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Game 10: Relief pitchers shut down Braves

The facts: Astros starter Collin McHugh gave up five runs in 2 1/3 innings as the Braves held off the Astros, 6-5, on Saturday night at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (boxscore)

Analysis:  Take away McHugh’s performance and this was a good night for the Astros. The rest of the pitching staff combined to hold the Braves to one hit — a solo homer off Tony Sipp — over the final 5 2/3 innings, with James Hoyt (two-thirds of an inning), Luke Gregerson (one inning), Chad Qualls (one inning), Michael Feliz (one inning) and Kevin Chapman (one inning) working efficiently.

“I thought Kevin Chapman was fantastic coming in and taking some things he was working on with [pitching coach Brent Strom] in the bullpen into the game,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Gregerson looked good, Qualls looked really sharp. Tony Sipp gave up the solo homer, but was fine. Michael Feliz was bringing heat tonight. He’s got a good arm. For a young kid who hasn’t got to pitch a ton this spring, it’s good to see him let it loose.”

McHugh also hit a batter, threw a wild pitch, made a throwing error on a pick-off attempt and allowed six hits in his outing. He said he’s still trying to get the feel for his curveball.

“We did a couple of good things, but overall obviously not super pleased with the way it turned out,” McHugh said.  “It’s Spring Training so people are going to say, ‘You’re here to work on things, you’re here to get better or ready for the season to start,’ which is true. Every time I get on the mound, I’m ready to fight and I’m ready to battle. Nobody likes results like this today.”

Said Hinch:”He pitched in a lot of duress tonight, which was a little taxing for him. He had a tough time getting into counts, had a tough time putting hitters away, so he worked through a little bit. As I told him when I took him out of the game, it was a volume day when he got his pitches up past 60 and pitched in duress. That’s all you can take away from this one.”

Offensively, the Astros had 11 hits, with Robbie Grossman (2-for-3) staying hot. Nine other players had one hit, including a triple by Jonathan Villar and homers by Colby Rasmus — his first of the spring — and Minor League Player of the Year Brett Phillips.

Player of the game: RHP Michael Feliz struck out two of the three batters he faced in relief.

Notable: IF Jonathan Villar, who started at third base, left the game after he was hit above the right knee with a pitch, but Hinch said he was fine.

Quotable:

“I’m floating on a cloud right now. It was a great feeling, for sure,” Astros’ Minor League Player of the Year Brett Phillips on his ninth-inning homer Saturday.

“I kind of got singled to death out there, which sometimes is worse because it’s a carousel on the bases,”Collin McHugh on his outing against the Braves

Up next: Asher Wojciechowski, who’s competing for the final spot in the rotation, makes his first start of the Grapefruit League season when the Astros face the Nationals at 12:05 p.m. CT Sunday at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee. Wojciechowski, who missed all of spring camp last year with a strained lat and missed a month later in the season with a strained forearm flexor, is finally healthy. He appeared in 15 games (14 starts) at Oklahoma City and was 4-4 with a 4.74 ERA, including 3-1 with a 3.11 ERA in his final six starts.

Injury report: RHP Mark Appel (mild right forearm strain) will start Monday’s split-squad game in Viera against the Nationals. … RHP Brad Peacock (hip surgery) threw his second live bullpen session Saturday. … RHP Vincent Velasquez (strained right lat) began his throwing program and will begin the day on the DL.

Pictures of the day can be found at my Instagram page: https://instagram.com/brianmctaggartmlb/

Links of the day:

— Story and video: Lowrie looking forward to being part of Astros’ bright future.

Peacock throws a second round of live batting practice.

Hinch effusive for his praise of Deduno.

Former Astros GM Al Rosen passes away.

Called over from Minor League camp, Brett Phillips seizes moment.

Tweet of the day

Game 10: Springer goes deep twice in tie with Nats

The facts: The Astros rallied for two runs in the ninth inning to tie the Nationals, 6-6, on Friday afternoon at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla. (boxscore).

Analysis: The Astros got the chance to practice their base running aplenty Friday by pounding out 14 hits, drawing three walks and watching the Nationals commit three errors. Manager A.J. Hinch was pleased with the aggressiveness on the bases. A good example came in the second when Jed Lowrie walked and went from first to third on a single by Matt Dominguez. Lowrie wound up caught in a rundown between third and home on a Marwin Gonzalez fielder’s choice, but scored when the Nats dropped two throws.

Right fielder George Springer went 2-for-3 with his first two homers of the spring, and third baseman Luis Valbuena continued his strong showing at the plate by doing 2-for-3 with a walk. He’s batting .529 this spring.

Astros starter Scott Feldman retired eight of the first nine batters he faced and was one strike away from pitching a 1-2-3 third inning when he gave up a two-out single to Tony Gwynn Jr. That was the start of an inning where four consecutive batters reached with two outs, with Washington scoring three times on Feldman, who threw 51

“I think that’s just part of getting stretched out here in spring,” Feldman said. “My arm feels pretty good. Hopefully, it’s feeling this good when the season starts.”

Hinch said he was glad to see Feldman and Roberto Hernandez, who followed Feldman and allowed five hits and two runs in three inning, be able to work with some runners on base.

“These guys, it’s good for them to pitch under a little duress and get their adrenaline going and get them more towards season-type outings,” he said.

Darin Downs and Jake Buchanan each pitched one scoreless innings, and Josh Fields was tagged for a solo homer in his one inning of work.

Player of the game: Who else? George Springer, 2-for-3 with two homers.

Notable: Eight of the nine outs recorded by Feldman came on ground outs.

Quotable:

“He can hit the ball out of any ballpark in any location, so he doesn’t have to try to generate or over swing,”— manager A.J. Hinch on George Springer’s two homers.

“I’m going to be the same guy. If he wants me to hit one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, that’s fine,”Springer on his spot in lineup.

Up next: Right-hander Collin McHugh makes his third start of the spring after two scoreless outings when the Astros travel to Lake Buena Vista, Fla., to meet the Braves at 5:05 p.m. CT on Saturday. McHugh led all Major League rookies with a 2.73 ERA lsat year and was named AL Rookie of the Month to cap a breakout season. Lefties Tony Sipp and Kevin Chapman and right-hander Chad Qualls are among those also scheduled to pitch.

Injury report: RHP Mark Appel (mild right forearm strain) will start Monday’s split-squad game in Viera against the Natioanls. … OF Preston Tucker (bruised right hand) hit on the field Friday and could return to game action on Saturday. … RHP Brad Peacock (hip surgery) will throw his second live bullpen session Saturday. … RHP Vincent Velasquez (strained right lat) began his throwing program and will begin the day on the DL.

Pictures of the day can be found at my Instagram page: https://instagram.com/brianmctaggartmlb/

Links of the day:

Carter aiming to carry momentum into season.

MLB Pipeline checks in from Astros camp.

Astros have some options when it comes to lefties.

Bidding for rotation spot, Wojciechowski to start Sunday.

Story and video: Santana, Cruz, Flores sent out of camp.

Tweet of the day

Game 7: Altuve, Marisnick lead charge on offense

The facts: Gregorio Petit’s single to right field in the bottom of the 10th inning scored Joe Sclafani from third base with the winning run and lifted the Astros to a 4-3 victory over Brad Ausmus’ Tigers at Osceola County Stadium (boxscore).

Analysis: Jose Altuve is probably ready for the season. He went 3-for-3 on Thursday, including a double and an RBI single, and he stole a base. He and Jake Marisnick (2-for-2) accounted for half of the Astros’ 10 hits. Marisnick and Altuve are both hitting .417 after one week of spring games.

On the mound, Dan Straily turned up the intensity a notch and worked three innings, allowing three hits and one run.

“We’ve challenged him to throw strike one and pitch ahead,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He struggled with that in the third inning, but for the most part he’s mixing his pitches. When he’s right, he’s getting ahead of hitters and expanding with his secondary pitches. I know he felt better today. He told me that. He was a little more synched up with his delivery and his pitches. That’s progress.”

Pat Neshek, who two days ago thought he might have to wear a protective boot on his right foot, threw a scoreless inning, and Joe Thatcher’s strong spring continued when he retired all four batters he faced, even a few lefties, as Hinch tried to use him in a spot that simulated a regular season situation for the lefty.

Will Harris also threw a scoreless inning to keep his scorecard clean, but Alex White allowed three hits and two runs and walked two batters in 1 2/3 innings.

Player of the game: 2B Jose Altuve (3-for-3, double, RBI).

Notable: Hinch said RHP Asher Wojciechowski will start Sunday’s game against the Nationals. “He’s earned a longer look,” he said. It’s Brett Oberholtzer’s day to pitch, and he’ll work in a Minor League game.

Quotable:

“I can sort of tear up like a proud parent when we work on it for 10 straight days and we get one in the game,” — manager A.J. Hinch on RHP Alex White picking off a runner at second base.

“When I first got called up in 2010, Brandon Lyon called me over and asked where I went to school and I told him [Stanford], and he said, ‘Alright, you’re our new player rep.’ I didn’t even know what that meant. I had to find out later what he was even talking about. I welcomed it with open arms,” — catcher Jason Castro on his role as team representative to the MLBPA.

Up next: Right-hander Scott Feldman, who started on Opening Day for the Astros last year, will make his second start of the spring when the Astros travel to Viera, Fla., to face the Nationals at Space Coast Stadium at 12:05 p.m. CT Friday. Feldman will be followed by Roberto Hernandez, a candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation who’s scheduled to throw three innings. Luke Gregerson, Josh Fields and Jake Buchanan are also scheduled to throw.

Injury report: RHP Mark Appel (mild right forearm strain) could return to the mound by the weekend. … OF Preston Tucker (bruised right hand) will take batting practice on the field Friday and could return to action Saturday. … RHP Brad Peacock (hip surgery) has progressed to throwing live bullpens. … RHP Vincent Velasquez (strained right lat) began his throwing program and will begin the day on the DL.

Pictures of the day can be found at my Instagram page: https://instagram.com/brianmctaggartmlb/

Links of the day:

Hinch envisions Valbuena getting plenty of playing time.

Castro had a front-row seat to Will Ferrell’s previous baseball foray.

Straily incorporates tweaked curveball into game plan.

Velasquez starts throwing program.

MLBPA chief Tony Clark addresses Astros.

Game 6: Stassi’s blast overcomes Cardinals

The facts: Astros catcher Max Stassi blasted a two-run homer off Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal in the seventh inning that snapped a tie and sent the Astros to a 7-6 win on Tuesday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium (boxscore).

Analysis: The Astros’ bats showed some life with 10 hits, including five extra-base hits (four doubles). Luis Valbuena, in the lineup at DH, went 2-for-3 with an RBI double, and Jed Lowrie doubled in each of his first two at-bats. Colby Rasmus had a two-run double in the fourth inning off a left-handed pitcher, which manager A.J. Hinch thought was encouraging.

On the mound, Brett Oberholtzer sailed through two innings before running into some traffic in the third and giving up a pair of runs, but everyone was happy with his day.

“I had to work a little bit, but for the most part I was pretty efficient,” Oberholtzer said. “I felt better today than I did my first start, which is expected of myself. I think the biggest thing I got out of today’s outing is make a better pitch 0-2, 1-2 when I’m ahead put guys away. I threw strikes which is something you always want to do in Spring Training. But like I said, I think I have to do a better job next outing finishing guys off, or at least throwing some balls there to change the thought process for them.”

HInch was asked what Oberholtzer needed to do to lock down the fourth spot in the rotation.

“I think he just needs to continue to pitch,” he said. “There were some good things that happened today, especially early. He ran into a little bit of trouble and gave up some hits. He needs to focus on continuing to throw strike one, work with a good tempo. I trust Obie with the ball every five days. That’s probably all he needs to know at this point.”

Chad Qualls worked a scoreless innings, and Josh Fields and Luke Gregerson each gave up one run, with Fields surrendering a homer to Jacob Wilson. Sam Deduno got the win in relief by allowing three hits and one run while striking out three in three innings.

“I thought Deduno continued to pitch well,” Hinch said. “He had a lot of movement on his pitches, really breezed through his outings. We had a couple of key hits. It’s good to see Lowrie have a couple of key hits. Altuve finished with a positive note with his hit. Colby Rasmus with runners in scoring position against a lefty, that’s a good sign.”

Player of the game: C Max Stassi.

“It’s something I got in the tank,” he said of his power. “I’ve always kind of had it like that, you know? I don’t really try to elevate and hit the ball in the air, that direction. It’s something that it just comes out and, you know, trying to hit the ball hard. That’s it.”

Notable: Jon Singleton has struck out only three times in 14 at-bats so far this spring.

Quotable:

“That’s big-boy territory. It’s hard to rag a guy when he goes dead-center off a guy with a pretty good resume. That’s a big hit,” — manager A.J. Hinch on catcher Max Stassi’s homer off Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal.

Up next: The Astros aren’t scheduled to play in Grapefruit League action on Wednesday, but they have scheduled a “B” game against the Braves for 9 a.m. CT at Osceola County Stadium. Dallas Keuchel will pitch three innings for the Astros. Jonathan Villar, an infielder, is also scheduled to get a look in the outfield during the game. Houston returns to Grapefruit League play Thursday against the Tigers when Dan Straily takes the mound in Kissimmee..

Injury report: RHP Mark Appel (mild right forearm strain) says he’s ready to pitch after being scratched from his outing Monday, but the Astros want him to pitch in the bullpen first. … OF Preston Tucker (bruised right hand) is day to day after getting hit by a pitch and could return to action Thursday. … RHP Brad Peacock (hip surgery) will throw a live bullpen session on Wednesday. … RHP Vincent Velasquez (strained right lat) still isn’t able to throw off the mound.

Pictures of the day can be found at my Instagram page: https://instagram.com/brianmctaggartmlb/

Links of the day:

Bagwell lending a hand at Astros camp.

Neshek sidelined with soreness in right foot.

Appel ready to go after bout with tight forearm.

Astros looking to stay active on the base paths.

Tweet of the day

Neshek could be sidelined with foot injury

Astros relief pitcher Pat Neshek is expected to be sidelined for a few days with soreness on the outside of his right foot, he said Tuesday. The extent of the injury isn’t known, but Neshek underwent x-rays and Monday and an MRI on Tuesday, and the results were pending.

Neshek, who signed a two-year, $12.5-million contract with an option, said he felt “something in there” in the first week of spring camp and attributed it to wearing longer spikes or even tying his shoes too tightly. What is known, though, is that surgery won’t be necessary.

“It might have been the start of a small cracking maybe, which would make you back up the running or be in a boot for 10 days,” he said. “It’s real minor, but let’s cut it right now. They said I caught it at a great point, where if you catch now it won’t get worse. That’s a good  thing.”

Neshek said he was relieved.

“When I went in yesterday I asked them and they said possibly it could be surgery [injury] and it freaked me out, but that’s not the case,” he said. “It’s relatively minor and will take a few days to heal me up.”

Neshek said it could be the start of a stress fracture, which certainly wouldn’t be a big deal.

“I’m not really too worried,” he said. “I just want to make sure my body feels great. It’s kind of nagging, and that’s the reason I said something and I’m glad I did and hopefully that’s the right diagnosis and we can get it all fixed up here in a week.”

Neshek, 34, is coming off an All-Star season with the Cardinals in which he went 7-2 with a 1.87 ERA in 71 games. He struck out 68 batters and walked only nine in 67 1/3 innings, while saving six games.

Neshek, who has an explosive sidearm delivery, began his career with the Twins and underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the 2009 season. He appeared in 25 games for San Diego in 2011, and a combined 59 games for the A’s in 2012-13.

Game 5: Pitching rules the day

The facts: The Astros scratched out a run in the sixth inning to back their strong pitching and beat the Blue Jays, 1-0, on Monday afternoon in Dunedin, Fla. (boxscore).

Analysis: Four Astros pitchers combined to shut out the Jays, who had just five hits. Collin McHugh threw three innings and has yet to allow a run in two starts (five innings), and Roberto Hernandez made his Grapefruit League debut for the Astros and tossed two scoreless innings with two walks.

McHugh, who says he usually struggles in the spring, has been sharp.

“My arm feels great,”  he said. “I felt the ball was coming out. There’s a radar gun on the scoreboard so I peeked every once and while – I don’t know how accurate it was – but to see if it felt good coming out and to see what that actually translated into. I’ll go back and look tomorrow and watch a little video and see how it came out.”

Asher Wojciechowski came on strong by striking out three batters and allowing two hits in three innings, and Will Harris worked the ninth for the save.

“Great day of pitching today,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Everybody that took the ball, threw strikes and got out of a couple of jams, used all their pitches. I thought Wojo had a really good showing. He had a little extra velocity, had all of his pitches working and really showed well. It was good to see Roberto on the mound for the first time.”

At the plate, Jon Singleton went 2-for-3 with a double to raise his spring average to .500 (5-for-10).

Players of the game: RHP Asher Wojciechowski.

Notable: Mark Appel, the former No. 1 overall pick, didn’t pitch because he reported a mild strain of his right forearm.

Quotable:

“Right out of Santo Domingo to two bullpens to live action. There’s a reason he’s got quite a bit of service time. He knows how to get himself ready,” — manager A.J. Hinch on spring debut of RHP Roberto Hernandez, who showed up at camp less than a week ago following visa issues.

Up next: Left-hander Brett Oberholtzer makes his second start of the spring when the Astros return home to face the Cardinals at 12:05 p.m. CT Tuesday at Osceola County Stadium. Oberholtzer, the leading candidate to win the fourth spot in the rotation, gave up four hits and one unearned run in two innings in his first out of the Grapefruit League on Friday.

Injury report: RHP Mark Appel (mild right forearm strain) was scratched from his outing on Monday. … OF Preston Tucker (bruised right hand) is day to day after getting hit by a pitch. … RHP Brad Peacock (hip surgery) is throwing routinely in the bullpen with the target of facing live hitters in the March 10-12 window. … RHP Vincent Velasquez (strained right lat) still isn’t able to throw off the mound.

Pictures of the day can be found at my Instagram page: https://instagram.com/brianmctaggartmlb/

Links of the day:

Richard Justice column: Rigorous prep has Altuve elite.

Evan Gattis still trying to get comfortable in left field.

Story and video: Appel scratched with right forearm tightness.

Defensive wiz Marisnick has a chance to win job in center

Grossman brings aggressive approach to roster battle.

Tweet of the day

Appel scratched with mild forearm tightness

Astros right-hander and former No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel, originally scheduled to pitch in relief in Monday’s game against the Blue Jays, said he wasn’t concerned after he was scratched because of mild tightness in his right forearm.

“I think people get concerned when they hear that, but for pitchers that’s basically our whole season,” he said. “We always have something nagging us. It would have been my second Spring Training appearance. It’s one of those things where, yes, it is Spring Training and it’s early, and if this were in the beginning of the season, middle of the season, I would have pitched just fine and it would have been nothing to write about, no story, anything like that. Just would have been a regular day at the ballpark.

“That’s really what it is. I’m not worried about anything, not concerned about anything. It is just the trainer’s call on just wanting to take it a little bit easy.”

Appel worked two innings and allowed three hits and one run while striking out two batters Thursday against the Phillies in his first outing of the spring. It was his first game action since last fall, when he pitched wall for the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League for Appel.

Last year, Appel missed nearly all of Spring Training after undergoing an appendectomy prior to the start of camp. He’s likely to start this season in Double-A after he finished last season strong there for Corpus Christi.

The No. 1 pick in the 2013 Draft, Appel made a combined 19 starts last year between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City. He began the year at Lancaster, where he struggled, before being sent to Corpus Christi after a stint at extended Spring Training.

Game 4: Hitless in Kissimmee

The facts: Nine Braves pitchers held the split-squad Astros without a hit for 10 innings in a 2-2 tie on Sunday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium (boxscore).

Meanwhile, in Lakeland, Fla., the other split-squad team racked 20 hits in a 14-9 win over the Tigers (boxscore), but this space will focus on the game in Kissimmee.

Analysis: The Astros went hitless 29 at-bats against the Braves, but did draw nine walks and had the bases loaded at one point, so they had opportunities. Jose Altuve played his longest game of the season and went 0-for-3, as did Jason Castro. Other regulars, Colby Rasmus, Jed Lowrie and Chris Carter, went 0-for-2.

Scott Feldman threw two strong innings in his first game of the season. Michael Feliz and James Hoyt, two players who likely won’t make the club, each looked sharp in two scoreless innings. Meanwhile, newcomer Pat Neshek made his debut with the Astros and pitched out of a bases-loaded jam.

“They put me to work there,” Neshek said. “You had five months off and that’s my first appearance, and you’re hoping just to throw the ball over the plate. … I was very pleased. I felt awesome out there. These early ones, you just want to hope your control is there and you can hit some of your shots and then grow from that. I was more than thrilled with my outing.”

Players of the game: Michael Feliz and James Hoyt each threw two scoreless innings.

Notable: Every Astros pitcher walked at least one batter with the exception of James Hoyt.

Quotable:

“I don’t think anybody would have wanted to wait three minutes to replay that,” — Astros RHP Pat Neshek on allowing an infield hit on a close play.

“I think the thing that matters to me is starting a game in the postseason. I think that would be awesome, but as far as Opening Day, I think we’ve got a bunch of guys that had good years last year and that’s really just in the hands of A.J. and the stuff,”— Astros RHP Scott Feldman when asked about starting on Opening Day again.

Up next: Roberto Hernandez, who reported to camp only late last week after visa issues delayed travel from his native Dominican Republic, will make his first appearance for the club when he comes on in relief in Monday’s 12:05 p.m. CT game against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla. Hernandez is vying for a spot in the Astros’ rotation. Collin McHugh wills start the game and is scheduled to pitch three innings.

Injury report: OF Preston Tucker (bruised right hand) is day to day after getting hit by a pitch. … RHP Brad Peacock (hip surgery) is throwing routinely in the bullpen with the target of facing live hitters in the March 10-12 window. … RHP Vincent Velasquez (strained right lat) still isn’t able to throw off the mound.

Pictures of the day can be found at my Instagram page: https://instagram.com/brianmctaggartmlb/

Links of the day:

Feldman working on being quicker to the plate, mixing in a changeup.

Astros pick for utility player going down to the wire.

Tucker day to day with hand soreness.

On-base machine Fontana focused on health.

Game 3: Astros early performances impressive

The facts: The Yankees exploded for eight runs in the final two innings, including a six-run ninth, to beat the Astros, 9-4, on Saturday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium (boxscore).

Analysis: The six runs the Yankees scored in the ninth inning came against two pitchers who haven’t even pitched at Triple-A yet — Jordan Jankowski and Kent Emanuel, who came over from Minor League camp. In other words, the outburst had little to do with the way manager A.J. Hinch viewed the day.

The Astros trotted out a starting lineup with most of their regulars, including shortstop Jed Lowrie, second baseman Jose Altuve and catcher Hank Conger for the first time, and bashed out six hits and three runs in the first inning, including a two-run double by Chris Carter. Jason Castro, starting at designated hitter, wound up having two hits — the only player to have multiple hits on a day the Astros had 12 hits.

“That was a really good first inning,” Hinch said. “We had seven out of nine quality plate appearances put together a good run there. That was good see. Those guys came out and gave up good at-bats.”

The pitching early in the game was terrific. Dallas Keuchel threw scoreless innings, allowing one hit and one walks, and Luke Gregerson, Chad Qualls and Josh Fields were flawless in their first mound appearances of the spring. In fact, Fields struck out all three batters he faced. Tony Sipp gave up two hits, including a homer in the sixth.

“I thought everybody, especially early in the game, threw really well,” Hinch said. “Dallas was sharp. Gregerson looked fine. Tony had a little longer inning, but his stuff looked fine. He got nibbled a little bit. Fields came out blazing. It’s a good start to that game.”

As for the struggles Jankowski and Emanuel? It’s all part of the learning experience.

“They’re learning lessons,” Hinch said. “Going into the game, we weren’t planning on using Emanuel, but the way the game unfolded we didn’t want to run Jankowski out there too long. [There were] a couple of screwy plays that didn’t go our way, and sometimes these games at the end in spring can get a little crazy. You tell them to keep their head up. Jankowski will get the ball here a couple of more days and we’ll probably see Emanuel back over here in a week or two. Days like that happen. You wish we could have closed it out to reward the early start to the game, but they put up a big number at the end.”

Player of the game: RHP Josh Fields (three strikeouts in one scoreless inning).

Notable: Astros OF prospect Preston Tucker left the game after being hit by a pitch on the hand. X-rays were negative, and he’s listed as day to day with a contusion.

Quotable:

“I blacked out and I ended up on third,” — Astros SS Jed Lowrie on his triple.

“I didn’t really have the best focus today and that come with time, so I think I hearing some of the popcorn vendors sell some popcorn and stuff like that,” — Astros LHP Dallas Keuchel on his outing.

Up next: The Astros will have a split-squad Sunday, with one game at home at Osceola County Stadium against the Braves and another against the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla. Astros manager A.J. Hinch said he’ll travel to Lakeland to watch right-hander Dan Straily pitch in his Houston debut, and bench coach Trey Hillman will stay back in Kissimmee and watch Scott Feldman pitch.

Injury report: RHP Brad Peacock (hip surgery) is throwing routinely in the bullpen with the target of facing live hitters in the March 10-12 window. … RHP Vincent Velasquez (strained right lat) still isn’t able to throw off the mound.

Pictures of the day can be found at my Instagram page: https://instagram.com/brianmctaggartmlb/

Links of the day:

Astros like Conger’s “framing” abilities.

Hinch has several lead-off options.

Lowrie, Altuve get back in rhythm quickly.

Hinch making most of his second managerial opportunity.

Tweet of the day:

Game 2: Young players get in the action

The facts: The Cardinals scored four runs in the sixth inning off Alex White to beat the Astros, 5-2, on Friday afternoon at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. (boxscore)

Analysis: With the exception of White, who gave up four runs and three hits and walked a pair, the Astros got good pitching across the board. Starter Brett Oberholtzer gave up four hits but no earned runs in two innings, and Sam Deduno looked sharp, allowing one hit and striking out two batters in two scoreless innings. Will Harris, James Hoyt and Kevin Chapman also threw in the game, with Chapman sending down all three batters he faced.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch liked the at-bats of some of the younger players like Andrew Aplin and Carlos Correa, who had an RBI single in the seventh inning. Seven different players had at least one hit for the Astros.

“I like we came back and put a few runs together late in the game, you know?” Hinch said. “Getting some of these guys in the game for the first time, laying eyes on these guys, getting back in the game after a tough inning was good. We made a couple of really, really good plays on defense, had a few miscues. All in all a step forward in getting these guys back on their feet.”

Player of the game: CF Jake Marisnick. He drew a walk in his first at-bat and made a great diving catch in the first inning.

“He’s a terrific center fielder,” Hinch said. “As I told him after he came out of the game, when he makes plays like that to help us stay close or help us win games or extend leads, good defensive center fielders are difference-makers. He had a good at-bat leading off the game. He had a positive day.”

Noteable: Evan Gattis made his spring debut and had a double.

Quotable: “When they do make mistake, it’s good feedback for them,” — Astros manager A.J. Hinch on his team’s three errors on Friday.

Up next: All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve, the 2015 American League batting champion, will make his Grapefruit League debut when the Astros face the Yankees at 12:05 p.m. CT on Saturday at Osceola County Stadium. Altuve, who led the Majors last year with a .341 batting average and a team-record 225 hits, will be joined in the lineup by newcomer Jed Lowrie, who’s making his first appearance in an Astros lineup since 2012. He play the previous two seasons in Oakland. Jason Castro will also make his spring debut behind the plate, catching left-hander Dallas Keuchel, a Gold Glove winner last year. Keuchel led the club in wins (12), innings (200) complete games (five) and quality starts (21) last year.

Injury report: RHP Brad Peacock (hip surgery) is throwing routinely in the bullpen with the target of facing live hitters in the March 10-12 window. … C Hank Conger (sore left wrist) will get his first game action Saturday. … RHP Vincent Velasquez (strained right lat) still isn’t able to throw off the mound.

Pitchers of the day can be found at my Instagram page: https://instagram.com/brianmctaggartmlb/

Links of the day:

Preston Tucker’s brother scouted by Astros.

Astros facing challenges scouting in Venezuela.

Hinch, Matheny share catcher, manager bond.

Tweet of the day:

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