March 2013

Veras returns to Kissimmee a champion

Fresh off his country’s victory in the World Baseball Classic, Astros relief pitcher Jose Veras returned to camp on Thursday and was beaming with 0322 001pride Friday morning while talking about the Dominican Republic’s performance. The Dominicans closed out their undefeated run to the Classic title in convincing fashion with a 3-0 defeat of Puerto Rico on Tuesday night in San Francisco.

“It was something that can’t explain,” Veras said. “It was unbelievable to be there and the feeling you have, the pressure you have in each game is impressive. The first two games I was there I couldn’t imagine it was going to have that intensity, it’s going to be that tough, and then after that you’re starting to find out the spirit of the game and the way we play, it was like World Series games.”

Veras pitched in two games for the Dominican, throwing 1 2/3 innings, but the chance to contribute for the win and share it with his fellow countrymen was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“We always prayed to God to have the victory and prayed to God to do our job, to do our best because some people don’t think we can make it, some people didn’t think we could do it because guys were thinking we were missing All-Star players, but it’s not about names,” Veras said. “It’s was about one goal and that’s why we won every game and played with our heart every day, and that was the way we made it.”

Veras will now turn his attention to the Astros. He hasn’t pitched in a Grapefruit League game since March 1, and he’s the clear favorite to begin the season as the team’s closer.

“I’m probably going to pitch three or four or five more times before we leave,” Veras said. “We’re going to be OK knowing I have to focus on my job here and to prepare for a long season. The WBC is over and thank God we win, and now I have to focus forward.”

Here is the Astros’ starting lineup:

2B Jose Altuve

LF Brandon Barnes

DH Chris Carter

CF Justin Maxwell

1B Brandon Laird

C Jason Castro

RF J.D. Martinez

3B Matt Dominguez

SS Tyler Greene

RHP Bud Norris

Astros lineup Friday vs. Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals will be at Osceola County Stadium to face the Cardinals at 12:05 p.m. CT today.

Here is the Astros’ starting lineup:

2B Jose Altuve

LF Brandon Barnes

DH Chris Carter

CF Justin Maxwell

1B Brandon Laird

C Jason Castro

RF J.D. Martinez

3B Matt Dominguez

SS Tyler Greene

RHP Bud Norris

Game 25: Astros club 4 homers to back pitching

What happened: The Astros slugged four homers, including two by backup catcher Carlos Corporan, and got solid pitching from Lucas Harrell, Hector Ambriz and Brad Peacock to beat the Tigers, 7-2, on Thursday night at Joker Marchant Stadium (boxscore).

What we learned: C Carlos Corporan is feeling as good as he has all spring at the plate, and he might even be swinging the best bat of his career. The switch-hitting backup backstop blasted two homers — one off Justin Verlander and the other off Al Albuquerque.

“You can mature in the game and you get to know your swing and you learn,” Corporan said. “You can learn what the pitcher is trying to do. My swing has always been there and now I have more experience and figured out what they’re trying to do to me. I feel more mature.”

What we learned II: The Astros are going to have a tough decision to make when it comes to deciding the final two spots in the rotation. The club’s off-season mission of adding starting pitching depth worked, and with a week to go in camp, RHPs Brad Peacock, Alex White and Edgar Gonzalez and LHP Erik Bedard are all pitching well down the wire. Peacock worked three scoreless innings in relief Thursday.

“I felt good,” he said. “I was getting in better counts and I threw strikes. That’s all I wanted to accomplish, and that’s what I did. I threw good tonight, and hopefully I opened some eyes.”

What else: IF Brandon Laird was thrown into the game when Brett Wallace left with a pinched nerve in his neck, and he smacked his fifth homer of the spring to tie C Jason Castro for the team lead. … 3B Matt Dominguez continues to swing a good bat this spring, going 2-for-4 with a homer to improve his batting average to .314. … The Astros turned double plays in the second and sixth innings. … RF Rick Ankiel showed off his arm, throwing out a runner at third base in the fifth inning. … The Astros didn’t make an error.

What went wrong: Other than Wallace leaving with a mild injury, it was a near flawless night for the Astros.

What they said: “We don’t have a good team on paper, but on talent I think we have a really, really good team. We have a lot of people who can change the game with one swing. That’s going to be my goal this year, trying to keep it two or three runs per game and I know someone is going to turn on one. That’s the big difference between this year and last year.” — Astros backup C Carlos Corporan.

What’s next: RHP Bud Norris, who was named as the club’s Opening Day starter on Wednesday, gets the start for the Astros when they face the Cardinals at 12:05 p.m. Friday at Osceola County Stadium. RHP Jose Veras, who just helped the Dominican Republic win the World Baseball Classic, is scheduled to get back on the mound for the Astros for the first time since March 1.

Who’s injured: OF Fernando Martinez (lower back strain) is day-to-day. … 1B Brett Wallace (pinched nerve in neck/upper back) is day-to-day. … RHP Edgar Gonzalez (bruised shin) took a liner off his shin during a Triple-A game on Thursday and is day-to-day.

Tweet of the day:

Links of the day:

The day in photos:

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Steve Sparks shows off his grip to Tony DeFrancesco, perhaps campaigning to eat up some innings this year in Oklahoma City

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Bo Porter throws BP

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Rick Ankiel makes good contact. Good form, too

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Justin Maxwell, John Mallee and Chris Carter

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Baseball flying towards Jose Altuve

Harrell impresses despite trouble throwing strikes

Astros starter Lucas Harrell bemoaned the fact he had trouble throwing strikes Thursday night against the Tigers, but the fact he was still able to deliver a strong start was certainly a good sign.

Harrell worked five innings and allowed three hits, two runs and three walks against Detroit in Lakeland, Fla., in his second-to-last Grapefruit League start. He has allowed only three earned runs in his last 16 innings of work this spring.

“I was struggling throwing strikes,” Harrell said. “I was leaking out a little bit early and my arm wasn’t getting up, so it’s something I’ll definitely work on next time. I feel like my sinker was pretty good, but just when you get behind you have to throw pitches guys can hit. I felt a couple of times I got myself into trouble.”

Harrell, who has one start remaining in Florida, said he’s happy with how his changeup is coming along and the effectiveness of his curveball. His sinker, his bread-and-butter pitch, was sharp on Thursday, but his cutter was up in the zone.

“It’s something I’m really going to address over the next three or four days and make sure I get that right going into the season,” Harrell said. “I have to trust my stuff and work on getting ground balls early, get some early contact. I got in too many hitter’s counts, and I have to let my defense work for me.”

Harrell will start for the Astros on April 2 against the Rangers, who announced Yu Darvish will pitch against Houston that night.

Game 24: White helps his rotation cause

What happened: Relief pitcher Kevin Chapman, pitching on the one-year anniversary of his trade to Houston, allowed four runs and five hits in two-thirds of an inning of work in the seventh as the Mets rallied to beat the Astros, 7-5, at Osceola County Stadium (boxscore).

What we learned: RHP Bud Norris is the Opening Day starter. It certainly came as no surprise that the Astros would tab Norris to start March 31 against the Rangers considering his stature on the team and the fact he’d make more starts at home in the first half of the season than he would if he was in the No. 2 spot in the rotation.

“I think he’s earned it,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “His last outing was very good, and he’s proven he can pitch at Minute Maid and pitch in big games, and he’s been around this organization. He deserves to be our Opening Day starter, and I think everybody in the organization would support that. I would hope he goes out and has a game that I know he’s capable of having and gives us a ‘W’ on that opening night.”

What we learned II: RHP Alex White helped himself Wednesday in the eyes of manager Bo Porter. White went 4 1/3 innings and allowed seven hits and three runs while throwing 68 pitches against the Mets.

“He helped himself. He attacked the zone and made some really good quality pitches,” Astros manager Bo Porter said. “We did have a conversation, you get two outs and nobody on base, you want to attack that next hitter and if you think a guy’s a good fastball hitter, he’s a much better fastball hitter at 3-2.”

What else: LF Chris Carter went 0-for-2 with two walks and two strikeouts. … RF J.D. Martinez went 2-for-4. … 3B Jose Martinez, who made a fielding error early in the game, made a spectacular diving stop and threw out a runner later in the game. … RHP Josh Fields had a scoreless inning to lower his ERA to 3.52. … RHP Brad Peacock was supposed to follow White to the mound, but the threat of rain forced Porter to push him back to Thursday.

What went wrong: Other than a rough outing by Chapman and a bad error by Jose Martinez, not much to focus on.

What they said: “I’m excited to go out there and give this team every opportunity to go out there and win, and very excited to do it in Houston on a nationally televised game.” — Astros RHP Bud Norris on his Opening Day nod.

What’s next: RHP Lucas Harrell, who found out on Wednesday he will start the second game of the season for the Astros, will start for the Astros when they face the Tigers at 5:05 p.m. CT in Lakeland, Fla., on Thursday. Harrell, who has allowed three earned runs 13 innings this spring, will start the Astros’ second game of the season, April 2 against the Rangers at Minute Maid Park. Brad Peacock will also pitch in the game.

Who’s injured: OF Fernando Martinez (lower back) is day-to-day.

Tweet of the day:

Links of the day: Here’s the full story of Bud Norris being named Opening Day starter. Astros notebook has plenty of new information, including Jose Altuve’s take on batting leadoff, Jeff Luhnow on how options could affect roster construction, Jordan Lyles thoughts on being optioned to Triple-A and so much more. Check it soon at Astros.com

The day in photos

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Rick Ankiel and Dave Trembley

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Jose Altuve

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High knees for Trevor Crowe, Brandon Laird and J.D. Martinez

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Jake Elmore appears to clean his glasses on Rick Ankiel’s jersey

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Jason Catro leads morning stretch

White makes his case for rotation spot

Alex White perhaps moved a step closer to clinching a spot in the Astros’ rotation with the roster moves Wednesday that saw Jordan Lyles and John Ely – both of whom were vying for the starting rotation – being optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City.

White stated his latest case Wednesday against the Mets, allowing seven hits and three runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Mets. White says he feels good about where he’s at, but knows he still has to pitch and get outs.

“We have a week and a half left and still some competition left,” White said.

White has been working on a sinker this spring and didn’t throw it much Wednesday, though he did get a couple of key outs with it.

“The breaking ball was so-so today, not real good, kind of pulling it a little bit,” he said. “Other than that, everything was good.”

Last year, White was trying to make the Rockies rotation in spring before being moved to the bullpen the final two weeks of camp. He was optioned to Minor League camp on the final day of spring and had to get built back up to be a starter in Triple-A.

White, acquired in December from the Rockies, went 2-9 with a 5.51 ERA in 23 games (20 starts) with the Rockies, but he pitched well in the second half. He was 0-1 with a 4.03 ERA in his final seven starts of the season.

“I didn’t get quite as many innings last year,” said White, who’s thrown 14 2/3 innings this spring. “Spring, for me, is about getting my arm ready. It takes me a whole spring to get ready for the season. This year is a little different because I know I’m competing for a spot, and I came in a lot fresher. I feel good, I feel ready for the season.”

White threw 68 pitches against the Mets and said he hopes to be at 90-95 by next week.

Video: Porter, Luhnow and Norris on Opening Day

Astros manager Bo Porter, general manager Jeff Luhnow and pitcher Bud Norris react to Wednesday’s announcement that Norris will start for the club on Opening Day.

Norris honored to take the ball on Opening Day

Bud Norris said he was humbled to learn Wednesday he would get the ball to start the season for the Astros. Houston manager Bo Porter named Norris as his Opening Day starter, meaning he’ll pitch against the Rangers on March 31 when the Astros play their first American League game.

Porter chose Norris over Lucas Harrell, who will pitch the second game of the season on April 2.

“I’m very honored,” Norris said. “It’s something I’ve been working for my whole career, something everyone works for their whole career. It’s a childhood dream to have an Opening Day game like that. I know Lucas had a great spring and he can pitch. It was either/or. I wasn’t mad if he got it or what not. I’m excited to go out there and give this team every opportunity to go out there and win, and very excited to do it in Houston on a nationally televised game.”

Norris said he hadn’t thought too much about starting on Opening Day, but it was clearly something he wanted. Porter told Harrell the news first Wednesday afternoon, and when Harrell was walking out of the manager’s office and Norris was walking in, Harrell gave him a pat on the rear.

“Just excited to get and it’s great to have that accolade in my honor, but by the same token having a guy [Harrell] pushing me and supporting me is outstanding,” Norris said. “I’m at a loss for words at times, but humbled by the experience.”

Norris said it was one of the most meaningful things that have happened to him as a professional.

“You don’t have an opportunity all the time to throw the first pitch of the season,” he said. “When I mean childhood dreams come, that’s truly what it is. I remember listening on the radio Opening Day and it’s a big anticipation thing. Just to know that day is I get to go out there and play baseball in the city of Houston, it’s truly exciting and I’m honored.”

Harrell, the team’s Pitcher of the Year last year, was happy for Norris.

“He’s earned it, he’s been here the longest and proven he can do it,” Harrell said. “What better guy to lead us?”

Norris named Opening Day starter, Lyles to Triple-A

Astros manager Bo Porter on Wednesday named right-hander Bud Norris as the team’s Opening Day starter. Norris will start March 31 against the Rangers, with Lucas Harrell pitching April 2 and Philip Humber going in the April 3 series finale.

It will be the first career Opening Day assignment for Norris, who went 7-13 with a 4.65 ERA in 29 starts for the Astros last year, including a 1.71 ERA at Minute Maid Park. Norris will be the fourth different pitcher to start on Opening Day for the Astros following Wandy Rodriguez (2012), Brett Myers (2011) and Roy Oswalt (2003-10).

“Bud Norris has done everything we’ve asked him to do from the time I’ve taken the job to being that leader that this organization needs,” Porter said. “You look at his home and road splits and how well he’s pitched at Minute Maid Park and how well he’s pitched in big games… I think he gets up for big games.

“Even as far back as last year, he had the second-best ERA in all of baseball pitching at home and the Opening Day starter, if you look at it, if they stay on turn and stay  healthy, that guy will get three more starts at Minute Maid Park between now and All-Star break. It was all those factors, combined with the history that goes with it. He’s our most-veteran [starting] pitcher, outside of [Erik] Bedard.”

The rest of the rotation is unknown, but the Astros did option right-handers Jordan Lyles and John Ely to Triple-A Oklahoma City, meaning Lyles won’t be in the rotation to start the year. Alex White, Brad Peacock, Edgar Gonzalez and Bedard are battling for the final two spots in the rotation, though it’s more likely Gonzalez will be used in long relief.

Lyles had allowed 36 hits and 23 earned runs in 11 2/3 innings this spring.

“When you look at it, Philip Humber has pitched terrific this spring and is an experienced guy,” Porter said. “We brought guys like Humber, White and Bedard in there because we wanted to add more experience to the rotation, but if you look at Jordan Lyles, he’s 22 years old and we believe he’s going to be part of the rotation for many years to come. Even in my conversation with him I said, ‘Roy Halladay was sent to the Minor Leagues.’ … I told him, ‘This is not a demotion, this is a delay. You go down there and take care of your business and you’ll be back here shortly.'”

Astros lineup vs. Mets

Astros lineup for Wednesday’s game against Mets:

2B Jose Altuve

3B Brett Wallace

DH Chris Carter

1B Carlos Pena

C Jason Castro

CF Rick Ankiel

RF J.D. Martinez

LF Trevor Crow

SS Tyler Greene

RHP Alex White

Here’s video of Jose Altuve and Jason Castro talking about their hot starts at the plate:

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