday afternoon’s deadline to set the 25-man roster for Opening Day.

Here are the remaining players in camp:

PITCHERS (14)

RHP Alberto Arias

RHP Yorman Bazardo

LHP Tim Byrdak

RHP Jeff Fulchino

RHP Sammy Gervacio

RHP Matt Lindstrom

RHP Brandon Lyon

RHP Brian Moehler

RHP Brett Myers

RHP Bud Norris

RHP Roy Oswalt

RHP Felipe Paulino

LHP Wandy Rodriguez

RHP Chris Sampson

CATCHERS (2)

J.R. Towles

Humberto Quintero

INFIELDERS (7)

Lance Berkman

Geoff Blum

Pedro Feliz

Chris Johnson

Jeff Keppinger

Tommy Manzella

Kaz Matsui

OUTFIELDERS (6)

Jason Bourgeois (non-roster)

Michael Bourn

Carlos Lee

Jason Michaels

Hunter Pence

Cory Sullivan (non-roster)

 

Day 38: Cuts are looming, Gervacio shines again

Before we get to Monday’s game analysis, which won’t be pretty, let’s talk roster cuts. The Astros have 38 players on their active roster, meaning they need to trim the roster by 13 prior to Sunday. The next round of cuts could come as early as Tuesday morning, prior to the home game against Philadelphia.

The cuts should help determine some roles, such as starting catcher (J.R. Towles or Jason Castro), closer (Matt Lindstrom or Brandon Lyon) and fifth starter (Brian Moehler or Felipe Paulino), all of which are up in the air. The Astros could choose to go with a four-man starting rotation and carry an extra relief pitcher the first couple of weeks of the season.

Most of the decisions will be made before the team leaves Florida on Thursday night, but there could be some loose ends to tie up this weekend. The Astros play exhibitions games against Toronto on Friday and Saturday at Minute Maid Park.

“We’ll probably make some moves in the next couple of days,” general manager Ed Wade said. “We may end up talking to some of the non-roster guys and talk to them about their status but have them go to Houston with us for the games against Toronto.

“We still have some decisions to make, there’s no question about that. We’re not locked down on the 25, particularly with some of the nicks and dents health-wise we have right now.”

Some quick predictions:

Closer: Lindstrom

Catcher: Towles

Fifth starter: Paulino

Fifth outfielder: Cory Sullivan

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The Astros lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates 13-1 on Monday afternoon in Bradenton, Fla., and it was as ugly as the score. They gave up four home runs, committed four errors and were held to six hits. They had no hits in the final four innings against four different Pittsburgh pitchers. Ouch.

Here’s the breakdown:

The good: Stop if you’ve heard this before, but right-hander Sammy Gervacio was terrific once again. The 25-year-old side-winder struck out three batters and didn’t allow anyone to reach base in two perfect innings, lowering his ERA to 0.82.

In 11 innings this spring, he’s allowed only three hits, one run, two walks and struck out 14. It would be hard not give him a roster spot at this point. And considering Moehler could be in the bullpen, that could leave Casey Daigle, Chris Sampson and Wilton Lopez battling for the final bullpen spot. That will go down to the wire.

“In a game when things don’t seem to be going well at all, he still comes in and throws well,” manager Brad Mills said of Gervacio. “That’s pretty special.”

Brandon Lyon threw two innings for the first time this spring and struggled a bit, giving up five hits and two runs. He did say he felt fine, though. Lopez allowed one hit and one walk in his sixth appearance, but still has not allowed an earned run this spring.

Also, Edwin Maysonet started in left field for the first time this spring, marking his fourth outfield appearance of the year. He’s an infielder by trade, but he’s trying to increase his value by getting more versatile. He went 1-for-4 at the plate and is hitting .295, and he swung the bat well last year with the Astros.

“Right now I’m very comfortable,” he said. “The first game playing the outfield in Spring Training I was kind of nervous, but now I have more work and I feel more comfortable at it.”

The bad: Left-hander Gustavo Chacin, a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, was hammered by the Pirates. He went two innings in his first start and gave up nine hits, including three home runs, eight runs (six earned) and two walks. In his defense, he gave up a two-run homer after first baseman Chris Shelton dropped a pop up that would have ended the second inning.

Chacin was a long shot to make the team, but his 12.96 ERA in five outings didn’t help his chances.

“He struggled with his fastball command, and when that happens it’s tough,” Mills said.

Chacin said if he doesn’t make the team, he wasn’t sure if he would go to the minors, if given the opportunity, or look for another team to latch onto.

“You see my ERA is very high, but I pitched good ballgames,” he said. “I got a couple of errors, routine plays we don’t make. I feel good because I’m healthy and my arm is in pretty good shape and I feel happy.”

What they said: “If he’s not at the point of getting into games in the next couple of days then I think the prudent thing would be to go ahead and disable him and give him time to get ready. We’re not there yet. He could come in tomorrow and say ‘I’m good to go on Wednesday’. We could leave him back here and he could play in [Minor League] games all the way through Sunday if it looked as if he were moving in a straight line and ready for Opening Day.” - GM Ed Wade on Lance Berkman, who is recovering from March 13 knee surgery.

What’s next: Right-hander Bud Norris will make his fifth start of the spring when the Astros return to Kissimmee to face the Philadelphia Phillies at Osceola County Stadium at 12:05 p.m. CT. Norris, who’s been considered a favorite to land a spot in the back end of the pitching rotation, threw 58 pitches in his longest outing of the spring Friday against Pittsburgh and gave up three hits and three runs in four innings. Lindstrom, Sampson, Fulchino and Tim Byrdak are scheduled to follow Norris.

Astro-notes: SS Tommy Manzella (strained quadriceps) and OF Jason Bourgeios (strained hamstring) were scheduled to get some at-bats in a Minor League game at the complex in Kissimmee on Monday, but those games were rained out and they hit in the cage instead. Mills said he’d like to get Manzella and Bourgeois into a Minor League game before putting them into a Grapefruit League game:  “Before we throw them into something like that, we have to get them in a game atmosphere. If anybody, [the rainout] probably pushes Bourgeois back a little bit. We’d like to at least see him get some more at-bats and see him a little bit more.” … C J.R. Towles was scheduled to play in a Minor League team to test his hamstring, but wit the rainouts he was in the starting lineup in Bradenton and went 0-for-4 to drop his average to .333. Mills said the hamstring is “probably not where we need to be… but at the same time we need to get him behind the plate and seeing pitches and swinging the bat.” … 1B Lance Berkman, who had minor knee surgery March 13, took batting practice again Monday, and Mills said he did well. The Astros plan to increase his activities. … Mills said RHP Brett Myers, who was slowed by a groin strain, threw a bullpen session Monday and had no problems. He’s scheduled to start Friday’s exhibition game against Toronto. … RHPs Alberto Arias (right rotator cuff impingement) and Yorman Bazardo (right shoulder strain) will continue with their respective throwing programs, which consists of throwing off flat ground at this stage.

Oswalt gets injection

Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt received an injection into his back Monday in Houston and is on scheduled to pitch Wednesday and is on pace for Opening Day. Oswalt flew to Houston to be examined by back specialist Dr. Michael McCann after leaving his previous start with a tight left hamstring.

Oswalt has been dealing with a bulging disk in his back since 2007. The disk is pushing against a nerve that descends down Oswalt’s left leg and last year was causing hip pain and loss of feeling in his left leg. Last year, McCann recommended Oswalt try to strengthen his core to help his back because surgery wasn’t a viable option.

Monday morning Astros update

We’re coming to you today from Bradenton, Fla., for the Astros’ second-to-last Grapefruit League road game and final long bus trip of the spring. Heavy rains pounded Florida throughout the night, and the McKechnie Field playing surface is very wet. In fact, workers have been trying to drain large pools of water on the warning track for more than an hour.

The Astros play in Kissimmee on Tuesday and Thursday and are at the nearby Atlanta Braves on Wednesday, so manager Brad Mills will have all his healthy players available to fill out his lineup. It will be interesting to see some of the lineup combinations, considering we’re only a week away from the regular season starting.

Here’s what Mills had to say when asked how much his starters will play in the final few spring games:

“They’re going to be playing quite a bit now coming down the last couple of days. Hunter [Pence] has had two nine-inning stints back to back, and Carlos [Lee] had his four at-bat stint a couple of days ago. We’re getting there. Kaz [Matsui] has played an awful lot, and that’s why he’s taking the last two days [Sunday and Monday off].”

When it comes to relief pitchers, Mills doesn’t yet expect to worry too much about putting them in game situations similar to what they would be in during the regular season.

“Maybe a little bit, but I think we’re more worried about getting our starting pitchers some time more than that,” he said. “We’ll definitely think about those things on Friday and Saturday, without a doubt.”

Here are the morning news nuggets:

  • SS Tommy Manzella (strained quadriceps) and Jason Bourgeios (strained hamstring) were scheduled to get some at-bats in a Minor League game at the complex today, but those games were rained out and they hit in the cage instead. Mills said he’d like to get Manzella and Bourgeois into a Minor League game before putting into a Grapefruit League game:  “Before we throw them into something like that, we have to get them in a game atmosphere. If anybody, [the rainout] probably pushes Bourgeois back a little bit. We’d like to at least see him get some more at-bats and see him a little bit more.”
  • C J.R. Towles was scheduled to play in a Minor League game today to test his ailing hamstring, but wound up traveling with the team to Bradenton so he could get some action. Mills said the hamstring is “probably not where we need to be… but at the same time we need to get him behind the plate and seeing pitches and swinging the bat.”
  • 1B Lance Berkman, who had minor knee surgery March 13, is scheduled to take batting practice for the second consecutive day Monday. Mills said he didn’t get a chance to talk to Berkman before the team bus left the complex in Kissimmee for Bradenton, but the fact he’s taking batting practice for the second day in a row is a sign he’s progressing.
  • RHPs Alberto Arias (right rotator cuff impingement) and Yorman Bazardo (right shoulder strain) will continue with their respective throwing programs, which consists of throwing off flat ground at this stage.
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