KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- One of the biggest positives for the Astros this spring has been the left-handed swing of shortstop Jed Lowrie, who's traditionally been a much better hitter from the right side of the plate in his career.
Lowrie has a pair of home runs from the left side of the plate -- and had a two-run single left-handed in Tuesday's game -- and hitting coach Mike Barnett credits a small adjustment with Lowrie's head with helping him see the ball better.
"We knew coming in [that] his numbers have not been as good from the left side as they were the right side, and we needed to see if there was something different going on," Barnett said. "A lot of times, switch-hitters have two different types of personalities. It's like dealing with two different guys."
By examining video from both of Lowrie's batting stances, Barnett noticed that Lowrie's head tilted slightly sideways from the left side, which was causing his bat to drag through the batting zone a little bit.
"We talked about it, and he made the adjustment," Barnett said. "He said, 'That makes so much sense, because when my head is in there sideways, I can't track pitches back to the catcher, either.' Now he's got his head more square and straight upright, with both eyes on the pitcher, and it's easier for him to track pitches."
Schafer to visit hand specialist in Atlanta
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Center fielder Jordan Schafer, who hasn't played since injuring his left hand making a diving catch in the outfield on March 18, was to fly to Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon to be examined by a hand specialist, general manager Jeff Luhnow said.
Schafer had hoped to return to the lineup on Monday after taking batting practice over the weekend, but the hand hasn't responded as well as he had hoped, and he was held out of drills completely on Tuesday.
Schafer was diagnosed with a hand sprain, but he said on Saturday that it's more of an issue with the nerves in the hand.
"My sense is that by the weekend he'll be back hitting and hopefully be in games by the end of the weekend," Luhnow said. "We have to be cautious, and if he feels any discomfort at all, we're going to take it easy on him. The goal is to have him ready to go on Opening Day."
Schafer has had plenty of problems with his left hand in the past. He had surgery on his left wrist at the end of the 2009 season, and last year broke a joint in his left middle finger. He was on the disabled list with that injury when the Astros acquired him from the Braves last July as part of the Michael Bourn deal. Schafer was hitting .391 prior to the injury.
Manager Brad Mills is not yet worried about Schafer not being ready for Opening Day.
"Each day we go, those concerns probably grow," Mills said. "As of right now, we've got a ways to go. If we get to Sunday and he's not in there, it becomes a concern because he hasn't faced live pitching."
Norris not worried about tightness in arm
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Right-hander Bud Norris said on Tuesday that he's not worried about the lingering tightness in his right triceps, and he expects to be able to throw about five innings or 80 pitches when he goes on Friday against the Braves. He was originally scheduled to start on Wednesday but was pushed back two days as a precaution.
"I've gotten better each and every day, and the training staff's been working out all those muscle issues, and I've felt a lot better this morning and am excited," Norris said. "[Manager Brad Mills] wanted to give me a couple of more days and go on Friday, and I have no problem with that. I'll be ready to go Friday and be 100 percent."
Norris experienced tightness in the arm last week after sleeping awkwardly on it. He was held to three innings in his most recent start, on Friday against the Nationals, but retired nine of the 10 batters he faced.
Right-hander Lucas Harrell will pitch Wednesday's game against the Marlins instead.
"I could have gone [on Wednesday] if necessary, but Skip just wanted to give me a couple of extra days," Norris said. "I'll be ready when my time comes and the lights come on."
Astros have an Angel trying the outfield
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- With infielders Brian Bixler and Matt Downs getting some time in the outfield this spring, fellow infielder Angel Sanchez has dabbled out there as well. Sanchez has taken a few fly balls in the outfield, including on Monday alongside Downs, in an attempt to expand his resume.
"It was pretty good," Sanchez said. "I went out there and took a few fly balls, and I felt comfortable out there."
Sanchez, who's trying to make the club as a non-roster invitee this year, has certainly shown his versatility since joining the Astros midway through the 2010 season, though he has never played the outfield in professional baseball.
Sanchez started at shortstop on Opening Day when Clint Barmes began the season on the disabled list with a broken hand and spent the entire season on the Major League roster, hitting .240 with 10 doubles and 28 RBIs in 110 games.
"You always want to play everywhere," he said. "I've been practicing [the outfield] since last year. I've been there before in the instructional league, but last year I always tried to practice. You never know what could happen. I'll always be ready for any position."
The Astros released a handful of Minor League players on Tuesday, most notably outfielder Jon Gaston and right-hander Kyle Greenwalt. Gaston was in Major League camp with the Astros last year but never came close to duplicating his 35-homer, 100-RBI season at hitter-friendly Class A Lancaster in 2009. Greenwalt was considered one of the Astros' better pitching prospects three years ago but went 4-10 with a 7.86 ERA at Double-A Corpus Christi last year.
MLB Network's "30 Clubs in 30 Days" episode featuring the Astros airs on Wednesday at 7 p.m. CT. The one-hour show will feature an in-depth look at the roster and which players might shine the brightest this season. Included are interviews with general manager Jeff Luhnow, manager Brad Mills, and players Bud Norris, Carlos Lee, Brett Myers, Jose Altuve and Jason Castro. In addition, Norris will give a tour of the Astros' facility.