Optimism greets Astros in Kissimmee
Strong finish to 2010 season has Mills and staff confident
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Jeff Fulchino was still sporting a thick beard, the result of spending his winter in frigid New England. Ryan Rowland-Smith was trying to get his body clock adjusted from being on the West Coast for a few weeks. And owner Drayton McLane was his usual bundle of optimism.
Astros pitchers and catchers reported for work on Wednesday morning at Osceola County Stadium for physicals and meetings before hitting the field for the first workout of Spring Training. The clubhouse was full of optimism for the Astros, who had a major roster overhaul last season and still managed to put together a strong second half while starting four rookies on most nights.
"It's here -- it's arrived," right-hander Bud Norris said. "After the new year, everybody starts to get that itch to get back down here. We're excited to have the meeting and get out on the field, and stretch out and start throwing the baseball a little bit."
The Astros worked out for about three hours on a warm Wednesday morning. Three of the six groups of pitchers threw off bullpen mounds for the first time, while others did fielding drills, practiced bunting and were put through the rapid-fire fielding practice.
"It was a good re-intro into the fundamentals," veteran right-hander Nelson Figueroa said. "Some of the young guys were getting used to the surroundings, and for the veteran guys, it was a good day. I tried to take a leadership role and keep the pace of the camp going well. It was fun. I got a lot of work in in a short amount of time."
The biggest news for second-year manager Brad Mills was that everyone who was supposed to be in camp reported on time and escaped healthy after the first day.
"It was sure nice to see the pitchers that were here last year and the way they went through all their work," Mills said. "Not that I expected it to be bad or anything else, but they all went through it extremely well. The veteran guys like [Brett] Myers, Wandy [Rodriguez] and Brandon Lyon and Fulchino, they all did a great job."
The pitchers and catchers will be joined on Sunday by the rest of their teammates, several of whom reported a few days early to get a jump start on 2011. More than a dozen non-catching position players were at camp on Wednesday, including Hunter Pence, Clint Barmes, Chris Johnson, Brett Wallace and Tommy Manzella. Also in camp was 2009 first-round pick Jiovanni Mier.
"I'm going to watch other guys and how they go about their business," said Mier, who is in Major League camp for the first time but isn't going to make the club. "I'm going to get my feet wet. I'm here for the experience, and I'm definitely going to soak everything in and learn to ask questions."
Castro, who's entering the season as the starting catcher, caught Sergio Escalona, Lyon and Fernando Abad in the bullpen and saw little rust.
"It's good to see guys you've never seen and nice to get kind of acquainted with some of the pitchers from last year," Castro said. "We'll just take it from here and keep getting our work in."
The first few days of camp are about pitchers and catchers, rhythm and grace. They're about new faces meeting the old guard and youngsters getting their first taste of life in the Major Leagues. It's a time like no other in baseball, a time when everything is fresh and everyone is eager.
"It's going to be a fun time," Mills said." I think we've got a good group of guys, and that's going to make it fun. Working with talented players is always a fun thing."
Rowland-Smith, one of 30 healthy pitchers in camp and new to the Astros this year after spending his entire career with the Seattle Mariners, reported to Osceola County Stadium a few days early to get the lay of the land.
"I'm getting to know a few guys; give me about a week, and I should be settled in," Rowland-Smith said. "You want to know everyone as quick as you can and make a good first impression. It's all new. I've been going to the same place for the last 10 years -- Minor League camp and big league camp with the Mariners -- so this is the first time away from that."
After getting their throwing and drills in, the pitchers did their conditioning work and left the complex around lunchtime. Day 1 was in the books, but much work lies ahead.
"No matter where you've been, no matter where you've trained, the first week is tough," Figueroa said. "There are a lot of different baseball movements you're getting back into and getting used to, and you want to make sure when it comes time for the games, your arm is as ready as your legs are. The young kids will learn that. Today, the first day, was a good example."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.