Astros energized by Mills on first day
Pitchers, catchers enjoy workout with new manager
KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Astros pitcher Brett Myers, one of several key new faces to don the brick-red batting practice jersey this spring, emerged from the clubhouse of Osceola County Stadium and into the Florida sunlight and whispered to himself.
"Here we go," he said.
Indeed, the Astros hit the field Saturday morning for their first workout of Spring Training and the first day on the field for new manager Brad Mills, who was hired in October to replace Cecil Cooper. A new era in Astros baseball appeared to start without a hitch.
Houston owner Drayton McLane, who arrived in town to announce he had signed general manager Ed Wade to a two-year extension, listened as Mills addressed the 29 pitches, six catchers and coaching staff in a brief meeting before sending the players onto the field.
"I think one of the best sounds in all of the world is to hear that ball hitting a leather glove," McLane said. "We're very pleased with Brad Mills. Ed and I had an opportunity to sit in on his opening meeting with the pitchers and catchers and saw his leadership, the energy he had and the respect the players had for him, so that was really good."
Mills, 53, kept his promise and had the players going at a quick pace during a two-hour workout on the back fields. He doesn't like players standing around doing nothing, and he doesn't get much enjoyment out of that, either.
So he put himself in the middle of the action, hitting baseballs back to the pitchers on the mound during one of the drills. He was vocal and seemed to be reveling in his first day of being a Major League manager as much as the players appeared to enjoy his leadership.
"Camp Mills was very well organized, and it was everything he said it was going to be," veteran pitcher Brian Moehler said. "It was organized, it was smaller groups, it was quick and it was good. It was very efficient and we got a lot of work in a short amount of time."
The pitchers and catchers will work out for four days before being joined by the rest of the team on Wednesday.
For veteran pitchers like Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez, another Spring Training is nothing more than a six-week routine to get ready for the regular season. For newcomers like Myers, Matt Lindstrom and Brandon Lyon, it's a chance to get acquainted with new faces and surroundings.
"I've heard nothing but good things about the Houston Astros organization," Lindstrom said. "I liked pitching at Minute Maid the last three years going there, and I think general manager Ed Wade did a nice job bringing some guys in and hopefully it will take us over the top."
Saturday's first workout wasn't without a deeper purpose. The Astros have several questions to answer during the next six weeks. They need to determine a starting catcher between Jason Castro and J.R. Towles, they need to sort out the bottom of the pitching rotation and find some answers in the bullpen.
Those issues will take weeks to sort themselves out, and Wade is happy with the options he has in camp.
"We've got decision to make," Wade said. "I think we try to make the decisions against backdrop of having a positive attitude about it. We've got the guys here. We just need to give them the opportunity to go out there and in time, be able to have enough of a body of work to be able to make the right decisions."
Mills split the workout into two three-group camps consisting of five or six pitchers in each group. One group worked on game awareness, bunting and rapid-fire pitchers' fielding practice, and the other fielded comebackers from Mills and worked on running the bases and hitting.
"They were very good," Mills said. "I loved the energy level and how they went about their business. I only saw this side of camp. I didn't get a chance to see the other side of the camp, but from what I understand, it went real well. That's what we're tying to get accomplished."
Myers went as far to call the workout enjoyable.
"I couldn't think of a better day," Myers said. "Brad is very energetic and hands-on with the players, which I respect a lot. We had fun today, and I couldn't tell you that my first day of Spring Training in the past seven, eight years was fun for me. It always felt like hard work. We worked hard today, but they made it fun doing the hard work.
"When I go home tonight and sit back and realize how much we did, I'll go, 'You know, we did work hard today,' but they made it go by so fast and made it so much fun, you had to have that extra step. Instead of standing around all the time, we were moving all day today, so it was good."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.