Game 18: Norris slowly gaining strength

The Astros’ split-squad team lost the Braves, 7-1, on Sunday afternoon in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The game was pretty uneventul for the Astros until the ninth inning, when Minor League outfielder Telvin Nash hit perhaps the longest homer in the history of Champion Stadium, sending a pitch over the giant scoreboard in left-center.

The Astros had a much better day against the Tigers in Lakeland, where J.R. Towles went 3-for-4 with his second homer of the spring in a 3-1 win. But since I was at Disney here’s the breakdown of the loss to the Braves:

What went right: Aneury Rodriguez, Brandon Lyon, Jeff Fulchino and Mark Melancon each threw one scoreless inning in relief, with Fulchino striking out a pair of batters. He has looked extremely sharp this spring and completely recovered from offseason elbow surgery. He’s likely pitched himself onto the Opening Day roster at this point.

Melancon gave up two hits and a walk, but escaped without allowing a run. The only hits the Astros managed were by Anderson Hernandez, Hunter Pence, Tommy Manzella and a mammoth home run by Minor League outfielder Telvin Nash.

What went wrong: The Astros were held to four hits in 31 at-bats and struck out 10 times against the Braves. Bud Norris started and allowed five hits, five runs and two walks in three innings, but Norris is still working on pitches and his outing shouldn’t be any kind of cause for alarm. The good news, Norris said, is he got his pitch count up and he felt fine.

Carlos Lee made a fielding error in left field, and Arcenio Leon was roughed up in one inning of work, allowing two hits and two runs and one home run.

What they said: “Just the biggest point right now is getting the pitch count up there, and I felt pretty good. The slider wasn’t where I wanted it to be today. The first home run it definitely hung up there and the guy made a good swing on it, so I’m still working on stuff. All in all, I was worried about getting my pitch count up there.” – pitcher Bud Norris, who gave up home runs to Wilkin Ramirez in the second and Chipper Jones in the third inning Sunday.

What’s next: The race for the fifth spot in the rotation heats up when Nelson Figueroa takes the mound for the Astros against his former team, the Philadelphia Phillies, at 12:05 p.m. CT at Osceola County Stadium. Figueroa has won both is his previous Grapefruit League starts, allowing one earned run in five innings. Reliever Wilton Lopez, who has four perfect one-inning outings under his belt this spring, is also scheduled to pitch for Houston.

Injury update: Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez has come down with mild tendinitis in his left shoulder and will be skipped Tuesday as a precaution. … Astros general manager Ed Wade said he was pleased with how right-hander Alberto Arias, who’s throwing on flat ground, and infielder Jeff Keppinger, who’s coming off foot surgery eight weeks ago, are progressing from their injuries. 

Here are the pictures:

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Above: Astros players stretch prior to Sunday’s game against the Braves.

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Above: The Astros had been using the designated hitter all spring, but Bud Norris became the first pitcher to hit in a game. He struck out in his only at-bat against the Braves.

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Above: Brandon Lyon is interviewed by MLB Network prior to the game.

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Above: Carlos Lee plays catch on the field prior to Sunday’s game.

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Above: Koby Clemens makes contact during batting practice.

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Above: Hunter Pence is never shy about signing autographs for Astros fans.

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Above: Michael Bourn grabs a bat and emerges from the dugout for Sunday BP.

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