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Let the games begin, Astros

The Astros will kick off their Grapefruit League campaign at 12 p.m. CT Monday with a game against the Atlanta Braves at Disney World. It’s the first of 37 games for Houston this spring – including six split-squad games – in preparation for the April 1 season opener at Philadelphia.

“You can go through as much drills as you want, but until you’re really putting another team across the field, you’re never really [sure what you’re seeing],” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “We can go through these fundamentals, but they know where we’re going to hit the fungo or know what’s happening. Now the evaluating process ramps up a little bit.”

Here is the Astros’ starting lineup for the game:
CF Michael Bourn
1B Brett Wallace
RF Hunter Pence
LF Carlos Lee
DH Jason Michaels
3B Chris Johnson
C Jason Castro
2B Matt Downs
SS Tommy Manzella

LHP Wandy Rodriguez will start on the mound. Also scheduled to pitch are Henry Villar, Enerio Del Rosario, Fernando Rodriguez, Lance Pendleton, Sergio Escalona and Wesley Wright.

On Sunday, the Astros played an intrasquad game with Koby Clemens going 3-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs to lead Dave Clark’s team to a 5-1 win over Bobby Meacham’s team. J.B. Shuck went 3-for-3 with a triple for Meacham’s squad.

Here are the stats from the game in which each pitcher threw an inning — Clarkie’s Crushers: RHP Jordan Lyles (K); RHP Jose Valdez (H, K); LHP Patrick Urckfitz (H,1R/0ER); RHP Nelson Figueroa (H); RHP Arcenio Leon (H, 2BB); RHP Ross Wolf; OF Brian Bogusevic (2×3, R); OF T.J. Steele (0x4, RBI); IF Anderson Hernandez (1×2); IF Tommy Manzella (1×3, R); C Carlos Corporan (2×3, RBI, R); OF J.D. Martinez (1×2, BB, R); IF Koby Clemens (3×3, HR, 2RBI, R); IF Jose Carlos Thompson (0x1, 2BB); IF Jay Austin (3×3); Meach’s Mashers: LHP Fernando Abad (2H, K); RHP Sergio De Leon (2H, 2R/2ER, BB); RHP David Carpenter (3H, 3R/3ER, BB, K); RHP Casey Fien (H); LHP Douglas Arguello (2H, K); RHP Cesar Carrillo (H, BB, K); C J.R. Towles (0x3); IF Brian Dopirak (0x3); IF Jimmy Paredes (0x2, BB); OF J.B. Shuck (3×3, 3B); OF Drew Locke (0x3, R); C Brian Esposito (0x2, RBI); IF Jiovanni Mier (0x1, BB); OF Jon Gaston (0x3); IF Oswaldo Navarro (0x2).

Defensively, Anderson Hernandez made a terrific diving stop behind third and was able to throw out catcher Brian Esposito, and Tommy Manzella had a nice game at third base. Also, shortstop Jiovanni Mier was able to complete a double play after second baseman Jimmy Paredes fumbled a ground ball. Carlos Corporan threw out a runner at second base trying to steal.

Here is the day in pictures:

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Above: Outfielder Brian Bogusevic warms up in the outfield.

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Above: The Astros practiced relays and cut-offs on Sunday morning, using players from Minor League mini camp as base runners. Third baseman Chris Johnson is taking a throw as prospect Telvin Nash runs the bases.

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Above: Left-hander Gustavo Chacin gets his work done in the bullpen.

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Above: Manager Brad Mills takes notes during Sunday’s intrasquad game.

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Above: Jordan Lyles throws a pitch in the intrasquad game. He threw a scoreless inning.

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Above: Outfielder J.D. Martinez stands in the batter’s box.

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Above: Former first-round pick Jiovanni Mier swings at a pitch.

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Above: J.B. Shuck gets ready to rip one of his three hits in Sunday’s intrasquad game.

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Above: Cesar Carrillo, a former first-round pick of Padres, prepares to fire a pitch Sunday.

Lineup set for spring opener

Astros manager Brad Mills has set his lineup for the Grapefruit League opener Monday against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. As is the case with most road games in Spring Training, several players will be staying behind to get their work in at camp.

Clint Barmes, Bill Hall, Humberto Quintero and Brian Bogusevic are among those not traveling with the team to Disney on Monday, but the Astros are at home Tuesday at Osceola County Stadium. That’s when we should get our first glimpse of the lineup with all the players available.

Here is the lineup for Monday’s exhibition opener against Atlanta:

CF Michael Bourn

1B Brett Wallace

RF Hunter Pence

LF Carlos Lee

DH Jason Michaels

3B Chris Johnson

C Jason Castro

2B Matt Downs

SS Tommy Manzella

Wandy Rodriguez will and pitch two scheduled innings.

Grapefruit League play means heavy evaluations

The Astros are getting down to business. The team will play a six-inning intrasquad game following Sunday’s morning work before opening Grapefruit League play on Monday against the Atlanta Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

While none of the regular players will participate in the intrasquad game, it will be interesting to see manager Brad Mills‘ starting lineup for Monday’s game. Mills has said the lineup is set, and it could give us our first glimpse what the lineup will look like when the regular season starts.

The most intriguing thing to me is who will hit second. There really is not a prototypical No. 2 hitter in the starting eight position players, so we could see Clint Barmes or Bill Hall there for now. Perhaps if Jason Castro gets going at the plate, he could be the guy at some point.

But there’s little doubt Mills is ready to see his players in game conditions.

“You can evaluate all you want, and all of a sudden it comes to a screeching halt come Monday,” he said. “It goes into a separate gear, and the reason it goes into a separate gear is you’re on the field, playing another ballclub. You can evaluate all you want now but you can be fooled by Spring Training and September. You try to put all the things together and do what you can.”

Here are the upcoming pitching rotations:

Intrasquad game home team: Nelson Figueroa, David Carpenter, Ross Wolf, Jose Valdez, Jorge De Leon and Arecenio Leon.

Intrasquad game away team: Fernando Abad, Casey Fien, Cesar Carrillo, Douglas Arguello, Patrick Urckfitz and Jordan Lyles.

Monday vs. Braves (road): Wandy Rodriguez, Henry Villar, Enerio Del Rosario, Fernando Rodriguez, Lance Pendleton, Sergio Escalona and Wesley Wright.

Tuesday vs. Braves (home): Brett Myers, Brandon Lyon, Jeff Fulchino, Fernando Abad, Mark Melancon, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Gustavo Chacin, Patrick Urckfitz.

Wednesday vs. Tigers (split squad): J.A. Happ, Wilton Lopez, Gustavo Chacin, Ross Wolf, David Carpenter, Jorge De Leon.

Wednesday vs. Yankees (split squad): Bud Norris, Douglas Arguello, Jorge Valdez, Casey Fien, Jordan Lyles, Cesar Carrillo.

And finally, here’s the day in pictures, with an emphasis on some of the guys from  Major League camp:

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Above: The Astros pulled over a few Minor Leaguers from mini camp to be used as base runners during rundown drills. Here Bud Norris talks with outfielders Telvin Nash and Jay Austin prior to the drill.

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Above: A group of catchers set up to catch some bullpens.

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Above: This is catcher Ben Heath, a fifth-round pick last year from Penn State who swatted 10 home runs in 61 games in his professional debut.

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Above: To get an idea of how big outfielder Telvin Nash is, here he is standing to Brett Wallace. Nash, a third-round pick in 2009, is listed as 6-2, 220. He hit 13 homers last year in 213 Minor League at-bats, mostly at Class A Greeneville.

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Above: Infielder Tommy Manzella flies around the bases during a drill Saturday.

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Above: Astros players take a much-needed breather after a grueling base-running drill.

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Above: Hall of Fame radio broadcaster Milo Hamilton arrived in camp and was greeted by several players, incliuding Jason Michaels. Hamilton, who is in his 62nd Spring Training, returns for his 27th season as the radio voice of the Astros. He has been broadcasting Major League Baseball since 1953, and his 57 years in the Major Leagues is second only to Vin Scully’s 62.

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Above: Michael Bourn has been working hard on his bunting this spring.

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Above: My man Brett Myers fires a pitch during a bullpen session Saturday.

Day 10 of Astros camp in pictures

With pitchers throwing their final live batting practice and the start of games mercifully only two days away, we’re going heavy on pictures in today’s blog. Be sure to read the Astros beat notebook for the news of the day,including J.R. Towles talking about taking balls at first base and Alberto Arias’ health update.

Here is the day in photos:

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Above: Koby Clemens at work very, very early Friday working on fielding short hops.

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Above: J.B. Shuck, T.J. Steele and Jon Gaston — perhaps the outfield of the future — listen closely to Hunter Pence prior to stretch Friday. J.D. Martinez also visible to Shuck’s immediate left.

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Above: J.R. Towles works out at first base for the first time.

Above: Manager Brad Mills pretends to be a batter during pick-off drills.


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Above: Bud Norris fires a pitching during Spring Training.

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Above: Carlos Lee takes a spring during a round of batting practice.

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Above: Bud Norris and Ross Wolf perform a flip drill during conditioning.

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Above: Hunter Pence and pitcher David Carpenter talk after Pence hit against Carpenter.

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Above: Minor League mini-campers Alfredo Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar watch the Major Leaguers take batting practice.


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Above: Pitcher Douglas Arguello cleans his cleats after Friday’s workout.

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Above: Delino DeShields Jr. warms up prior to the start of Friday’s Minor League mini camp.


Meet Bill Hall, plus photos of Wednesday workout

Veteran second baseman Bill Hall arrived at Astros camp Wednesday morning and spoke to the media shortly after finishing working out for the day. Here are a few of the questions Hall addressed:

Q: How does if feel to finally get down here?

A: “I’ve been anticipating this for a long time. Once that new year turns over, everybody starts thinking baseball. I’ve been watching [MLB] Network for the past month and half, getting mentally ready with anticipation. I’m excited, obviously, being around a group of guys with so much talent and a lot of youth. I kind of had this clubhouse in Milwaukee, so I fit in just fine. I’m excited about what this team can do.”

Q: Were you able to work much today with shortstop Clint Barmes?

A: “I didn’t get to get as much work in on the infield as a normal day. I had a red eye last night, so my body doesn’t feel too great. I made it through and got a little work in. Obviously, I’m going to get out there tomorrow. We have to get to work fast. We have a month to get on the same page because once April starts, there are no excuses. I can’t be looking to him wondering what he’s going to do. We have to know by eye contact on what we’re going to do, and that’s going to take a lot of work and I think both of us are up to the task.”

Q: You’ve said it’s nice to come in an be an everyday player, but what about playing the same position?

A: “Definitely. It’s something I’ve learned not to take for granted. You have to go out and get the job done and that’s the most important part. I feel like in the past, I wasn’t given full opportunity to become a guy [who plays one position]. I’ve been blessed with some athletic ability, and it’s easy to say, ‘Hey, can you go out there and do this for us now?’ I’m the type of team guy that said yes all the time and as I look back on it I might have said, ‘Maybe not this time’ after it happened a few times, but I’m excited about this opportunity. I played a lot of second in Boston last year when Dustin [Pedroia] got hurt. That’s a position I’m comfortable with, especially playing as much as I did last year. For my body type right now, it’s a good position and it fits well for me.”

Q: What is your first opinion about this clubhouse?

A: “This team is what you would say is in a transition period with Roy [Oswalt] being gone and [Lance] Berkman being gone, and they have some younger guys who are expected to go out and produce and help this team win. In Milwaukee, I was one of the first guys to come – prospects – and I was in the clubhouse first and got to be with all those other guys who are turning into superstars now, with Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Rickie [Weeks] and J.J. [Hardy], when he was there. All of us came up at the same time as a group and had to learn how to win together and know the meaning of going out and competing every day. That’s the knowledge I can give to these guys, being that I was through it before and I know what they’re feeling.

Here are some photos of Wednesday’s workout:
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Above: Enos Cabell gets acquainted with newcomer Bill Hall.

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Above: New middle infielders Bill Hall and Clint Barmes take some strategy.

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Above: Get a look at Jimmy Paredes, a switch-hitting infielder acquired in Berkman deal from the Yankees. He looks very impressive.

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Above: Hunter Pence waits to hit on one of the back fields.

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Above: Shoe-less pitchers work on sliding under the direction of third-base coach Dave Clark.

Hall arrives at Astros camp

Astros second baseman Bill Hall arrived at camp Wednesday morning. He had missed the first three full-squad workouts to be with his fiance, who gave birth to a child last week. Hall greeted manager Brad Mills and then hit the field about 45 minutes after his teammates.

The arrival of Hall gives Mills all 63 players in camp, though infielder Jeff Keppinger (foot) and right-hander Sammy Gervacio (shoulder) are injured.

“We’ve got the full squad and it’s nice having just about everybody healthy and playing and having the good weather enables everybody to get in shape and do the training part of spring, which is real good,” Mills said.

Mills said Hall will work out exclusively at second base, even though he has extensive experience in the outfield. If the Astros have to put Hall in the outfield, that means something has gone wrong. Mills is looking forward to seeing more of Hall defensively.

“I know he has such a strong arm and his ability to turn the double play is pretty good,” he said. “I know he’s quick and covers a lot of ground defensively.”

Here are a few quick photos of Hall taking the field:

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Pitchers get the best of the hitters

It only took Brett Myers two pitches to saw off the bat of infielder Jimmy Paredes.

“That’s it, I’m good,” Myers yelled.

The first day of live batting practice is always an interesting one for the hitters, who are generally a few days behind the pitchers. The Astros’ batters faced live pitching for the first time Monday, which marked the third time the pitchers threw off the mound.

“Today’s always an interesting day, simply because you don’t know how many pitchers have faced any hitters this winter or recently,” manager Brad Mills said. “It’s the first time the hitters are getting to see any type of live pitching. You get to see who works quick on the mound and who doesn’t and those types of things. There’s a lot of things that need to get brushed up on a day like this because we have so many new guys.”

Catcher Jason Castro was no worse for the wear after seeing five pitches from Fernando Rodriguez.

“I felt pretty comfortable in the box actually, and I actually had some good results, but that doesn’t mean anything right now,” he said. “It’s about getting reps, and it’s good to see early on it felt pretty good.”

The Astros’ first three groups of pitchers threw to hitters, including Brett Myers, J.A. Happ and Wandy Rodriguez.

“I was very happy with how it went, the rotations and the timing of it,” Mills said. “The first day we try to get everything down and I thought it went really well.”

Mills didn’t see all the pitchers throw, but he said he liked what he saw from Jordan Lyles, Sergio Escalona, Arecenio Leon, Myers and Happ.

“There were a lot of guys I didn’t have an opportunity to see, but it was nice to see them facing some hitters and throwing the ball well,” Mills said.

Astros general manager Ed Wade has been pleased with camp after the first six days of camp.

“I think the camp has been great with the level of enthusiasm and athleticism,” he said. “The whole tenor has been very, very positive. I think part of it flows from the staff and the attention to detail with regard to the schedule, and Millsie preaching energy to the stuff during the 8 o’clock meeting before they go on the field and interact with the players.

“It hasn’t been a case of any particular player standing out, it’s a case of the guys collectively looking like they understand why they’re here and they’re having fun in the process.”

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Above: Astros GM Ed Wade listens as manager Brad Mills addresses a group of players.

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Above: Astros aces Brett Myers, J.A. Happ and Wandy Rodriguez warm up for live BP.

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Above: Brett Myers pitches batting practice to Jimmy Paredes.

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Above: Hunter Pence prepares to hit against teammate Brandon Lyon.

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Above: Players get conditioning work in after their morning drills.

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Above: Oklahoma City pitching coach Burt Hooton and special assistant Doug Brocail talk.

Full squad works out for first time

With the exception of Bill Hall, who was away from the team to be with his fiance following the birth of their child, the Astros had their first full-squad workout Sunday at Osceola County Stadium. The Astros will be able to practice as a team for about a week before they play their first Grapegruit League game on Feb. 28.

The position players, who took the field for the first time, hit the ground running. They participated in base running drills, as well as drills fielding their positions. There was also a round of batting practice, but the real test begins Monday when the batters get thrown into the fire and face live pitching.

There was a bit of injury news at camp Monday. Pitchers weren’t scheduled to throw, but right-hander Alberto Arias threw a side session with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg catching him. Arias said he felt discomfort in his shoulder, the same shoulder he had surgically repaired April 22, 2010, so he will be evaluated further Monday.

Otherwise, the Astros remain injury free as camp got underway in earnest.

Here are some photos of the first workout:

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Above: Michael Bourn runs towards the outfield for drills on one of the back fields, while Brett Wallace prepares to field some ground balls at first base.

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Above: Reliever Alberto Arias pitches in the bullpen.


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Above: Hunter Pence plays catch while warming up Sunday morning.

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Above: Pitching coach Brad Arnsberg gets animated while working with Lance Pendleton.

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Above: Drayton McLane speaks briefly with some fans on the back fields.

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Above: Jason Michaels takes batting practice

Astros full squad hits the field

The clubhouse was buzzing and full of excitement this morning as 62 players – everyone except veteran infielder Bill Hall – dressed and took the field for the first full-squad workout of Spring Training.

The players took physicals in the morning and then heard from owner Drayton McLane, general manager Ed Wade and manager Brad Mills in a quick team meeting.

“I talked to them about the opportunity we have here,” McLane said.

Wade reminded the players they have a veteran core nucleus who know what they’re responsibilities are from the standpoint of leadership, but he also told the many young players on the roster they also carry some responsibilities.

“The young guys don’t have to act like young guys,” Wade said. “They can step up and hold themselves and their teammates accountable and hold that measure of trust between themselves and their teammates and the staff and believe in themselves.”

Hall, who signed with the Astros in December, isn’t expected to be with the club until Wednesday following the birth of his child. Among the players who arrived for the first time in camp were Carlos Lee and Michael Bourn.

“It’s time to get going,” Mills said. “It’s really kind of hard to ease into those types of things because we start playing games in a week. Most of the guys are ready to go, they’ve at least been playing catch. We’re going to introduce a lot of the things and they’ll get it done. We’ll be fine.”

Here are some early-morning pictures of the players getting ready for the first full-squad workout:
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Above: Clint Barmes, Hunter Pence and Brett Wallace emerge from the clubhouse for the first full-squad workout of Spring Training.

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Above: Jason Michaels hits the field for the first full-squad workout of Spring Training.

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Above: Carlos Lee prepares to take the field for the first workout.

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Above: Brad Mills speaks briefly to the team before beginning early-morning stretch.

Myers, Happ, Wandy highlight third day

The top three pitchers in the Astros’ rotation — Brett Myers, J.A. Happ and Wandy Rodriguez — each threw their second bullpen session Friday. With 30 healthy pitchers in camp, the Astros have split into six pitching groups with five pitchers in each group. Myers is the leader of group one, Happ of group two and Rodriguez of group three.

Groups 1-3 threw off the bullpen mounds for the second time Friday, and groups 4-6 will do the same thing Saturday before everyone takes a day off Sunday, the first day position player reports. So far, camp has been relatively quiet, which is definitely a good thing. Manager Brad Mills likes what he has seen.

“It’s really nice to see those guys throw the ball so well,” Mills said. “It was even smoother than [Thursday]. Any time you have your top three guys in the rotation throwing on the same day and having them throw like they did, that was nice. Plus, Aneury Rodriguez and Sergio Escalona from the left side threw well, too. I don’t want to single them out because other guys threw well, but it was a good day.”

Aneury Rodriguez, a 23-year-old right-hander taken in the Rule 5 Draft, is an imposing figure, to say the least. He 6-feet-4, 200 pounds and has terrific stuff. He was 6-5 with a 3.80 ERA in 27 games (17 starts) at Triple-A Durham last year in the Rays organization and is in the hunt for the fifth spot in the rotation.

The pitchers have yet to face any hitters, but Mills said the evaluations have begun. The manager said he is in constant evaluation mode, beginning with the moment a guy walks in the door and shakes his hand to the way he carries himself among his teammates to his stuff on the mound.

“It’s a whole process,” Mills said. “You want to give the guy the best opportunity he can to perform the best he can.”

Meanwhile, Hunter Pence had his arbitration hearing Friday in Arizona, and the Astros said they should know the outcome Saturday. Pence is seeking $6.9 million, and the club if offering $5.15 million.

And what would a Spring Training blog be without some pictures? Here’s a photo gallery from the third day under the hot sun in Kissimmee:

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Above: Manager Brad Mills really gets into this drill in which he hit rag balls at the pitchers at a rapid pace. Brandon Lyon is the pitcher currently in the line of fire.

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Above: Catcher J.R. Towles after finishing a bullpen workout.

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Above: Pitching coach Brad Arnsberg (standing on the back slope of the mound) gives instruction to a group of pitchers. Oklahoma City pitching coach Burt Hooton listens in.

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Above: Pitcher Jeff Fulchino fields a ball off the mound and prepares to throw to first base. Other pitchers are lined up the background, preparing for the same drill.

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Above: 2009 first-round pick Jiovanni Mier signs some autographs for fans.

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Above: Jiovanni Mier (foreground) plays catch with Clint Barmes.