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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:

Game 1: Astros go long against the Phillies

The fact: The Astros got solo homers from Luis Valbuena, Robbie Grossman and Marwin Gonzalez, and Colin McHugh, Mark Appel and Asher Wojciechowski each threw two innings to lead the Astros to a 6-3 win over the Phillies on Thursday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium (boxscore).

Analysis: Manager A.J. Hinch said he’s going to ease most of his starters into spring action, so that meant Grossman and Gonzalez — players competing for backup spots — started and took advantage, with Grossman going 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Appel and Wojciechowski, two prospects who missed all of last spring with injuries, each made their Grapefruit League debuts and pitched well. Wojciechowski gave up one hit in two scoreless innings.

Player of the game: Grossman (2-for-3, one run, two RBIs).

Noteable: The Astros played their first game with the between-innings pace-of-game clock in the outfield. Manager A.J. Hinch went on the field a couple of times to talk to the umpires about the clock, which is reset at 2:25 after the end of each inning with the goal of starting the next inning before time expires.

“It probably is new to look at more than it affects the pace of play. … For the most part, it became pretty common for 25-30 seconds left, catcher throws down and they throw the ball around,” Hinch said.

Quotable: “I thought overall we played a pretty good game, you know? Getting guys up and running, first game action, is always different. These guys haven’t played live in a long time, so I thought we put together a few good at-bats, I thought we handled the ball pretty well and we got the outs when we needed them,” — Astros manager A.J. Hinch.

Up next: Left-hander Brett Oberholtzer, who’s a favorite for the No. 4 spot in the pitching rotation, gets on the mound for the first time this spring when the Astros travel to Jupiter, Fla., to face the Cardinals at 12:05 p.m. CT Friday. Most of the Astros veteran pitchers won’t make the long trip down the Florida Turnpike.

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..

Links of the day:

Lance Berkman comes to the aid of pitcher Luke Gregerson.

Hall of Famer Ryan optimistic about the Astros’ young talent.

Conger set to start Saturday after wrist discomfort slows him down.

Veteran Hernandez reports to Astros camp.

Tweets of the day:

 

 

Hernandez arrives at Astros camp

Despite feeling under the weather, veteran right-hander Roberto Hernandez reported to Astros camp on Thursday morning and threw in the bullpen. Hernandez, whose arrival was two weeks late because of visa issues, flew from his native Dominican Republic on Wednesday night.

Hernandez, who signed a Minor League deal on Feb. 12, said he’ll throw in the bullpen again Saturday and should be ready to be inserted into Grapefruit League games. He worked out in the Dominican while he awaited his paperwork to arrive.

“We’ve got to get him off the bullpen mound and then gauge,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s prepared. He’s been working out at the main stadium in Santo Domingo. When he tells me he’s ready, he’ll be inserted. I’m just glad he’s here. Let’s get through one day first and then we’ll plan it out.”

Hernandez, 34, went 8-11 with a 4.10 ERA in 32 games (29 starts) combined with the Phillies and Dodgers last season. The veteran will compete for a spot in the rotation with Brad Peacock, Dan Straily, Alex White, Asher Wojciechowski, Sam Deduno and Jake Buchanan.

“This is the first time it’s happened to me to compete for a spot, but I’m ready,” Hernandez said. “I’m not trying to do too much, but I’m ready.”

Hernandez, known as Fausto Carmona when he won 19 games for the Indians in 2007, was arrested in January 2012 outside the U.S. consulate for using a false identity and could not return to the United States until he obtained a visa. Houston general manager Luhnow said that situation wasn’t an issue in his late arrival this year.

Day 12: Quick workout in advance of game action

The Astros were on the field for less than two hours Wednesday as manager A.J. Hinch put the team through a quick workout prior to the start of Grapefruit League action on Thursday against the Phillies.

“It was good,” Hinch said. “We did a quick shift drill and then jumped right into BP. We’ve been leaning on these guys pretty hard, so the volume of exercise need to go down a little bit. Give them a long afternoon off and guys can do whatever they need to do. We threw a lot and ran a lot yesterday. It was a good pre-workout to our first game.”

The team will continue to work out in the mornings throughout the spring on game days. On days when the Astros are playing road games in Lakeland (Tigers), Viera (Nationals) and Lake Buena Vista, the Astros will work out at Osceola County Stadium in the morning before traveling for the games.

Quote of the day

“I think we’ve practiced enough. It’s time for us to see where we’re at in games and get a little bit of gauge against competition in game speed,”– A.J. Hinch on the start of Grapefruit League play.

Injury report: RHP Brad Peacock (hip surgery) threw in the bullpen again Tuesday as he progresses towards a live bullpen session. … RHP Vincent Velasquez (strained right lat) still isn’t able to throw off the mound.

The day in photos can be found on my new Instagram page: https://instagram.com/brianmctaggartmlb/

Links:

Dominguez embraces chance to learn first base.

Hernandez obtains visa, will report to camp Friday.

Berkman to be inducted into College Baseball Hall of Fame.

Hinch plans to ease Astros veterans into game action.

Tweet of the day

 

Hernandez on way to Astros camp

Right-hander Roberto Hernandez, who has yet to report to camp, has received his visa and was scheduled to travel to Florida from his native Dominican Republic on Wednesday night and take a physical at Osceola County Stadium on Thursday.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Hernandez, who signed a Minor League deal Feb. 12, has been throwing at the Astros complex in the Dominican Republic, but acknowledged he’s behind after missing nearly two weeks of camp. Hernandez is competing for a spot in the rotation.

“You could argue this is the perfect way to do it, to show up on the first day of games,” Luhnow joked.

Hernandez, 34, went 8-11 with a 4.10 ERA in 32 games (29 starts) combined with the Phillies and Dodgers last season. The vetrean will compete for a spot in the rotation with Brad Peacock, Dan Straily, Alex White, Asher Wojciechowski, Sam Deduno and Jake Buchanan.

Hernandez, known as Fausto Carmona when he won 19 games for the Indians in 2007, was arrested in January 2012 outside the U.S. consulate for using a false identity and could not return to the United States until he obtained a visa. Luhnow said that situation wasn’t an issue.

Day 11: Almost time for game action

After another day of team fundamentals and batting practice under the Florida sun, Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Tuesday afternoon he’s ready for games. The Astros fire up Grapefruit League action Thursday when they face the Phillies at 12:05 p.m. at Osceola County Stadium, but they’ll work out Wednesday morning in their final short day of the spring.

“We need to get some game action, we need to pick up the tempo, obviously,” he said. “Doesn’t mean things are always going to be pretty, but game speed and game competition are clearly what’s needed. We’ve prepared and now we’ve got to go execute.”

The Astros worked on base running and did a sliding exercise on Tuesday as Hinch wants to make sure the players have practiced everything prior to getting into games so they can react appropriately.

“We’ve incorporated the base running, we’ve practiced our shifting, that type of stuff,” he said. “You try to hit everything before games start as a refresher for these guys.”

Quote of the day

“If they’re safe, I love it,”– A.J. Hinch on head-first slides.

Injury report: RHP Brad Peacock (hip surgery) threw in the bullpen again Tuesday as he progresses towards a live bullpen session. … RHP Vincent Velasquez (strained right lat) still isn’t able to throw off the mound.

The day in photos can be found on my new Instagram page: https://instagram.com/brianmctaggartmlb/

Links:

Hinch lining up a seven-man bullpen.

Tweet of the day

 

 

Anatomy of Pat Neshek delivery

Anatomy of Pat Neshek delivery:

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