The one certainty manager Bo Porter had entering Spring Training has changed, thanks to Robbie Grossman.
Porter, who proclaimed in the winter Dexter Fowler would hit leadoff, Jose Altuve would bat second and Jason Castro would hit third, said Wednesday that Grossman has played his way into the No. 2 spot in the order behind Fowler. Altuve and Castro could switch, depending on the opposing pitcher.
“That combination will be our top four,” Porter said.
Grossman, a switch-hitter, has been a high-on base player throughout his career (.381 in Minor League career) and last year posted a .332 on-base percentage in his Major League debut, including .351 after he was called up for his second stint.
“That thinking has changed a little bit just looking at Fowler and Grossman as two guys that get on base at a high percentage and again just trying to get as many guys on base in front of arguably our best two hitters, Jason and Altuve,” Porter said. “It’s about lineup construction and putting yourself in the best position to score runs given the opponent and the pitcher we’re facing that night.”
The Associated Press on Tuesday published payroll information gathered for all 30 teams. The Astros came in at $44.5 million, which was the lowest in baseball, but an increase over last season. Here are the salaries for the 2014 Astros:
The fact: The Astros bashed out 13 hits — 11 singles — and rallied from an four-run first-inning deficit to beat the Braves, 7-5, on Monday night in Lake Buena Vista (boxscore).
What we learned: The Astros have some good options at the top of the lineup. Manager Bo Porter has said all along Dexter Fowler would hit first, Jose Altuve would hit second and Jason Castro would hit third, but on Monday he had Grossman hitting second, Castro hitting third and Altuve fourth with good results. Those four went a combined 8-for-19.
“When we look at our lineup, we know the guys that we feel like are going to get on base at a high percentage and want to try to get as many of those guys at the top of the lineup in front of Altuve, Castro — the guys who are the better hitters in the lineup,” Porter said.
What else: We’ve seen the Astros be aggressive on the bases this spring when they can, but they’ve had much of a chance lately considering they’ve had that many baserunners. On Monday, they were going first to third, taking the extra base when they could and pushing the tempo.
“We’ve run the bases outstanding the entire spring,” Porter said. “Tonight it was fun to see. When you start seeing those guys we have at the top of the lineup on base, I think we’re going to put pressure on other teams.”
Player of the game: Red-hot CF Dexter Fowler went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and a walk to raise his spring average to .318 and on-base percentage to .412.
“I felt good,” Fowler said. “I came out and in the beginning [of Spring Training] I was trying to experiment with some things and just went back to basics and got locked back in.”
What went wrong: LHP Dallas Keuchel put the Astros in another early hole by allowing four runs in the first inning, but they were able to come back and win this time. … SS Marwin Gonzalez made a fielding error. … C Jason Castro was charged with a passed ball.
Notable: OF L.J. Hoes went 2-for-4. … The Astros only struck out four times in 38 at-bats.
Quotable: “That guy’s unbelievable. I said that ball almost flipped him. I couldn’t believe he had it, but he made a nice play on it,” — Fowler on Altuve’s remarkable defensive play in the fifth on a hard ball hit by Dan Uggla in which he fell down while moving backwards, stopped the ball and threw to first for an out.
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Up next: The Astros are off Tuesday, and manager Bo Porter wants everyone to stay home from the facility and take the day. The close out Grapefruit League play at 5:05 p.m. CT Wednesday against the Mets at Osceola County Stadium. Scott Feldman, Houston’s Opening Day starter, will take the mound in his final game before facing the Yankees on April 1 at Minute Maid Park.
Injuries: RHP Peter Moylan (torn UCL), RHP Asher Wojciechowski (lat strain), RHP Jesse Crain (biceps tendon surgery recovery).
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The Astros haven’t officially announced their 25-man roster, but it certainly appears to be set. The team has 30 players in camp, four of which are injured pitchers — Alex White, Jesse Crain, Peter Moylan and Asher Wojciechowski. That leaves 26 healthy players, three of which are catchers — Jason Castro, Carlos Corporan and Carlos Perez, and Perez won’t make the club.
So here is the 25-man roster pending any injuries and trades and waiting official announcement:
Jerome Williams (bullpen or rotation)
Dallas Keuchel (bullpen or rotation)
Brad Peacock (bullpen or rotation)
Lucas Harrell (bullpen or rotation)
Chris Carter (DH)
Marc Krauss (can play 1B)
The Astros trimmed their Spring Training roster to 30 on Monday, optioning right-hander Josh Zeid to Triple-A Oklahoma City, reassigning outfielder Adron Chambers and catcher Rene Garcia to Minor League camp and releasing veteran infielder Cesar Izturis.
The moves mean infielder Marwin Gonzalez has made the team as the backup middle infielder following a good spring at the plate.
“Marwin did a tremendous job this spring and earned himself a spot on this team,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “He was nervous when he came in the room.”
The Astros were facing a Tuesday deadline to pay Izturis $100,000 or place him on the 25-man roster, but he was released , meaning he’s a free agent. The Rangers, who have injuries on their infield, are among the teams that have expressed interest.
“It was a real opportunity and we were genuine bringing him in for that opportunity,” Luhnow said. “There were a lot of teams out there that have expressed interested in middle infielders, so I’m pretty sure he’ll land on his feet quickly. The mentor-ship he had this spring was valuable. [Carlos] Correa got to spend time withhim, [Jonathan] Villar got to spend time with him, [Jose] Altuve got to spend time with him and Marwin. All four of those guys benefited from behind around him.”
Zeid had a good spring and was a big part of the bullpen late last season, but he was a victim of the Astros’ added depth.
“Zeid pitched well, especially recently,” Luhnow said. “We believe Zeid is going to spend many days in the leagues this year, but the way we’re going to configure the team out of the gate.”
Luhnow said the wants the 25-man roster set prior to the team leaving for San Antonio on Thursday.
J.D. Martinez, who was called up straight from Double-A the day after Hunter Pence was traded nearly three years ago and had a terrific first month in the Major Leagues, saw his tenure with the Astros come to an end Saturday.
The Astros released the 26-year-old outfielder, who had struggled to get on track offensively this spring without routine playing time. They team also announced it had optioned left-hander Darin Downs to Triple-A and reassigned first baseman Japhet Amador and infielder Gregario Petit to Triple-A.
As Martinez packed up his things in the Osceola County Stadium clubhouse early Saturday, a steady stream of teammates came over and exchanged hugs, handshakes and well-wishes.
“It’s alright,” Martinez said. “I’m not really down about it. It is what it is. Obviously, Houston is the team that brought me up and where I want to be. Everything happens for a reason.”
Martinez, who was vying for a spot in left field or right field, hit .167 with one RBI in 18 at-bats this spring. He was taken off the 40-man roster prior to camp, and the Astros have younger players like L.J. Hoes, Robbie Grossman and top prospect George Springer competing for playing time in the outfield as well.
“We had a lot of history with J.D. and he’s got some value as a right-handed power hitter, outfielder,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “We really feel like to a certain extent we’re a victim of our own success. As we continue to develop young talent, we’re going to end up not having room for some players who fit in in the past and could fit in with other clubs. We wish him the best. We still think he’s a Major League player. It’s just not a fit for our club right now.”
Martinez spent parts of three years in the Major Leagues with the Astros, hitting .251 with 24 homers and 126 RBIs. His best year was his rookie season of 2011 when he hit .274 with six homers and 35 RBIs and started 52 of the final 55 games after being called on July 29 to replace Pence in the lineup.
He drove in 28 runs in August 2011, which ranked second in the National League and were a record for an Astros rookie in any month.
“Obviously, I’m sad to leave Houston,” he said. “I love the fans and players and everyone here. I feel like they have a lot of guys coming up, and if there’s not room for me to get at-bats and not room for me to play, it’s best to let me go and not try to hold me back, and I commend them for that and I thank them for that.”
Martinez knew he had to play winter ball to post some numbers. He batted .312 with six homers and 18 RBIs in 24 games in Venezuela last off-season. The experience was a good one, even though he lost 16 pounds because of sickness.
Still, with Springer and Hoes getting time in right field along, Martinez’s at-bats were limited this spring.
“I feel that it was very tough, given my situation, of how I was going into games and stuff,” he said. “I know how it works. I know in Venezuela I hit the ball really well down there. Let’s say I have a new respect for guys who come off the bench every day. That’s not easy to do.”
Martinez hopes to be able to land with another team.
“Jeff was telling there’s a lot of teams that were looking around,” he said. “I was supposed to make a lot of money in Triple-A and because of that it’s kind of spooked teams away. Now it will be a lot easier to get picked up type of deal.”
The move with Petit mean that Marwin Gonzalez and Cesar Izturis are left battling for a backup middle infield spot, and Downs’ potion leaves Raul Valdes and Kevin Chapman as the only two lefties remaining in the bullpen.
“We still have a couple of cuts to make and it’s starting to come into focus and we still have enough games to make the final determinations,” Luhnow said.
Astros relief pitcher Peter Moylan has been diagnosed high-grade tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and is hoping to meet next week with renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion.
Moylan, a non-roster invitee to camp who was having a strong spring in his battle to win a spot in the bullpen, told MLB.com Friday he injured his elbow while throwing in a game Saturday against the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla.
“I was having control issues and it kind of felt weird in my elbow, but not weird enough I was willing to come off the field,” he said. “I kept pitching and I got through the inning. The nastiest three pitches I threw were the three I struck out [Alex] Avila with. I went to the field the next day and tried to play catch and couldn’t do it.”
Moylan had an MRI earlier in the week and found out the results Friday morning after he returned from Atlanta, where he spent a couple of days dealing with a family matter.
Moylan had pitched in five games, allowing two runs and four hits this spring. An eight-year veteran who had some great success with the Braves from 2006-10, Moylan spent last season split between the Minor Leagues and the Dodgers, appearing in 14 games.
The fact: Garrett Jones hit a two-run homer in the first inning off Scott Feldman and added an RBI single in a three-run fifth inning to lead the Marlins to a 7-2 win over the Astros on Friday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium (boxscore).
What we learned: The Astros bullpen should be improved, as we expected considering the additions they made. RHPs Josh Zeid, Matt Albers and Chad Qualls each pitched in relief and were impressive. Zeid went two innings and allowed two hits and one run while striking out four, Albers threw a scoreless inning and Qualls allowed a run in the ninth. Still, they appeared more in control and polished than earlier in the spring.
“Albers threw the ball really well,” manager Bo Porter said. “He had some late life to his fastball. His sinker looked like it was really sinking today and he threw a couple of really good sliders. … Zeid was tremendous today. He had that one outing where he really got away from his fastball and establishing his fastballs, but he’s gotten back to attacking the strike zone with his fastball and his split-finger and slider have come along as well.”
What else: RHP Scott Feldman retired 13 of the 14 batters after Garrett Jones took him deep to right field in the first inning, but he labored in the fifth as the Astros made a pair of errors behind him. All three runs the Marlins scored in the fifth came after the first two batters were retired. He threw 88 pitches in five innings, giving up seven hits and five runs (four earned) with one walk and three strikeouts.
“The goal was 90 [pitches],” Feldman said. “It would have been nice to get out of that fifth a little bit quicker and get out there for a sixth. Really overall, the result weren’t there in that fifth inning but I made some good pitches. I think overall on the day, a couple of bad pitches. For the most part I was executing my pitches pretty well. The results aren’t always going to be there. If I can throw the ball like the results will be better.”
Player of the game: RHP Matt Albers. He breezed through the eighth inning, retiring all three batters he faced, with one strikeout.
What went wrong: The Astros made a pair of errors in the fifth. LF Robbie Grossman overthrew third base, which led to a run, and RF L.J. Hoes allowed a ball to roll under his glove for a two-base error. … The Astros went 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Notable: C Jason Castro was scratched from the starting lineup because of flu-like symptoms.
Quotable: “I’m trying to stay away from both of them. I told Dave I don’t need one of them touching the lineup card.”— Astros manager Bo Porter on coaches Pat Listach and Dave Trembley, both of whom are dealing with flu-like symptoms.
Up next: LHP Brett Oberholtzer, who will start the third game of the regular season, gets the call when the Astros play their third consecutive home game at 12:05 p.m. CT Saturday against the Cardinals at Osceola County Stadium.
Injuries: RHP Asher Wojciechowski (lat strain), RHP Jesse Crain (biceps tendon surgery recovery), RHP Alex White (Tommy John recovery)
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Should have known Romo being on Duke's side wouldn't have a negative effect until it was postseason time..—
Kent Emanuel (@KentEmanuel) March 21, 2014
Thanks to everyone for the Birthday wishes! #1/4century—
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