KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Before the Astros hit the field for their morning stretch Friday, manager Brad Mills addressed the club and reminded the players that Opening Day is only two weeks away and he wants to see a little crisper play.
"I told the guys this morning we have two weeks left to get this thing cranked up, and now's the time to tighten the screws a little bit and show us what they need to show us and make sure the fundamentals are executed properly," Mills said.
The Astros, who committed three errors in Thursday's loss to the Mets, have watched their starting pitchers labor through long first innings for much of the past 10 days. Bud Norris righted the ship Friday, retiring nine of the 10 batters he faced.
"Our pitching has kind of struggled a little bit, especially in the first inning," Mills said. "Look at the runs our starters have given up in the first innings in the last week, week and a half. We made three errors [Thursday], but going into that game our defense had been nails.
"I did mention to them today I wanted them to continue to keep that focus and concentration as we move forward, and also make sure the intensity is there, as far as how they're going about their work. They've done such good work up until now, and we'd hate to see them lose any of that ground they've already gained in the last two weeks."
Bogusevic the front-runner for right-field job
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros manager Brad Mills took a verbal spin around the field Friday, pointing out the players who have the upper hand for starting jobs. There is certainly little drama remaining over which players will start in the outfield and the infield, with the exception of right field.
Mills lauded the play of Brian Bogusevic, and said he probably has the upper hand in right field, where Travis Buck, J.B. Shuck and Jack Cust are all in the running. Bogusevic, a left-handed hitter, has struggled this spring, with three hits and nine strikeouts in 29 at-bats.
"I think you almost have to give him the upper hand because of what he has done," Mills said. "I know he's going through a tough time right now. With [Jason] Bourgeois no longer being on this club, that opens a spot all on its own. We're kind of putting things together and seeing how the players are going to complement each other as we move forward."
Bogusevic hit .287 with four homers, 15 RBIs and four stolen bases in 87 games last year, and got most of the starts in right field following the trade of Hunter Pence to the Phillies in late July.
"Bogie has a lot of skills, and the way he played last year at the end of the year showed those skills -- power, average, speed and his arm," Mills said. "To discount that right now because he's gone through a tough last week or two of struggling a little bit offensively, I don't think that's right to do."
Astros to give Bixler work in the outfield
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The departure of Jason Bourgeois, who was traded to the Royals on Tuesday along with catcher Humberto Quintero, has not only opened up another spot in the outfield, but it's brought to attention the Astros' lack of right-handed-hitting outfielders.
With that in mind, Astros manager Brad Mills gave Brian Bixler, an infielder by trade, a good look in the outfield on Friday. He started in center field in the "B" game on the back field on Friday, and then started in left field against the Nationals later in the day, where he went 2-for-4 with a solo homer.
Bixler, 29, is a non-roster invitee who has played 659 career games in the Major Leagues and Minor Leagues at shortstop. He had never played the outfield prior to 2009, but he played 16 games in the outfield in '09, 15 in '10 and 43 last season.
"All the reports we have of him playing the outfield are very good," Mills said. "He'll keep playing those outfield positions and also play shortstop. One of the coaches was talking to him this morning, and he's also caught in the past. There's a lot of value there. We're just trying to fit it in the best we can."
Mills also said Matt Downs, another right-handed-hitting infielder, would get some time in the outfield, but not as a starter.
Schafer a few days away from return to lineup
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros center fielder Jordan Schafer, who sprained his left hand making a diving catch in the outfield on Sunday, said he's still a few days away from being able to return to the lineup. Schafer took some swings off a tee on Friday, but had to shut it down when he tried to hit live pitching.
"It's still a little sore for that," he said. "I took some soft toss and that was OK, so we'll go from there. It shouldn't be more than a few days. I'm feeling better every day. Swinging off the tee, I was fine, but it was a little bit too much [pain] in live BP."
Meanwhile, left-hander Sergio Escalona has hit a roadblock in his recovery from a hyper extended left elbow suffered swinging a bat early in camp. Escalona threw one-third of an inning Thursday against the Mets in his second outing of the spring, and gave up four hits and four runs.
The Astros said he was set to be examined by a doctor.
"He's not pitching well and is feeling some discomfort and we're going to see where it goes," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "Hopefully, it's nothing, and he'll just need rest or so forth. We're going to run out of time here pretty quickly, so we'll have to have a plan B."
The other lefty relief pitchers in camp are Wesley Wright, Fernando Abad and Zach Duke, who's also in the hunt for a rotation spot.
Shortstop Jed Lowrie returned to the lineup Friday for the first time since fouling a ball off his right foot in Tuesday's game. Lowrie has started wearing a protective pad on his foot and ankle, at least until the foot heals.
"There's no reason not to after something like that, especially when there's still swelling and inflammation," Lowrie said. "You want to make sure it doesn't happen again. It will get me at least through until the swelling and bruising and inflammation are gone."
Jack Cust was originally scheduled to start in the outfield in Friday's "B" game, but was moved to designated hitter because of his balky left elbow. Cust has yet to make an appearance in the outfield during a Grapefruit League game this spring, but he came off the bench and delivered a pinch-hit in the third to snap an 0-for-24 spring drought.
Livan Hernandez threw 81 pitches in five innings in a "B" game on Friday. Relief pitcher Fernando Rodriguez also pitched in the game, which included a handful of Minor Leaguers. Ross Seaton and Josh Zeid were among the Minor Leaguers to pitch.