Astros trim roster with first cuts of spring
First-rounder Springer sent to Minor League camp after big game
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Mere hours after George Springer helped the Astros beat the Yankees with a dazzling late-inning display in Tampa, he was one of the casualties of the club's first round of Spring Training cuts.Six players were reassigned on Tuesday -- right-handed pitchers Jorge De Leon and Arcenio Leon, both of whom are on the 40-man roster, second baseman Delino DeShields Jr., right-hander Henry Villar, shortstop Jonathan Villar and Springer. None of the moves affected any of the Astros' spring position battles. "It was the right time to do it," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "Our staff has gotten a really good look at all the players. We have an opportunity now with Minor League games starting [Thursday] for them to take a day off and then come here and really take the at-bats and innings pitched that they need to get ready for the season to start." Among the pitchers cut, De Leon worked two innings in the Grapefruit League, giving up a run on two hits, Villar worked two scoreless innings and Leon gave up a run in one inning. Among the position players, DeShields went 0-for-2 in three games and Villar was 0-for-2 in four games. Springer, though, might have made the best impression. The Astros' No. 1 pick (No. 11 overall) from the 2011 Draft went 3-for-8 with a double in eight games. In two innings Monday night, he made an acrobatic catch in center field, hit the go-ahead RBI double and then swiped third base to set up what turned out to be the winning run in a 4-3 victory. "He has all the tools to be an impact big leaguer," Luhnow said of Springer, who will likely begin the season at the Class A level. "Not only making the catch but then hitting that double, stealing third base and then making an incredible slide at home plate for that run, it felt to me like he was playing that game to win, and that's what we've stressed from the beginning.
"Even though it's only Spring Training and we're not expected to win that many games this year, you have to have an attitude that we want to win every game, no matter what's going on. That was exemplified by Springer. He definitely demonstrated to us the mindset and the tool set to be an impact big leaguer."The Astros have 57 players in camp, so they have a lot of whittling to do to get down to 25 by Opening Day.
Livan boosts chances at landing rotation spot
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Livan Hernandez is a favorite for one of the Astros' two open rotation spots, and he'll have no trouble locking down the job if he keeps delivering like he did Tuesday.Hernandez had his sharpest sinker working in five scoreless innings against the Phillies, allowing just five hits and striking out one. The strikeout came in a key situation, as Hunter Pence had doubled off Hernandez with two out in the fourth, but Hernandez got Luis Montanez to go down swinging to end the threat. "My arm is feeling very fresh and very good right now," Hernandez said. "Everything was good today. My sinker was down, my changeup was good and my curveball had good break." It was an efficient outing for Hernandez, who tossed 65 pitches, 39 for strikes.
"My last start, there were a lot of foul balls," he said. "I threw 48 pitches in two innings. I try to keep the ball down. We've got a good defense, so you've got to use it." The 37-year-old Hernandez, a veteran of 16 Major League seasons and 474 starts, is competing alongside fellow veteran Zach Duke and youngsters Jordan Lyles, Kyle Weiland and Henry Sosa for one of the two open spots in the rotation.
Ruggiano back; Quintero, Escalona close
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros are getting several members of their roster back to full health.Justin Ruggiano, who has been sidelined by oblique muscle issues, got his first start of the Grapefruit League season Tuesday, batting eighth and playing in right field. He was initially scheduled to start Sunday's game against the Tigers, but that game was rained out. Catcher Humberto Quintero should also be on the field soon. Quintero, who had a cortisone injection in his back on Wednesday to help alleviate the pain from a bulging disk, has been catching bullpen sessions and should be ready to get into a game by the weekend, manager Brad Mills said. "Q feels good," Mills said. "He's going to have some more tee [work] and graduate to soft toss. If things keep progressing, we're hoping this weekend we can get him into a game for a short stint." Left-handed reliever Humberto Escalona, who has dealt with a hyperextended elbow, is also progressing toward game action and will toss a full bullpen session in the next couple days. "He's feeling really good," Mills said. "We're very happy with him."
The Astros are still waiting to hear if the Tigers are willing to schedule a "B" game to make up for Sunday's rainout. "But there are plenty of opportunities [for game action]," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. On that front, the Astros had a simulated game on the back fields Wednesday to get needed innings for some players, including right-hander Henry Sosa.
Brad Mills said he was pleased with the pop he saw from utility man Matt Downs last season, and he's even more pleased with how well Downs pays attention to game situations so that he's ready when called upon. "He's a very observant player," Mills said. "He's very astute to the game. Here's a guy that knows exactly when he might be used in a game, and he prepares himself for that position. He's on the game, he's watching the game from the first pitch and he's got an idea when he might be used and goes from there."
Just because it's only Spring Training and just because the Astros aren't counted as contenders this season doesn't mean the higher-ups don't want to see a winning attitude on an everyday basis. "We try to, from the outset, talk about being competitive with our mindset for our positions and against ballclubs in Spring Training," Mills said. "We've said that from Day 1, and that's what we're trying to do right now is get that [message] through to them. That's the same attitude that we're moving forward with."
The Astros had their annual meeting with representatives from the MLB Players' Association on Tuesday morning. MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner and members of his staff addressed the entire team, providing updates on labor issues.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.