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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Day 9: Pitchers nearing game shape

The Astros are inching closer towards games, and manager A.J. Hinch believes his pitchers are just about ready to get in game action. Two groups of pitchers threw live batting practice Sunday, with the other two groups set to do the same Monday. They will throw again Tuesday and Wednesday before hitting the field to face the Phillies on Thursday.

“Today was a good day of work,” Hinch said. “I was pleasantly surprised that we were able to get so much activity on the field. Coming to the stadium, I was a little bit nervous about how wet [the fields] were going to be, but the grounds crew here did a great job of getting the field ready. We did everything we wanted to do. We had to do pickoffs and rundowns at a little bit of slower pace just out of safety for the fields because they were soft, but getting all of our work in was great.”

Indeed, the Astros had coaches “run” the bases for pickoff and rundown drills.

“You put players out there and they get going a little bit, so we wanted to control the pace so there was slipping, no hamstrings, no groins, no issues,” Hinch said. “We’ll run it at a little bit faster tempo probably Wednesday.”

Left-handed reliever Luis Cruz played catch Sunday, but didn’t throw in the bullpen because of a bruised hand. He said he could throw in the bullpen Monday and expects to be ready for games.

“We’ll keep evaluating him,” Hinch said.

Among the pitchers who stood out to Hinch on Sunday was veteran Scott Feldman.

“His work is never a doubt,” he said. “He was very methodical, he has a routine, he knows what he’s trying to do. I can see him trying to execute pitchers with a little more precision this time around. He’s a pro’s pro. That’s what he is and that’s how he works out.”

Hinch also what he liked he saw from Mark Appel, Josh Fields and Dallas Keuchel.

“Keuchel, it’s all business when it’s his day to throw,” Hinch said. “His command is noticeable.”

Quote of the day

“I always thought the outfielders didn’t really do much in the spring, but they’re kicking my butt out there, which is really good for me,” — Evan Gattis on making the transition to outfielder.

Injury report: RHP Brad Peacock (hip surgery) remains on his own schedule as he works his arm back in shape. … LHP Luis Cruz (bruised finger) played catch Sunday and could throw a bullpen Monday. … RHP Vincent Velasquez (strained right lat) won’t throw for at least two-to-three weeks.

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

Links:

McHugh in line to start the Grapefruit League opener.

Wojciechowski pumped to be healthy, competing.

Astros prospect Matt Duffy has a baseball namesake.

Gattis getting in work exclusively in the outfield.

Minor Leaguers will hit the field Monday for minicamp.

Videos:

Hinch talks Astros starting pitching

Marisnick likes energy in camp

Astros tuning up at camp in preparation for 2015.

Tweet of the day:

Day 6: Time to face living pitching

One of the most challenging days of Spring Training for the hitters is when they step into the box for the first time against the pitchers, who have been in camp for nearly a week and had thrown two bullpen sessions prior to Thursday.

Some hitters used the chance to face live hitting for the first time to simply track the pitches and not swing, while others couldn’t wait to take some cuts. The first and second throwing groups threw live batting practice Thursday.

“Today was like the first real assessment of where you really are,” first baseman Jon Singleton said. “We really got to see where we are, just tracking baseball and trying to get pitch recognition and see the spin of the baseball. It was huge.”

Astros manager A.J. Hinch wants the hitters to ease into facing pitching for the first time.

“The swings in these cases don’t really matter, whether the hitters choose to swing or not,” Hinch said. “We’re just inching a little bit more towards game-type situations. It seems like everybody came out of it well, and the attention to detail was good. We had a lot of work going on in an effective time. It was a good day.

Quote of the day

“It’s miserable for the most part,”Hinch on hitters having to face pitchers for

Injury report: RHP Brad Peacock (hip surgery) threw his second bullpen Wednesday without incident. … RHP Vincent Velasquez (strained right lat) won’t throw for at least two-to-three weeks.

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

Links:

Astros want more than power from lineup.

Astros name architect for new spring home.

Huge snake pays a visit to Astros clubhouse.

Appel tasked with reports on teammates.

Tweets of the day

https://twitter.com/kidkeuchy/status/571027382926077953

Day 5: Position players take the field

After hearing from owner Jim Crane, general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch in a team meeting Wednesday morning, 59 orange-clad Astros players hit the field for the first full-squad workout of the spring under cloudy skies.

“The guys reported in shape, they reported with a lot of enthusiasm and we got a lot of work in,” Hinch said. “The weather held off. We had a good day.”

Position players will rotate through different fundamentals daily before taking batting practice each day. Coaches threw batting practice on Wednesday, but the position players will face live pitching for the first time Thursday when the pitchers get back on the mound.

“We’ll get a team fundamental in every day – cut-offs and relays, bunt coverage, first and thirds, rundowns, those types of things,” Hinch said. “Much of the early part of camp will be centered around the pitchers’ readiness. Tomorrow we’re going to get some live batting practice where the pitchers are throwing to our hitters.

“We’ll have another team fundamental. We’ll mix it up a little bit, and we got back and forth on purpose, just not to have a monotonous workout every day. Early in camp until games start, we have two sections that we change every day. One is how many pitchers throw live batting practice, and two is the team fundamental.”

The only pitcher who threw in the bullpen Wednesday was Brad Peacock, who gets an extra day of rest between bullpens while he makes his way back from off-season hip surgery.

“Peacock was great,” Hinch said. “He’s healthy and it was another good step in the right direction. It was very encouraging to watch him bounce back into his second bullpen. You can tell he feels good. He’s starting to get a little irritated if he doesn’t executive a pitch, so it’s a good sign.”

Quotes of the day

“This is definitely the year we’re going to the playoffs,”Jose Altuve.

“He’s a caveman. He does everything 150 percent with some conviction behind it,”A.J. Hinch on Evan Gattis.

“There’s 60 people in that room, and there’s a lot of talent in that room. I’d put it on par with just about any organization,” – GM Jeff Luhnow.

Injury report: RHP Brad Peacock (hip surgery) threw his second bullpen Wednesday without incident. … RHP Vincent Velasquez (strained right lat) won’t throw for at least two-to-three weeks.

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

Links:

Story AND Video: Crane’s goal is to make the playoffs.

Story: Carlos Correa focused on base running this year.

Story AND Video: Astros taking health of players to another level.

VIDEO: Springer talks about his mohawk

VIDEO: Altuve feels like Brad Pitt.

Day 4: Here come the position players

Astros pitchers threw their final bullpens Tuesday before facing live hitters. With the full squad set to work out for the first time Wednesday, the pitchers will take a day off from throwing before ratcheting it back up by facing hitters on Thursday – a week before the first Spring Training game.

Manager A.J. Hinch continues to be impressed by how well-prepared his pitchers are this spring.

“I think some of the readiness of the pitchers to get into games or into simulated games has been notable,” he said. “The number of guys that have come in here and told me they threw simulated innings, they’re up and running, there’s not too many guys easing into these bullpens. I don’t know if it surprised me, but it’s a pleasant surprise if I’ve been surprised.”

Hinch said the quality to attention to detail has been good.

“That’s expected at this level,” he said. “I don’t want to dive too much into things being surprising, but I expect a lot because this is the big leagues. Guys are coming and the focus is there and I’m happy with that.”

Before the full squad hits the field on Wednesday, the Astros will hold a team meeting. Hinch will talk to the team, and typically general manager Jeff Luhnow and owner Jim Crane will say a few words as well.

“I’ll have a couple of words for the whole team and then we’ll get on the field,” Hinch said. “I think the tone and the vibe of camp has been good, and I think the pitchers and catchers that have been here will be able to show and live with that, with the position players. There’s some messages to send, some introductions to be made, and then there’s a full-squad workout.”

Quotes of the day

“It’s hard to embarrass a guy who wears a beard like that,” Hinch joking about singling out bearded Dallas Keuchel in clubhouse.

“I’d prefer no dive. It’s the one thing that we didn’t mention beforehand is we’d like them stay on their feet, but we corrected it afterwards,”Hinch on 6-7 pitcher Scott Feldman taking all-out dive to try to field a ball during PFPs on Tuesday.

“I know he wants to prepare to play every day. From our early conversations, he doesn’t know what a day off is. That’s fine by me.”Hinch on Jose Altuve.

Injury report: RHP Brad Peacock (hip surgery) threw 20 fastballs in the bullpen Sunday in his first action since having surgery and is progressing well. … RHP Vincent Velasquez (strained right lat) won’t throw for at least two-to-three weeks. … RHP Josh Fields (left hamstring tightness) threw in the bullpen Tuesday without incident

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

Links:

Hinch says there’s no pressure on Altuve to repeat as batting champ

Fields hopes hamstring issue is behind  him

Tweet of the day

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