Day 35: Injuries mount in final week of camp

Remember how we all joked about Camp Quiet? That was in February, when one of the coldest winters in Florida history forced everyone to wear jackets for workouts. That was back when the Astros weren’t making any news, except for mild ankle sprains by Casey Daigle and Jeff Fulchino.

Things sure have changed.

Lance Berkman, Brett Myers, Roy Oswalt, Michael Bourn, Tommy Manzella, Jason Bourgeois, Alberto Arias and Yorman Bazardo have all gone down with injuries. Suddenly, Kaz Matsui is the healthiest guy on the team. Most of the injuries are strains and not serious, though Arias could be headed for the DL and Berkman had minor knee surgery.

Oswalt joined the M*A*S*H unit Friday when he left his start against the Pirates after four innings with a mild left hamstring strain. Oswalt isn’t concerned, but GM Ed Wade showed enough concern to send Oswalt to Houston to be examined.

The Astros did have some good news Friday, rallying for four runs in the eighth and two in the ninth to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-4. Chris Johnson’s two-out, two-run walk-off home run that struck the batters eye in center field a few feet from the top, won the game.

Here’s the breakdown:

The good: Before his hamstring started to bother him, Oswalt looked terrific. He retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced, striking out six batters in that span. He threw 60 pitches (41 strikes) and gave up three hits and one run in four innings. Brandon Lyon threw one scoreless innings and appears to have put his shoulder troubles in the past.

How about Drew Locke and T.J. Steele? These two guys continue to impress with how they’re swinging the bat in Grapefruit League play when they’re pulled over from Minor League camp. Steele started in center field and went 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI, and Locke had a three-run triple in the eighth inning in his only at-bat.

Johnson and non-roster first baseman Chris Shelton are making things interesting. Johnson, who has been pretty much pegged for Triple-A Round Rock since the spring started, is hitting .326 and leads the team with five homers and is second with 14 RBIs.

“I’ve got to remember, though, it’s just spring,” he said. “These don’t count yet.”

When asked if he feels he has opened some eyes, he said: “We’ve got a new group of guys coming in and a whole new coaching staff, and that’s all I’m trying to do is show them what I can do if they’ve never seen me play before.”

Shelton, whose double in the ninth set up Johnson’s homer, is hitting .333 with two homers and 11 RBIs in 36 at-bats. He could be making a push to make the team, considering Berkman could begin the year on the DL and they could carry an extra infielder by going with a four-man rotation.

Competition at the end of camp is a good thing.

“That’s the way you want to do it,” Mills said. “You hope you have to make those types of decisions. You hope they come down to the end like this, and that’s exactly what’s happened.”

The not-so-good: The only regulars the Astros had in the starting lineup Friday were third baseman Pedro Feliz and left fielder Carlos Lee, so perhaps that helps explain why Pirates starter Zach Duke shut them out on two hits for 6 2/3 innings. When the benches emptied in the eighth, the bats came alive.

Bud Norris, who was originally scheduled to pitch in a Minor League game, followed Oswalt and Lyon and threw four innings, giving up four hits and three earned runs. Norris struggled in the ninth against some Pirates hitters that aren’t going to make the team, but Mills was glad he was able to get up and down four times after missing a start with the flu.

What did Norris take from the 58-pitch outing?

“It was a whirlwind because I thought I was on the Minor League side, but I’m glad [pitching coach Brad Arnsberg] moved it around so I could pitch out there,” he said. “I felt good, my body felt good and arm felt good, and I’m glad I pitched as long as I did. I had only had 7 1/3 innings coming in and that was the biggest part. I completely understood the reason for it and I’m glad they go me out there.”

What they said: “This late in camp, there’s always concern, no doubt about it. The one positive on that note is he wanted to go back out. He said he felt the strain in his left hamstring. He’s concerned about it, but he’s not so scared that he wasn’t willing to go out there and pitch.” – Mills on the health of Oswalt.

What’s next: Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez will make his penultimate start of the spring when he faces the Tampa Bay Rays at 12:05 p.m. CT on Saturday at Osceola County Stadium. Rodriguez, who threw 90 pitches in his previous start Monday, has gotten knocked around this spring. He’s given up 20 hits and 16 earned runs in 13 innings in his four starts. Matt Lindstrom, Jeff Fulchino, Tim Byrdak and Yorman Bazardo are also scheduled to pitch.

Astro-notes: Michael Bourn, who’s been out a week with a strained oblique, went 1-for-4 with a stolen base in a Minor League game Friday and said he’s ready to return to action. Mills said Bourn could be in the lineup Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays. … The Astros trimmed their roster to 38 players on Friday, optioning left-handed pitcher Wesley Wright to Triple-A Round Rock and reassigning right-hander Shane Loux and infielder Oswaldo Navarro to Minor League camp.

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