Game 30: Pitchers struggle in loss to Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays were able to take better advantage of the wind blowing out to right field at Osceola County Stadium on Thursday afternoon than the Astros, who dropped an 11-3 decision to the Rays, who hit a pair of home runs.

The big news of the day were the roster moves made by the Astros, which included sending Tommy Manzella and Brian Bogusevic to Minor League camp. Also, they re-signed former Astros pitcher Fernando Nieve to a Minor League contract.

Here’s the breakdown:

What went right: Bud Norris got off to a quick start, sending down six batters in a row after allowing the first two hitters to reach. The Rays started getting better swings in the third and fourth and pushed across four runs, but Norris was able to throw 79 pitches and looks strong.

“The whole point here, even winding down, is getting those pitches and getting the arm strength up there,” Norris said. “I felt like I threw a lot of quality pitches, good pitches that were close and competitive. The three walks to Johnny [Damon] didn’t help me, but I felt good.”

Mark Melancon was the only pitcher on the mound Thursday that did not give up a run. He pitched a scoreless seventh, retiring all three batters he faced, including one by strikeout.

Michael Bourn (.283 average this spring) went 2-for-4 at the plate, and Brett Wallace went 2-for-3 with singles in his first two at-bats and he drove in his 18th run of the spring. Jason Michaels had an RBI double, and J.R. Towles connected on his third homer of the spring.

What went wrong: Jeff Fulchino had a 1-2-3 inning in the fifth before running into trouble in the sixth. He gave up a two-run homer to Sam Fuld that was likely wind-aided, but it still counts. Fulchino allowed two hits and one walk and struck out two batters in two innings.

Wilton Lopez had a rare blip, giving up two runs and two hits in one inning, raising his ERA to 3.38 (the same as Melancon’s). Fernando Abad’s rough spring continued as he couldn’t get the ball down and allowed three hits and three runs, including a home run, in the ninth inning. The lefty’s spring ERA is 11.74.

Carlos Lee (.204 spring average) went 0-for-4, and Chris Johnson (.263) went 0-for-4 for the second game in a row. Bill Hall went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and is hitting .188 this spring.

What they said: “With Bud, he had good stuff and he was able to work out of that jam in the first and really did a good job. As the innings went along and kept getting into those jams, he started to overthrow a little bit, but his stuff was still there. Abad, we’d like to get his fastball command a little better. The other pitches, he has good command and is down.” — Astros manager Brad Mills.

What’s next: Right-hander Nelson Figueroa, the Astros’ fifth starter, will make his final start of the spring when the Astros face the New York Yankees at 6:05 p.m. CT on Friday in Tampa, Fla. Ryan Rowland-Smith, Ross Wolf, Jose Valdez and Gustavo Chacin are also scheduled to pitch for the Astros, who will take every position player to the game except for left-fielder Carlos Lee and catchers J.R. Towles and Carlos Corporan.

Injury update: Hunter Pence, who took three stitches in his right shin Wednesday after sliding home, was held out Thursday as a precaution by manager Brad Mills. … Second baseman Bill Hall fouled a ball off his foot, but said he was fine.

Ah, yes. The return of the pictures:

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Above: Mark Melancon pitches to Ryan Rowland-Smith while I play umpire. I called it a strike.

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Above: Brad Mills hits some ground balls during drills.

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Above: Robinson Cancel (left) puts on his gear as he talks to Carlos Corporan. Astros signed Cancel a couple of weeks ago to Minor League deal, and they reassigned him to Major League camp on Thursday. He will stay with the team through next week’s exhibition against Boston, but will start the year in Triple-A.

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Above: Pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers put in their work in the bullpen Thursday morning, with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg watching closely.

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Above: The flags give an indication of how hard the wind was blowing out Thursday.

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