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Game 15: Lee, Lowrie break loose

The Astros broke out the big bats, getting the first home runs of the spring from Carlos Lee and Jed Lowrie, to beat the Mets, 9-5, on Sunday and snap a three-game losing streak. Here is the boxscore.

Here is the breakdown:

What went right: The Astros pounced on Mets starter Mike Pelfrey and finished with 12 hits, including eight extra-base hits (six doubles, two home runs). The top of the batting order was especially productive, with Jordan Schafer walking twice and scoring two runs, Jed Lowrie going 2-for-3 with a homer and a double from the left side of the plate, Travis Buck going 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBIs and Carlos Lee going 2-for-3 with a double, a home run and five RBIs.

Mills continues to like Lowrie in the No. 2 spot.

“The games he’s hit second, he’s really swung the bat well and that’s nice to see,” he said.

Elsewhere, Brett Wallace was 1-for-1 with an opposite-field double, Scott Moore was 1-for-4 with a double, Jimmy Paredes was 1-for-4 with a run scored and Humberto Quintero, who had been slowed by a bulging disk in his back, made his Grapefruit League debut and went 1-for-3 while catching for five innings.

The Astros turned a pair of double plays, and Paredes stole a base.

On the mound, three relief pitchers combined for four scoreless innings. Enerio Del Rosario allowed one hit in two clean innings, and Brandon Lyon and Fernando Abad enjoyed 1-2-3 frames.

What went wrong: Starting pitcher Livan Hernandez got knocked around a little bit, allowing five hits, four runs and three walks in three innings. He said he felt he was rushing to the plate a little bit and wasn’t too worried, considering he’s got a few more starts left in Florida.

“He just really wasn’t killing himself out there and he went back out for 11 more pitches [in the fourth] and then I went and got him,” manager Brad Mills said.

Fernando Martinez went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk against his former team, and Matt Downs went 0-for-4 and committed a fielding error while playing second base.

What they said: “I feel comfortable at the plate and I feel I’m in the right position to hit. I’m seeing the ball pretty good, and I’m happy where I am at right now.” — Astros first baseman Carlos Lee on driving in five runs Sunday, including a three-run home run.

What’s next: Right-hander Kyle Weiland, who has allowed no runs and three hits in eight innings this spring, makes the start for the Astros when they travel to Jupiter, Fla., to meet the Miami Marlins at 12:05 p.m. CT. Weiland threw four hitless innings Monday against the Yankees in Tampa and is in the thick of the race for the fifth starter’s spot.

Injury update: CF Jordan Schafer left Sunday’s game in the third inning after spraining his left hand while making a diving catch. He’s listed as day-to-day after X-rays were negative. … LHP Sergio Escalona (elbow inflammation) is available to pitch and could get into a game as early as Monday, but most likely Tuesday. … OF Jack Cust (right elbow tendinitis) played three innings in the outfield in a Minor League game Sunday and threw out a runner, while going 1-for-1 with two walks. Cust has yet to play in the outfield in Grapefruit League play because of the elbow.

Here are some photos:

Jed Lowrie takes a swing in the cage.

Humberto Quintero made his Grapefruit League debut Sunday, going 1-for-3 in five innings.

Carlos Lee waits at the cage, and then drives in five runs.

Game 14: Early trouble dooms Norris, Astros

The Astros lost their third consecutive Spring Training game, 6-3, to the Yankees on Sunday afternoon at sunny George M. Steinbrenner Field, dropping their Grapefruit League record to 7-7 near the midpoint of the spring season. You can find the boxscore by clicking here.

Here’s the breakdown:

What went right: How about the relief pitching of Brett Myers? Those who were worried about Myers’ struggles early in the spring needed to remember he’s a veteran who’s working on arm strength as he prepares himself to be the closer. He pitched two innings Saturday for the first time this spring, allowing one hit and no runs and touching 91-92 mph on the radar gun. Astros manager Brad Mills said he would like to get Myers in consecutive games later this spring.

Myers wasn’t the only reliever to pitch well. Left-hander Xavier Cedeno pitched a 1-2-3 fourth inning, striking out Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano, and Fernando Rodriguez struck out two of the three batters he faced in the eighth. Right now, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Rodriguez isn’t on the club when it breaks camp.

The Astros outhit the Yankees (9-7), with left fielder J.D. Martinez going 2-for-4 with a double and third baseman Chris Johnson going 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles. Johnson has done a nice job at the plate as he battles to make the club, and has raised his spring average to .348 with a couple of good swings of the bat Saturday. Martinez has looked strong at the plate all spring.

Jason Bourgeois, J.B. Shuck, Joe Thurston, Marwin Gonzalez (double) and Angel Sanchez each had a hit. Shuck had an RBI triple, and Sanchez came off the bench as a pinch-runner late in the game and subsequently singled to center.

The Astros were errorless once again.

What went wrong: Bud Norris was the second consecutive starter to get roughed up, giving up five hits, five runs and four walks in three innings in only his second Grapefruit League appearance of the spring. Norris needed 31 pitches to get out of the first, an inning which included two hits and two walks., He retired the first two batters he saw in the second before walking Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson and giving up a three-run homer to Robinson Cano on an 0-2 pitch. He threw a clean third inning, pitching around a pair of walks, to finish at 73 pitches.

Rhiner Cruz, a Rule 5 pick from the Mets, hasn’t done much to help his chances of sticking with the club all season, never mind making it through Spring Training. He allowed a home run to Bill Hall — yes, that Bill Hall — in his one inning of work, giving him five earned runs allowed in 1 1/3 innings of work this spring.

At the plate, Jack Cust started at designated hitter and went 0-for-3, dropping him to 0-for-20 this spring. Cust has been limited to a designated hitter role and could be losing his grip on one of the backup outfield spots, especially with the way Travis Buck and J.B. Shuck have swung the bat from the left side.

Brad Snyder, Landon Powell and Brett Wallace each went 0-for-2 at the plate.

What they said: “I thought the guys did a good job of battling back [had the tying run at the plate to end the game]. That’s the second day in a row we got down five runs real early in the game, and it’s tough to come back. You see C.J. with those two doubles and J.D. had a couple of nice at-bats and Shuck smoked that ball [for a triple]. There was a lot of good things, too. We wish Bud would have gotten that 0-2 slider down in the dirt [to Cano], but that three-run bomb, when you look at the score, wound up to be pretty important.” — Astros manager Brad Mills.

What’s next: Veteran catcher Humberto Quintero, who’s missed the first two weeks of spring action because of a bulging disk in his back, will make his first start of the Grapefruit League season when the Astros meet the Mets at 12:05 p.m. CT Sunday in Kissimmee. Quintero, last year’s starter on Opening Day, is battling to make the club is a backup role. Right-hander Livan Hernandez will start for the Astros.

Injury update: Catcher Humberto Quintero (back) is scheduled to make his first start Sunday. … Left-hander Sergio Escalona (elbow) threw live batting practice Friday to hitters.

In lieu of St. Patrick’s Day, there are no photos today. The photos will return Sunday.

Game 8: Duke, Lyles get stretched out

The Astros got a good look at a pair of candidates for the starting rotation Saturday, with veteran left-hander Zach Duke and young right-hander Jordan Lyles both throwing four innings in a 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays. You can check out the boxscore here.

Here’s the breakdown:

What went right: Both Jordan Lyles and Zach Duke pitched pretty well, with both getting hurt by home runs. Duke gave up a two-run homer to former Pirates teammate Jose Bautista and a solo homer to Travis Snider. Lyles allowed a homer to Bautista, who’s one of the premier sluggers in the game.

Duke brought up a good point after his outing, saying he would have approached the at-bat to Bautista differently in the regular season with first base open. That’s why you can’t get too worked up about Spring Training results this time of year, especially for a veteran guy like Duke. Lyles continues to work with his new curveball grip and said he was happy with those pitches.

The Astros had eight hits from eight different players: George Springer, Matt Downs, J.D. Martinez, Chris Snyder, Chris Johnson, Jonathan Singleton, Joe Thurston and Brad Snyder. Chris Snyder, Singleton and Thurston hit doubles, with Thurston picking up the Astros’ only RBI. Springer scored a run on a balk.

What went wrong: Well, the Astros did give up three home runs, but Jose Bautista — who hit two of them — is going to do that to a lot of teams this year. In fact, he did it to the Astros last year in Toronto.

The Astros didn’t string many hits together and it didn’t help that they hit into two double plays and were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Jordan Schafer (.333 spring average), Jack Cust (.000), Brett Wallace (.083) and Marwin Gonzalez (.083) each went 0-for-3. Gonzalez, who has the reputation as a polished defensive player, committed a fielding error.

After a hot start, the Astros’ bats have been stifled three games in a row.

What they said: “The Bautista at-bat, obviously if this were the regular season I would have worked at it a little different knowing I had first base open. The Snider home run, I wanted to go away with a fastball and threw it down the middle and good hitters hit those pitches out. All in all, I’m pretty pleased with how it went.” — Astros pitcher Zach Duke on his four-inning outing Saturday.

What’s next: Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, who led the Astros in wins last year, makes his second start of the spring when the Astros return to Kissimmee to play the Detroit Tigers at 12:05 p.m. CT Sunday. The game should also mark the spring debut for infielder Angel Sanchez, who injured his back early in camp and has been cleared to play. The Astros have not announced what other pitchers will throw.

Injury update: Non-roster outfielders Justin Ruggiano and Travis Buck are both nursing mild oblique strains and should return to action in a day or two. … Left-hander Sergio Escalona (elbow inflammation) is throwing at 60 to 90 feet and could throw in the bullpen on Sunday or Monday. … Infielder Angel Sanchez (back) is expected to play Sunday and will be removed from the injury report. … Catcher Humberto Quintero (bulging disk) is catching bullpens.

Here are the photos from Dunedin:

The players stretch upon arriving in Dunedin. Notice the artificial turf infield.

Brad Mills hits some fungos. Or is it fungoes?

Joe Thurston scoops up a ground ball in drills.

Jack Cust prepares for batting practice.

J.D. Martinez works on tagging up from third.

Hard-working hitting coach Mike Barnett.

Game 7: Another rough day on the mound

There might not be a more difficult environment to judge pitchers, especially early in camp, than in central Florida. The wind is usually whipping around and bright, sunny skies make tracking fly balls difficult. What does this have to do with pitchers? Astros starter J.A. Happ was victimized by the conditions when left fielder J.D. Martinez lost a fly ball in the sun in the first inning Friday, and right Jason Bourgeois couldn’t quite corral a ball in the fourth as it darted through the wind and the sun’s rays.

Still, Happ was the first to say he needs to pitch around that stuff, and ultimately the outfielders know they need to make those plays. It was just one of those days at the ballpark for the Astros, who lost consecutive games for the first time this spring, 11-2, to the Jays at Osceola County Stadium. You can see the boxscore here.

The big news from camp Friday was the decision by the Astros to keep the pistol on the retro Colt .45s jerseys they will wear twice this year. You can read all about it here, including reaction from an original Colt .45.

Here’s the breakdown:

What went right: Let’s start with two guys coming off injuries — third baseman Jimmy Paredes and catcher Jason Castro.

Castro caught six innings — his longest stint of the spring — and continues to look strong. He went 1-for-2 at the plate with an RBI and a double and threw out the speedy Anthony Gose trying to steal. You remember Anthony Gose, right? He was one of the players the Astros acquired from the Phillies in the Roy Oswalt deal, but they quickly spun him to the Jays for Brett Wallace.

Paredes, meanwhile, made his first start of the spring after nursing a wrist injury and went 1-for-3 with a run scored and three balls that were hit hard, to both fields. He also made a nice defensive play at third base on a bases-loaded dribbler, picking the ball and throwing out the runner at first. He’s going to be fun to watch for sure.

The other Astros hits came off the bats of Brandon Barnes, Carlos Lee, George Springer and Jose Altuve.

Eight Astros pitchers took the mound, and David Carpenter, Wilton Lopez and Wesley Wright each threw a scoreless inning to end the game. Carpenter struck out two batters, and Lopez whiffed all three batters he faced. Wright had one strikeout.

The Astros didn’t commit an error.

What went wrong: Starting pitcher J.A. Happ was shaky and needed 64 pitches to make it through 2 2/3 innings, allowing five hits, three runs and three walks. It’s early and he’s still working on stuff, but Happ would like to see better results. Left fielder J.D. Martinez lost a ball in the sun in the first inning that led to a run, and perhaps both runs Happ allowed.

“With Happ, I would have liked to have seen him stay in control of the [first] inning a little bit,” manager Brad Mills said. “After that first guy gets on, that kind of shook him up a little bit. And then the ball got right in the sun for J.D. and it was kind of tough. At least we were able to talk about it with him and hopefully we can get away from that.”

Here are some video highlights and interviews with Happ and Mills.

Brett Myers is trying to build arm strength as he gets geared up to be the closer and allowed three hits and three runs in one inning, throwing a lot of fastballs. He, too, saw an outfielder misplay a fly ball because of the elements, which could have affected his line. Don’t worry about Myers. He’ll be fine.

Aneury Rodriguez was simply just knocked around. Rodriguez had a 1-2-3 fifth inning, striking out a pair, before getting tagged for five hits, five runs and two walks in the sixth as the game got out of hand.

“He had such a good first inning and then lead-off home run got to him and the four-pitch base on balls got him in trouble. All in all, the six walks was a big detriment to what happened today,” Mills said.

At the plate, the Astros were held to six hits. Jordan Schafer, Jason Bourgeois and Brian Bogusevic were 0-for-3.

What they said: “Offensively, their guy [pitcher Henderson Alvarez] was getting head of us throwing quality strikes right away. We still did a pretty good job of having some pretty good at-bats. We did hit quite a few balls hard. I’m trying to look at some of the bright things. We scored two runs, but when you get down like that it takes a lot out of your offense as well.” — Astros manager Brad Mills.

What’s next: Left-hander Zach Duke will state his case to be in the starting rotation when he makes his first start of the spring when the Astros meet the Blue Jays at 12:05 p.m. CT Saturday in Dunedin, Fla. Duke pitched three innings in relief Monday. Jordan Lyles will pitch behind Duke and could go three innings.

Injury update: Catcher Humberto Quintero, who had a cortisone injection into his back on Wednesday to help alleviate the pain from a bulging disk, will catch in the bullpen on Saturday and attempt to block balls and throw on Sunday, with hopes of making his return Monday against the Yankees. … Infielder Angel Sanchez, who has been dealing with back pain, didn’t play in Friday’s game against Toronto as originally planned. Astros manager Brad Mills said he didn’t want to put Sanchez in a game that was out of hand. Mills said the team doctors don’t want Sanchez riding the bus for four hours Saturday when the Astros travel to Dunedin, Fla., to play the Jays, so he plans to have him in the starting lineup Sunday at home against the Tigers. … LHP Sergio Escalona (elbow soreness) continues to play catch.

Here are the photos:

Brett Myers plays catch in the morning.

Astros Minor League players hit the field after hearing a speech from manager Brad Mills.

Third base coach Dave Clark hits balls to the outfielders.

Jose Altuve and Jason Bourgeois hit the field for BP.

Jason Bourgeois bunts as I tell him to keep the bat head out front.

Jordan Schafer fouls off a pitch in BP.

Brian Bogusevic gets his gear in order to get ready to hit.

Milo Hamilton lectures a group of journalism students from Ball State.

Jeff Luhnow and Brad Mills talk behind the cage.

Milo Hamilton interviews Jason Bourgeois, who I think should get into broadcasting when his career is over.

Game 6: Bats go silent against Nationals

The Grapefruit League championship express was derailed Thursday afternoon in an 8-0 loss to the Nationals in Viera, Fla., as the Astros fell to 4-2 this spring. Here’s the boxscore.

For the news of the day, including Astros GM talking about his apology to the Rangers and the Astros announcing they’ll decide Friday whether to have the pistol on their Colt .45s retro uniforms, click here.

Here’s the breakdown:

What went right: Jason Castro played in consecutive games for the first time this spring, going 1-for-3 at designated hitter one day after catching five innings. Even when he’s not catching, the Astros are going to take advantage of the DH to try to get him as many at-bats as possible.

Infielder Jimmy Paredes made his spring debut and struck out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning from the left side of the plate. He’s scheduled to start Friday against the Blue Jays.

In addition to Castro, the only other hits were by Fernando Martinez and Chris Snyder. The Astros also didn’t commit an error once again.

On the the mound, the Astros got scoreless innings from pitchers Henry Villar and Fernando Abad, who drew heaps of praise for manager Brad Mills for the way he was able to make adjustments. Abad was all the rage a year ago after a strong winter ball outing, but he had a terrible spring. Mills said he’s pitching like he did in 2010, which is a great sign for the lefty.

Mills also lauded Lucas Harrell, who threw 1 2/3 innings of scoreless, hitless relief. Mills said the ball was exploding out of his hand.

What went wrong: Livan Hernandez allowed three hits, two runs, including a homer, and two walks and struck out two batters in 2 1/3 innings in his second spring start. He left the game after being struck on the right leg by a grounder off the bat of Ryan Zimmerman, but the injury isn’t serious. Here’s what Hernandez had to say about it.

Right-hander Henry Sosa was roughed up, allowing seven hits and five runs in two innings.

“It’s a little puzzling because his command is usually pretty good,” Mills said. “We’re going to go back and discuss it and look at the charts and go from there and talk to him a little bit more. Usually, he’s much better of a command-type pitcher than he was today.”

The Astros were held to three hits, with J.B. Shuck, Marwin Gonzalez and Carlos Lee each going 0-for-3. When asked about the team’s offensive performance, Mills gave credit to Nationals starter Edwin Jackson, who threw four scoreless innings and struck out three batters.

What they said: “I felt good. The wind was crazy and there was the fly ball to right field [Zimmerman’s homer]. More important, I feel better than the first time. The breaking ball is better today and the changeup breaks very good. The sinker is working very good, too. I’m trying to work every day and am getting better and better. I feel good today.” — Astros pitcher Livan Hernandez on his outing.

What’s next: Jimmy Paredes, who started at third base for the Astros the final two months of the season, is scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut when the Astros face the Toronto Blue Jays at 12:05 p.m. CT Friday in Kissimmee. Paredes has been bothered by left wrist inflammation since the winter. Left-hander J.A. Happ will start for Houston, making his second appearance of the spring. Brett Myers, Wesley Wright, David Carpenter and Aneury Rodriguez are also scheduled to pitch.

Injury update: Catcher Humberto Quintero was diagnosed with a bulging disk, which has been causing discomfort in his right hip. He had a cortisone shot in Houston on Wednesday and was back in Kissimmee playing catch Thursday. He could catch in the bullpen Saturday, but he probably won’t swing a bat until next week. … Shortstop Angel Sanchez (back) is progressing, but remains sidelined. … Infielder Jimmy Paredes (wrist) made his first Spring Training appearance Thursday and struck out swinging from the left side of the plate. He’s scheduled to make his first start Friday against Toronto and will come off the injury update. … Right-hander Livan Hernandez was hit on the right leg by a grounder Thursday and left the game, but he said it isn’t serious.

Here is the day in photos:

Livan Hernandez laughs as he jokes with former teammates across the field.

Astros pitcher Henry Sosa laughs while awaiting stretch.

Carlos Lee plays catch.

No catching gear required for Castro. He was the DH on Thursday.

Brad Mills shows off his arm by throwing BP.


Game 4: Rodriguez, Lee make debuts, Snyders make noise

The Astros (3-1) got a two-run home run by Brad Snyder and a solo home run by Chris Snyder — his second homer in as many starts — to beat the split-squad New York Mets, 4-1, Tuesday afternoon at windy Osceola County Stadium. Here’s the boxscore.

In addition to marking the spring debuts of Wandy Rodriguez and Carlos Lee, Astros outfielder Fernando Martinez was playing against his former team for the first time. Catch up on his story by clicking here.

Here’s the breakdown;

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Plenty. Wandy Rodriguez allowed one hit in three scoreless innings in his first start of the spring, despite struggling with his location. Aneury Rodriguez worked two scoreless innings, and David Carpenter, Wesley Wright and Wilton Lopez each worked a scoreless inning. Carpenter struck out a pair of batters.

Rodriguez threw 51 pitches and wasn’t hampered at all by the lower back strain that bothered him earlier in camp.

“I felt good today, but I need to work a lot because I missed a lot of my spots,” he said. “That’s normal because it’s my first outing. My arm felt very strong today.”

Chris Snyder started and caught six innings behind he plate and went 1-for-3 with his second home run of the spring. Brad Snyder, a non-roster outfielder, hit a two-run homer in the second inning, cutting his ball down the right-field line and into a stiff wind. Jason Bourgeois scorched the ball three times and had one hit to show for it.

J.B. Shuck had a hit and another walk and Marwin Gonzalez, Chris Johnson, Chris Wallace and Jose Altuve each had a hit. Carlos Lee made his spring debut after missing the first three games because of a strained right hamstring and was 1-for-3.

“I felt like I was in a good position to hit,” Lee said. “The timing was a little off, being the first time out there in a real game. But I like the way I had a good approach today and stayed back and used my hands. It’s all about timing now.”

The Astros didn’t commit and error for the third time in four spring games, and they outhit an opponent (9-5) for the first time this spring.

WHAT WENT WRONG: There’s not too much to be worried about here. The only run the Mets scored came against Brett Myers, who paid for a two-out walk in the fourth. But Myers still located pretty well and he will be fine.

I could get nit-picky and write the Astros were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, but I won’t do that.

WHAT THEY SAID: “I don’t care if it’s Spring Training or the regular season or intra-squad, I want to lock it in right now and stay locked in as much as I can. To get results is a good sign, but I’m still trying to put together good at-bats, see some pitches and make good contact.” — Astros C Chris Snyder, who’s 2-for-5 with two homers in two spring starts.

WHAT’S NEXT: Right-hander Bud Norris will be the last Astros starting pitcher to make his first appearance of the spring when he starts against the Phillies at 12:05 p.m. CT Wednesday in Clearwater, Fla. Fernando Rodriguez, Jorge De Leon and Fernando Abad are also scheduled to pitch for Houston

INJURY UPDATE: Catcher Humberto Quintero traveled to Houston on Tuesday to have his ailing back examined by a team doctor and was expected to get a cortisone shot. . … Third baseman Jimmy Paredes, who has yet to appear in a spring game because of left wrist inflammation, will face live pitching Tuesday afternoon on one of the Minor League fields. … Infielder Angel Sanchez (back) took two sets of batting practice with the coaching staff and tracked pitches with Minor Leaguers.

Here is the day in photos:

Delino DeShields Jr. gets down for a ground ball in drills.

A group of pitchers awaits morning drills.

Jose Altuve works on his bunting.

Jed Lowrie looks pensive at the cage.

Fernando Martinez catches up with former teammate Ruben Tejada.

Former University of Houston catchers Rob Johnson and Chris Snyder talk.

Game 3: Rough day for Astros pitchers

The Astros suffered their first Spring Training loss of the season when the Braves came to Kissimmee and beat them, 10-5, on Monday afternoon. And here I thought they were going to go undefeated. Here’s the boxscore.

Before we get to the breakdown, make sure you read the story of how Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson are pushing each other while they battle for the same spots on the field.

Here’s the breakdown:

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The only Astros pitcher who took the mound and didn’t allow a run was Henry Villar, who gave up one hit in his scoreless innings. Starter Jordan Lyles had a crisp second inning after a tough first inning, and Zach Duke stretched out to three innings and pitched out of trouble a few times.

Relief pitcher Xavier Cedeno struck out three batters in one inning of work around giving up a home run to Dan Uggla.

J.B. Shuck (2-for-2), Jed Lowrie (2-for-2) and Matt Downs (2-for-3), who got a start at third base, led the Astros’ 11-hit attack, which was their most in three spring games. Jordan Schaefer, Jason Bourgeois, J.D. Martinez, Chris Snyder and Joe Thurston also had hits. Jonathan Villar walked twice.

Bogusevic stole two bases. The Astros also turned three double plays. Also, the Astros didn’t strike out in 34 at-bats.

There certainly were plenty of teachable moments for Astros manager Brad Mills, who watched his pitchers allow 13 hits and six walks. The Braves had runners on base in all nine innings, allowing his pitching staff and his defense to see plenty of different situations.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Astros pitchers had trouble finding the strike zone, walking six batters. Lyles endured a 27-pitch first inning and wound up only going two innings, allowing four hits, two runs and one walk. Duke gave up three hits, two walks and one run in three innings.

Rhiner Cruz, the Astros’ Rule 5 pick, made his first appearance and didn’t retire any of the five batters he faced, giving up two hits, four runs (three earned) and two walks. Juan Abreu and Enerio Del Rosario each gave up one hit and one run in one inning of work.

Jack Cust went 0-for-3 and Fernando Martinez went 0-for-2, a day after hitting a three-run home run

WHAT THEY SAID: “There was a lot of defensive things we can take from this game because there were guys on and offensively there are some things we can take from the game. Again, I thought we ran the bases pretty good and were aggressive. Getting to the latter innings, the all-important strike kind of eluded us a little bit.” – Astros manager Brad Mills.

WHAT’S NEXT: First baseman Carlos Lee, who sat out the first three games of the spring season to rest his strained right hamstring, will make his Grapefruit League debut for the Astros against the Mets at 12:05 p.m. Tuesday in Kissimmee. Lefty Wandy Rodriguez will make his first start of the spring for the Astros and is scheduled to pitch three innings.

INJURY UPDATE: Catcher Humberto Quintero (back/hip) is still a few days from getting in the lineup. … Third baseman Jimmy Paredes (wrist) and infielder Angel Sanchez (back) continue to progress and are taking batting practice.

Here is the day in photos:

Carlos Lee scoops up a ball at first.

Matt Downs fields a ball at third base.

Livan Hernandez works in the bullpen.

Former Astros CF Michael Bourn walks to the batting cage with Chris Johnson and Brett Wallace.

Carlos Lee jokes around at the cage.

J.D. Martinez awaits batting practice.

Michael Bourn catches up with third base coach Dave Clark.

Michael Bourn and Carlos Lee get reacquainted.

Jack Cust stretches before BP.

Game 1: Castro’s return, Johnson’s homer thrill Astros

The Astros began Grapefruit League action on Saturday afternoon at warm and windy Osceola County Stadium by beating the Washington Nationals, 3-1, behind strong efforts from seven different pitchers and a two-run homer by Chris Johnson.

Here’s the breakdown:

What went right: You have to start with health. Catcher Jason Castro made his return from a pair of injuries, including a torn ACL that cost him all of last season, and caught three innings and threw out a runner trying to steal. More importantly, Castro says he felt fine. That’s great news for the Astros. Brandon Lyon pitched in a game for the first time since June 13 and threw a scoreless inning.

Astros pitchers didn’t walk any batters, which is a rare feat in a Spring Training game in which you had seven pitchers take the mound. Livan Hernandez and Kyle Weiland threw two scoreless innings, and Brett Myers, Fernando Abad, Brandon Lyon, Wesley Wright and Wilton Lopez each threw a scoreless inning.

Hernandez is relishing the chance to mentor the Astros young staff.

Myers gave up the only run of the game for the Astros, but he appeared to have struck Jesus Flores out on an 0-2 pitch before Flores hit an RBI double. Myers and the Astros were a poor call away from a possible shutout.

At the plate, Chris Johnson gave the Astros all the offense they needed with a two-run homer. It’s a great start for Johnson, who is trying to win the Opening Day third base job. With Jimmy Paredes nursing a sore wrist, Johnson is taking advantage of his opportunity early.

Elsewhere, J.B. Shuck had a hit and – surprise! – a walk, and Jose Altuve, Jed Lowrie (triple) and Jason Bourgeois had hits. The Astros didn’t commit an error.

What went wrong: Well, nothing really. When you don’t walk any batters, don’t make any errors, win the game and escape healthy, it’s a good day.

What they said: “We always talk about going up there and having good at-bats and making good contact. When it went over the fence, that was a plus. It’s definitely a good start, but it’s only one at-bat. I have to keep going.” – third baseman Chris Johnson on his two-run, fourth-inning homer of Washington’s Ross Detwiler.

What’s next: Left-hander J.A. Happ makes his first start of the Grapefruit League season when the Astros travel to Viera, Fla., to play the Nationals on Sunday at 12:05 p.m. CT (the game will be broadcast on MLB.TV). Among the players expected to be in the lineup for the first time for Houston are Chris Snyder, Brian Bogusevic and J.D. Martinez.

Injury update: Carlos Lee (mild right hamstring strain) is expected to be in the lineup Monday. … Catcher Humberto Quintero (right leg) is day-to-day. … Third baseman Jimmy Paredes (left wrist) has been cleared to swing a bat from the left side of the plate. … Infielder Angel Sanchez (back) is making steady progress but isn’t game ready.

Here are the photos:

Livan Hernandez catches up with some old teammates.

Bench coach Joe Pettini skies some pop ups during morning drills.

Chris Johnson and Jason Michaels catch up.

Carlos Lee and Chris Johnson talk at the cage.

Jose Altuve prepares to take a cut.

Jason Castro makes contact.

Brandon Barnes signs autographs.

Sanchez slowly working his way back from fall

Versatile infielder Angel Sanchez has been dealing with a tight back this spring after slipping and falling while taking his mother’s luggage down a set of stairs earlier this month. Sanchez took some ground balls hit right at him Wednesday and swung at balls on a tee.

“It felt way better than [Tuesday], so it’s improving,” he said.

Sanchez, a non-roster invitee who started at shortstop on Opening Day last year, was able to field ground balls at shortstop, second base and third base, but not at full speed. Astros manager Brad Mills would like to be able to get him on the field soon at full speed.

“His back is still real tight and the doctors don’t feel comfortable letting him go with it,” he said. “We’re still taking nice and easy ground balls right at him, but it’s putting him behind the eight ball because it’s not giving him an opportunity to take ground balls and take swings. We’re not going to rush him because we want to make sure he’s 100 percent.”

Be sure to check out this feature on CF Jordan Schafer by clicking here.

Here are some photos, some of which are up-close:

Wandy Rodriguez has some fun.

Humberto Quintero has some fun.

J.A. Happ warms up for live batting practice.

J.B. Shuck cracks a grin.

Juan Abreu throws to hitters with Burt Hooton watching.

Jason Bourgeois wonders why I'm standing so close.

The future: Jonathan Singleton, Delino DeShields Jr., George Springer.

Fernando Martinez awaits BP.

Smoke billows across the street while Henry Sosa pitches.

Astros outfield race has plenty of options

The Astros plan to give Brian Bogusevic a good look in center field this spring, putting him in competition with Jordan Schafer and Jason Bourgeois for the starting nod. Bogusevic started 31 games in right field last year after Hunter Pence was traded, but has some experience in center and enough athleticism to play the position.

What’s more, the Astros have Jack Cust and Travis Buck capable of playing right field.

“His ability gives him the opportunity to be able to play center or right, but we want this guy to step up and be an everyday starter for us and there’s reason he won’t be able to,” Astros manager Brad Mills said of Bogusevic. “We all saw what he can do at times last year.”

Bogusevic, a former first-round pick as a pitch who made the switch to outfield in 2008, understands the importance of being versatile enough to play different positions, and is more than willing to give center field a shot.

“There’s a lot of guys going for open spots, so I think everybody is trying to make a good impression all around,” he said.

Cust can play in left and right and will get some ground balls at first base. Top prospect Jonathan Singleton will also get some time in the outfield, Mills said. Versatile infielders Matt Downs and Brian Bixler will also do some work in the outfield.

Regarding Schafer, Mills said: “He seems like he’s on a mission.”

Here are a few other items of interest:

  • Astros manager Brad Mills announced the starting pitchers for the team’s first two Grapefruit League games, with veteran Livan Hernandez pitching Saturday against the Washington Nationals – his former team – at Kissimmee. Left-hander J.A. Happ will face the Nats on Sunday in Viera, Fla.
  • Astros pitchers will take a break from throwing live batting practice on Tuesday, giving some of the pitching groups two days off between times on the mound.
  • The Astros haven’t been able to successfully schedule extra B games against other clubs, something they wanted to do to create more innings for all of the arms they have in camp. Mills said some pitchers might have to throw in Minor League games. “You’d rather have B games against other teams, but that didn’t quite work out,” he said.
  • Infielder Angel Sanchez was again forced to watch from the sidelines against Monday because of his ailing back. Sanchez did some light toss, but didn’t participate in the team’s defensive drills. He said the back is improving.

Here is the day in pictures:

Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson take balls at third.

Chris Snyder and Jason Castro walk across the field.

A group of pitchers awaits the next drill.

Brad Mills watches Zach Duke pick-off drills.

Back problems kept Angel Sanchez on the sidelines Monday.

David Carpenter, Fernando Rodriguez and Lucas Harrell shoot the breeze.

David Carpenter throws a pitch to a hitter.

Jason Castro check the schedule.

Who knew bats on born-on dates?

J.D. Martinez talks with hitting coach Mike Barnett.

Jose Altuve plays catch with himself while awaiting the next drill.

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