Game 23: Lyles pounds the strike zone

The Astros got homers from Chris Johnson and Brandon Barnes, but lost to the Nationals, 7-4, on Monday afternoon (boxscore).

All the news of the day can be found here, including how Johnson has a good shot to win the MLB NCAA bracket challenge. Tons of other stuff in there, too, including updates on Jordan Schafer, a more in-depth look at Lyles’ outing and a look at the catching situation.

Here’s the recap:

What went right: Astros starter Jordan Lyles had his best command of the spring, throwing 89 pitches in 4 2/3 innings in the loss to Washington. He would have finished the fourth, but Chris Johnson made a fielding error at third that led to three unearned runs coming across. Lyles gave up eight hits and three earned runs and walked one batter.

Chris Johnson launched his second homer of the spring and appears to have a death grip on the starting third base job. He’s hitting .325 with a team-high four homers this spring. Brandon Barnes, a Minor League outfielder who was in Major League camp early in the spring, went 2-for-3 with an impressive homer. Joe Thurston, Carlos Corporan and J.B. Shuck had the other hits.

Hard-throwing Rule 5 pick Rhiner Cruz has put himself is in the thick of the bullpen race by throwing another 1-2-3 inning. Fernando Rodriguez also threw a perfect inning for the Astros. Minor League left-hander Kevin Chapman, who was acquired from the Royals in the Humberto Quintero/Jason Bourgeois trade, pitched in the game and gave up a homer.

Catcher Chris Snyder started in consecutive games for the first time and had no issues.

What went wrong: You would certainly like to start seeing the starters work deeper and put up better numbers, though Lyles pitched better than his line indicated. Johnson’s error was mentioned earlier, but it cost the Astros three runs in the fifth inning.

The top of the batting order really struggled, with Brian Bixler (0-for-4), Jose Altuve (0-for-4), Brett Wallace (0-for-4) and J.D. Martinez (0-for-3) combining to go 0-for-15.

What they said: “I had a couple of long innings, and I think that’s going to help down the road. I don’t know the most pitches I threw in one inning, but there were two innings I threw a lot, and it’s good for me right now. Overall, to go out there and feel healthy and get those pitches in — an inning or two more would have been better — but I’m satisfied with the pitch count and how I threw the ball over the plate.” — Astros pitcher Jordan Lyles on his outing Monday.

What’s next: Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, who’s expected to be the Astros’ Opening Day starter, makes his fourth start of the spring when the Astros return home to face the Detroit Tigers at 12:05 p.m. CT at Osceola County Stadium on Tuesday, live on Gameday Audio. Rodriguez has allowed nine earned runs in his previous two starts and is looking to pitch deeper into the game.

Injury update: CF Jordan Schafer’s return from a sprained left hand suffered March 18 has been put on hold. The Astros had hoped Schafer would play Monday, but he didn’t make the trip. Manager Brad Mills told reporters early Monday he thought Schafer would play Tuesday against the Tigers, but said following the game it wasn’t likely to happen. … RHP Bud Norris (triceps tightness) had his start pushed back to Friday against the Braves in Kissimmee. Mills said he’s not overly concerned about Norris’ health and wanted to give him a couple of more days (Lucas Harrell will start Wednesday).

Check out the photos:

Astros players await batting practice Monday.

Led by J.D. Martinez, the Astros stretch prior to the game.

Brandon Barnes practices his swing. It worked. He homered not long after.

Chris Snyder thinks Dave Raymond is funny.

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