Day 13: A smashing debut against the Nats

Astros manager Brad Mills was spoiled in his spring managerial debut Thursday. The Astros bashed out 21 hits and slugged five home runs, which equaled the number of hits the Washington Nationals managed on the day against eight Houston pitchers.

Hunter Pence went 3-for-3 and homered twice in one inning, and Yordany Ramirez (2-for-2), Jason Michaels (3-for-3) and Chris Johnson also homered. Pedro Feliz, Edwin Masonet and J.R. Towles had two hits apiece, so it was a good day with the bats.

“It’s always nice to see the guys, especially some big guys like Hunter, swing the bats well,” Mills said. “There were some issues also swinging the bats we need to address and we will. But these guys did a real good job of coming out and being aggressive at the plate and hitting the ball hard.”

THE GOOD: Yes, Astros hitters took advantage of the wind blowing out by getting some balls up in the air, but they put good swings on the ball consistently and had as many homers as the Nationals had hits. Granted, the Nats had a split squad and were without Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn, among others, but Houston’s pitchers did a good job keeping the D.C. in the park.

The last five pitchers that took the mound for the Astros held the Nationals scoreless in one inning – Sammy Gervacio, Gary Majewski, Roy Corcoran, Wesley Wright and Casey Daigle. Majewski, Corcoran and Daigle are non-roster invitees, so as Ed Wade would say, they needed to put their best foot forward. Gervacio is in the thick of the bullpen race.

THE BAD: Myers breezed through the first before struggling in the second, thanks to three walks. Truth is, it wasn’t that bad. You must remember he’s working with only his fastball, which he had trouble locating. Also, he would have been out of the inning without allowing a run if Kaz Matsui would have been able to finish off a double play with the bases loaded and one out.

Now to the defense. Matsui threw a ball away that led to three runs, and Jeff Keppinger committed a fielding error while playing second base. Those are the kinds of things that will drive Mills crazy in the regular season. Jason Castro was thrown out at home plate trying to score from first on a Jason Michaels double, but third-base coach Dave Clark is going to be aggressive.

Here was Mills’ response when asked what he didn’t like Thursday:

“I don’t want to go too much into bit becuase I haven’t talked to the players yet. We want to have a good clean game, and the more clean games we can put back to back the better chances we have. It’s always nice to win but we want to play well, and that’s what we’re after. For the most part, we did today. The guys did very well. Sometimes when you play as well as they did and do the things they do it makes up for a lot of things.”

WHAT’S NEXT: Wandy Rodriguez starts Friday for the Astros against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Fla. The biggest thing to watch for here is Lance Berkman making his spring debut. Berkman missed Thursday’s game with a bruised left knee and had shark cartilage injected into the knee. He’s expected to get two at-bats as the designated hitter. Maybe the Big Puma needs a new nickname. Joltin’ Jaws?

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