March 2013

Game 23: Lyles struggles, Castro stays hot in loss

What happened: Jordan Lyles gave up 10 hits and six runs, including homers to Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista, as the Blue Jays outslugged the Astros, 10-6, who got homers from outfielder Brandon Barnes and catcher Jason Castro (boxscore).

What we learned: C Jason Castro isn’t putting too much stock into his torrid start this spring. Castro went 2-for-3 with a homer and is hitting .462 this spring with five homers and 11 RBIs.

“It’s really just a bonus,” he said. “Right now, it’s about seeing pitches and getting at-bats, repetition and my timing down and all the stuff for the regular season. I’m happy where I’m at. I feel good and the results are taking care of themselves. If it were going the other way, I’d pretty much say the same thing. Right now, that’s the biggest thing, is getting in the work to open up on March 31.”

Astros manager Bo Porter thought he knew what he was getting in Castro after watching game tape from last year — his first season since missing all of 2011 following knee surgery — but what he saw this spring was a different player.

“I got to Spring Training and saw him in batting practice the first couple of days and said, ‘That looks a lot different,'” he said. “You can tell by the way he’s blocking the ball, the way he’s swinging the bat, he’s healthy and has his legs underneath him. He’s doing a great job.”

What we learned II: 2B Jose Altuve is ready for the start of the season. Altuve continues to be about as steady as anyone in the game, going 3-for-4 with three singles on Tuesday to raise his spring batting average to .356.

“I was talking with Marwin [Gonzalez] about this,” he said. “I feel really good, feel 100 percent right now. I wish we were starting the season tomorrow. Like everyone, I’m really excited about going to the American League and playing hard and winning some games.”

What else: Porter was pleased with LF Chris Carter, who went 2-for-3 and is hitting .267. Carter pulled a fastball down the left-field for a double in the third and hit a 2-2 slider to right field in the fifth for a single. … The Astros were 4-for-7 with runners in scoring position. … Another scoreless inning by RHP Chia-Jen Lo lowered his ERA to 2.35.

What went wrong: Lyles gave up 10 hits and six runs and hit a batter in 3 2/3 innings. Porter said he wants him to pitch down the zone more next time out. … RHP John Ely pitched two innings and surrendered homers to Josh Thole and Ryan Langerhans. … The normally steady Matt Dominguez made an error at 3B.

What they said: “If you look up baseball player in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Jose Altuve. He’s just a baseball player.” — Astros manager Bo Porter on his All-Star second baseman.

What’s next: The Astros return to Osceola County Stadium on Wednesday to face the Mets at 5:05 p.m. CT. RHP Alex White, who’s battling for a spot in the starting rotation, will get the start for Houston. White, acquired from the Rockies in a December trade, has pitched in four games this spring, allowing eight earned runs in 10 1/3 innings.

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

Tweet of the day:

Links of the day: Astros notebook has tons of information, including Bo Porter’s thoughts on the DH, Trevor Crowe’s mindset entering final days of camp and much, much more.

Lyles: ‘I’m going to try to be ready for April’

Astros pitcher Jordan Lyles was roughed up by the Jays on Tuesday afternoon in Dunedin, Fla., allowing 10 runs and six hits – two home runs – in 3 2/3 innings while throwing 65 pitches. It’s been rough going this spring for the 22-year-old, but he remains confident he’ll be where he needs to be when the season starts.

“My stat lines this spring haven’t been good in any way, but at the end of the day you can’t look at that,” he said. “Personally, I would like to be better, but I’m working on things and I’m going to try to be ready for April and not this month. I’m looking forward to the season. This is the best I felt in Spring Training and the numbers aren’t there for me right now. I’m not overly worried about that.”

Lyles, who has allowed 36 hits and 23 earned runs in 11 2/3 innings this spring, gave up a solo homer to Melky Cabrera in the first inning and a two-run homer to Jose Bautista in the fourth. He said he was working on spotting his slider in Tuesday’s outing.

“This is probably the first time I’ve not thrown any cutters,” he said. “I really worked on that today, just throwing sliders and I really like the direction we’re going with that so I can lay off the cutters more. I got some good swings out of guys in that aspect and I like where that’s headed.

“A couple guys made me pay on fastballs today. I’m not too worried about that. They were just balls over the plate and good players making good swings. The 2-0 fastball to Bautista, that’s just a good swing by a really good player.”

This was the first time this spring Lyles was paired with catcher Jason Castro, which is something the big right-hander liked.

“It was nice getting back out on the mound working with Jason again for the first time this spring,” he said. “It was fun to work with him again and going into the season hopefully we can get together a couple of more times and get in sync. But like I said, it was good to get back with him today.”

Castro said he’s not worried about Lyles.

“I thought he had good stuff today,” he said. “I was really impressed with his slider. That’s something I know he’s been working on for a while. He plays with the slider-cutter thing, and he went with the slider today and I really liked how that looked. His change-up’s gotten a lot better and his movement on his fastball is good when we wanted to. I was happy with the way he looked today, and hopefully he can stick with that and keep getting that feel. He’ll be ready when the season starts.”

Humber breezes through simulated game

Astros pitcher Philip Humber, who appears to be a near lock to grab a spot in the starting rotation to begin the year, threw a simulated game at the team’s Minor League complex on Monday morning. He threw 73 pitches over four innings with manager Bo Porter, pitching coach Doug Brocail and bullpen coach Dennis Martinez watching.

“The ball was coming out of my hand good today and my breaking ball was better than it has been,” Humber said. “I felt good about that. It was a good day of work.

“I feel like I’m where I need to be. I can’t ask for things to have gone any better. I feel healthy and I’m excited about the season.”

Game 22: Astros play long ball to back Norris

What happened: Chris Carter hit a pair of two-run homers and drove in five runs, and Bud Norris threw six strong innings to lead the Astros to an 11-2 win over the Blue Jay sat Osceola County Stadium (boxscore).

What we learned: LF Chris Carter has his timing down. Astros manager Bo Porter could tell early in the spring that Carter’s timing wasn’t great and preached it was only a matter of time before he came around.

“Carter has done a lot of extra work with[hitting coaches] John Mallee and Dan Radison, and they’ve done a tremendous job getting things dialed up with him and you’re starting to see the power display,” he said. “We knew when he got his timing down, he has power to all fields and he’s capable of doing what he did today consistently.”

What we learned II: RHP Bud Norris is ready for Opening Day, if the Astros choose to give him the assignment. Norris worked six innings against the Blue Jays and allowed three hits and two runs in six innings.

“The slider got lazy a couple of innings,” he said. “Obviously, the third inning when they scored there were a couple of bad sliders, but once I got it out of my head to go out there and compete and be confident with it, they started coming along. You’re always trying to locate. That’s the No. 1 priority, but attacking and being aggressive is also a priority.”

What else: In addition to the two homers by Carter, Houston also got long balls from C Jason Castro and IF Brandon Laird. Carter, Castro and Laird are tied for the team lead with four homers this spring, and Carter leads with 11 RBIs. … The 32 homers the Astros have hit this spring are three more than they hit in the entire spring schedule a year ago, and there are 14 exhibition games remaining. … LHP Erik Bedard followed Norris with three scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out five batters, in his longest outing of the spring. Bedard had been slowed by a strained gluteal muscle, but he appears healthy now. … The Astros didn’t commit an error.

What went wrong: Well, not much. The Astros were 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position, but when you slug four homers, it doesn’t really matter.

What they said: “I don’t know how many pitches I threw, but to get the pitch count higher than it was at and to get up and down is the big key – how you feel in between innings.” – LHP Erik Bedard on his three-inning outing Sunday.

What’s next: The Astros are off Monday, but RHP Philip Humber will throw in a simulated game in Kissimmee. The team resumes Grapefruit League play Tuesday at 12:05 p.m. CT against the Jays in Dunedin, Fla., with RHP Jordan Lyles on the mound.

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

Tweets of the day:

Links of the day: Astros notebook is chock full of information, including more on the roster cuts that came down Sunday morning and where prospect Carlos Correa will likely begin the 2013 season, and much more.

Video of Jeff Luhnow talking roster moves:

The day in photos

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Astros wore green hats to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

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Matt Dominguez

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Bo Porter

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Doug Brocail watches Alex White in bullpen

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Catchers pick up balls after drills (Jason Castro in middle)

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Domingo Ayala with Carlos Pena

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Jeff Luhnow interviewed by Robert Ford

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Jason Castro flips his bat

Astros cut 10 players from Major League camp

The Astros trimmed their Spring Training roster by 10 players on Sunday morning, optioning outfielders Robbie Grossman, Jimmy Paredes, shortstop Jonathan Villar and pitchers Paul Clemens and Dallas Keuchel to Minor League camp and reassigning outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin, catcher Carlos Perez and pitchers C.J. Fick, Josh Zeid and Sergio Escalona to Minor League camp.

The moves leave the Astros with 39 players in camp two weeks shy of the March 31 season-opener against the Texas Rangers (that includes pitchers Jose Veras and Xavier Cedeno, who are competing in the World Baseball Classic).

“We open up two weeks from today, and even though it’s a long Spring Training, it feels as though it’s gone very quickly,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do here. We’ve got to get down to 25. Pitchers are going longer in games, we’ve got innings to dole out, we want to see our position players go a little deeper and have a few more at-bats as well.

“A lot of these guys we’re sending out today have a bright future in our organization, and they know they’ll be back. They need to go down and get regular work and go to their respective Minor League locations and show us what they can do. We know the 25 we start with are not the 25 we’re going to have all year.

“They’ve done, by in large, a good job and especially when you have a new staff at the big league level, it’s a clean slate for everybody. Everybody gets to know each other, and I think it’s been very good for a lot of these players to really take advantage of clean slate to go out and impress. When the time comes, our staff is not going to hesitate to want them back up here.”

Astros lineup Sunday vs. Blue Jays

Astros lineup fro Sunday’s game against Blue Jays

2B Jose Altuve

DH Rick Ankiel

1B Carlos Pena

LF Chris Carter

CF Justin Maxwell

C Jason Castro

RF J.D. Martinez

3B Matt Dominguez

SS Tyler Greene

—–

RHP Bud Norris

Game 21: Harrell dazzles, Correa makes debut

What happened: Lucas Harrell threw four scoreless, hitless innings and Rene Garcia broke a tie in the eighth with a two-run single to lead the Astros to a 4-2 win over the Nationals on Saturday night at Space Coast Stadium (boxscore).

What we learned: RHP Lucas Harrell appears to be over his groin problems. Harrell, who missed his turn in the rotation a week ago because of a strained groin, threw four hitless innings and walked a pair of batters in his fourth start of the spring.

“Last time I pitched against them I went in a lot, so I was trying to work on going down and away,” Harrell said. “Working with [catcher Carlos] Corporan, we were on the same page all game and I threw a lot of changeups, threw a couple of curveballs, threw some sliders. It wasn’t real good today but it’s something I can address the next few days.”

What we learned II: SS Carlos Correa, the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s Draft, can handle the bright lights. At least in Spring Training anyway. Correa stroked a game-tying RBI single to left field off Drew Storen in the eighth inning on the first pitch he saw in Grapefruit League action and wound up going 1-for-2 with a stolen base.

“My first experience in a big league game, even though it was in Spring Training, it was a lot of fun to be with the players over here and play against the Washington Nationals,” Correa said. “It was a really great experience for me.”

What else: RHP Edgar Gonzalez continues to solidify his role as a long reliever by throwing three scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out two batters. … RHP Hector Ambriz threw a scoreless fifth inning. … OF Trevor Crowe went 3-for-5 with a double. … OF Rick Ankiel launched a towering home run in the fourth inning off Stephen Strasburg and is hitting .429 this spring.

What went wrong: The Astros let a pop up in the infield drop in the sixth inning on a ball that clicked off the glove of 3B Marwin Gonzalez. The error allowed a pair of unearned runs to score with two outs.

What they said: “You have to be appreciative for this stuff. I just got drafted last year and they invited me to play here. All the hard work is playing off and I have to be thankful for the opportunity they gave me to play over here.” — Astros prospect Carlos Correa on joining the big league team for Saturday’s game.

What’s next: RHP Bud Norris, who could start for the Astros on Opening Day, makes his fourth appearance of the spring when the Astros meet the Blue Jays at 12:05 p.m. CT on Sunday in Kissimmee, Fla. Norris (1-0, 7.27) has appeared in three Grapefruit League games, allowing 11 hits and seven earned runs in 8 2/3 innings. LHP Erik Bedard, who’s been limited to two games this spring because of a strained gluteal muscle, will also get on the mound. The game will be carried on CSN Houston with Bill Brown and Steve Sparks calling the action.

Who’s injured: OF Fernando Martinez left Saturday’s game with tightness in his lower back.

Tweet of the day: GM Jeff Luhnow on SS Marwin Gonzalez’s tremendous play behind second base in the second inning:

Links of the day: Astros notebook has more on prospects Carlos Correa, Jonathan Singleton and Domingo Santana joining the Major League club, Dave Clark’s thoughts on getting knocked down by a ball during batting practice, Lucas Harrell talking about his outing and why manager Bo Porter chose to forgo the DH for Saturday’s game.

Harrell looks sharp in fourth outing of spring

Astros starter Lucas Harrell certainly appears to be over his groin problems that forced him to miss his turn in the rotation a week ago.

Harrell, making his fourth start of the spring, threw four scoreless, hitless innings Saturday against the Nationals, allowing just two walks. The right-hander threw 27 of his 48 pitches for strikes, including a five-pitch first inning in which he didn’t throw a ball.

“I definitely felt like I could have gone two or three more [innings],” Harrell said. “I definitely feel like my arm is where it needs to be and my legs are good now so I’m ready to get back out there now on a consistent basis.”

Harrell mixed his pitches quite well and benefitted from a couple of nice defensive plays from shortstop Marwin Gonzalez, who went behind second base to rob Ryan Zimmerman of a hit in the second inning and made a nice play across the bag to finish off a 4-6-3 play an inning later.

“Last time I pitched against them I went in a lot, so I was trying to work on going down and away,” Harrell said. “Working with [catcher Carlos] Corporan, we were on the same page all game, and I threw a lot of changeups, threw a couple of curveballs, threw some sliders. It wasn’t real good today but it’s something I can address the next few days.”

Harrell was forced to hit the deck to get the final out of the fourth inning. Zimmerman’s bat busted above the hands and went flying over the head of Harrell, who hit the ground and was struck in the face by a small piece of the bat.

“A lot of people probably thought when I went down it was my groin, but when the bat went over my head a little piece of it flew up and hit me in the face,” he said. “That’s why I went down. I was trying to get out of the way of the bat.”

Porter on Ely, White

Astros manager Bo Porter talks about John Ely and Alex White:

Game 15: Astros held to one hit in loss to Phils

What happened: SS Tyler Greene‘s double to start the game against Phillies starter Cole Hamels was the only hit the Astros managed en route to losing, 7-1, to the Phillies at Osceola County Stadium (boxscore).

What we learned: RHP Brad Peacock is working on a sinker. Peacock, who threw three scoreless innings, said people have told him all his life he needed to add a two-seamer, and this year he’s going through with it. He says it’s been difficult, but he knows that adding that to his four-seam, sinker, changeup and curveball will be beneficial.

“I’ve always tried it and it just didn’t do anything,” he said. “This year, I talked to some of the coaches and what they do when they throw a sinker and I took that advice. It’s working good. Hopefully I can keep it going.”

What else: RHP Hector Ambriz retired the only batter he faced in his second outing of the spring.

What went wrong: RHP Jarred Cosart scuffled against his former team, allowing three hits and four runs and one walk in 1 2/3 innings while struggling with control. Cosart dusted Phillies hitter Josh Fields with a pitch, nearly emptying the benches. … SS Jonathan Villar made an error at shortstop.

What they said: “Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to good pitching. Guys put some good swings on some balls and hit some balls hard, but the plays were made by the Phillies and some days you have days like this.” — Astros manager Bo Porter after his team was held to one-hit.

What’s next: The Astros are off Monday and will return to action Tuesday when RHP Bud Norris starts against the Miami Marlins at 12:05 p.m. CT at Jupiter, Fla. Norris, a candidate to start on Opening Day, threw four innings in a simulated game on Monday. This will be his first appearances in a Grapefruit League game since March 1.

Who’s injured: RHP Lucas Harrell (right groin strain) is improving and listed as day-to-day. … LHP Erik Bedard (right glute strain) threw in the bullpen on Saturday and should be close to game action. … IF Jake Elmore (left oblique strain) is day-to-day

Tweet of the day:

Links of the day: The Astros notebook has more on Delino DeShields Jr. and George Springer being among the team’s first cuts, as well as reaction to the Mexico-Canada brawl in the World Baseball Classic, Porter talking about how to respect the game and a look at how the Astros came to contract agreements with all 40 players on their roster.

The day in photos:

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Bo Porter poses with kids

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Jordan Lyles works on mechanics with Dennis Martinez

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Telvin Nash

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Vincent Velasquez

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Brian Holmes

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Carlos Correa

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Travis Ballew was nasty

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Carlos Correa

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Carlos Correa

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