HOUSTON -- Center fielder Jordan Schafer returned to the Astros' starting lineup for Tuesday night's exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox at Minute Maid Park.Schafer had been sidelined for two weeks after injuring his left hand making a diving catch in the outfield. There was discussion whether he would have to begin the season on the disabled list. "I'm going to take BP, see how it feels," Schafer said before Tuesday's game. "If I feel all right, I'll get in there and get some at-bats before [Friday's season opener]. I can't do any more damage to it. "I definitely didn't want to start on the DL. I felt comfortable this spring. I feel I had some good at-bats. I definitely want to build on that. I can't force it if I'm not feeling good again and I have to change my swing because it's not ready yet. Then I'll have to take a couple more days." Schafer said he wouldn't be completely healed by Opening Day. "I'm not close to 100 percent," he said. "Am I good enough to go out there and play? I think so. That's what today's all about. Hopefully, it will be good enough that I can play and be productive. Hopefully over the next couple of weeks, it will get back to 100 percent again." Schafer impressed Houston manager Brad Mills in Spring Training. "Jordan Schafer looked early in the spring like a guy who was on a mission," Mills said. "[Monday] night, Schafer was able to hit a little bit off some live pitching. He seems to feel good today. There's no reason to think he won't [be able to start Friday]. We've given him every opportunity to get better and given him so many tests to make sure he won't go backward." General manager Jeff Luhnow compared Schafer to Boston center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. The health of shortstop Jed Lowrie, who sprained his thumb last Wednesday, was still in doubt. "I haven't talked with Jed today," Mills said. "I'm a little more skeptical with him."
Johnson's patient aggressiveness paying off
HOUSTON -- Will the real Chris Johnson please stand up?Is the Astros' third baseman the same guy who hit .308 with 11 homers and 52 RBIs in 94 games as a rookie in 2010? Or is he the guy who stumbled through last season with a .251 average with only seven homers and 42 RBIs in 107 games and earned himself a demotion. After hitting .368 with six doubles, five homers and 11 RBIs during Spring Training, Johnson appears to be back to his 2010 level. "A lot of things happened last year," he said. "I didn't quite make the adjustments as early as I should have. I may have gotten a little cocky, and thought I was just going to come in last year and do it again. That's one thing I learned. You never want to get comfortable here. You have to keep working every single day." Johnson worked in the offseason to get stronger and change his approach at the plate. This spring he showed more patience. "I'm trying to get my pitch," he said. "I still want to be aggressive, but I want to be really aggressive on the pitch I want to hit." New Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow promised that the new Chris Johnson will more closely resemble the old one than the 2011 edition. "The Chris Johnson we saw two years ago that got everybody excited, I think that's the guy we're going to see [this year]," Luhnow said. "Mentally, he's ready to be our everyday third baseman." The Astros gave Johnson some confidence when they sent down Brett Wallace, last year's first baseman who was moved to third in the spring, to Triple-A Oklahoma City. "It's really tough to see when guys get sent down, especially with Brett," Johnson said. "We went through a lot last year together. Brett's a really good player and he's going to be back up here. It's really nice for [the Astros] to say, 'You're our everyday third baseman." It's definitely a vote of confidence. They told me I'm starting on Friday. That's what I'm taking it as. From then on, I'm going to earn my playing time." Johnson, 27, said he isn't the same person he was in 2010. "I'm a lot smarter baseball player," he said. "Things last year really helped me out. It let me see that you can't take anything for granted. You go through those ups and downs. It helped me learn from that kind of stuff. If you don't start out well, you have to keep going." Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman, the former Astro, gave Johnson some sage advice. "He told me last year. 'Don't get caught up in trying to prove people wrong,'" Johnson said. Now Johnson knows that Berkman was right.
Weiland earns spot with confidence, command
HOUSTON -- Right-hander Kyle Weiland arrived at Spring Training with the Astros with nothing guaranteed and everything to prove.Weiland found out Monday that not only had he made the big league club, but that he would be part of the starting rotation. "I just got on the phone with my wife first, then called my parents [in Albuquerque]," Weiland said. His wife, Rachel, was driving from Florida back to Houston, and then on to Austin where they live in the offseason. His parents were even more excited by the news. "They kept hearing rumors," Weiland said. "My local paper said I had made the team before it was even official. They were getting phone calls. They called me and I said, 'I can't tell you that. I don't know yet.' They were relieved and obviously excited. My Dad said they were going to try to make it down for my first start." Weiland appeared in seven games last year with the Red Sox with less-than-spectacular results, an 0-3 record and 7.66 ERA. He saw Houston as a new opportunity. "You have to have confidence in this game no matter what your situation is," he said. "I knew there was a chance I could break [camp] with the team. I knew there was good talent I was going against to win a spot. The biggest thing for me was not to try to do too much." Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ were sure bets to be in the rotation. Young Jordan Lyles, who started the second half last year, was a good prospect. Veterans Livan Hernandez and Zach Duke were brought in to compete for the jobs. But Weiland, who went 2-1 with a 2.86 ERA this spring, won the starter's spot along with another newcomer, Lucas Harrell. He quickly caught manager Brad Mills' attention. "The guy who sticks out is Kyle Weiland," Mills said when asked about his newcomers. "The way he has been throwing the ball all spring. He keeps the ball down, the command of his fastball, his sinker. You kind of smile. He does so many things to help himself pitch well and help the ball club win the game. He holds runners well, he fields his position well. He locates his pitches extremely well. You put those things together and we're going to have an opportunity to win games with him on the hill." Weiland learned what it took along the way. "I put too much pressure on myself in spring 2010," he said. "Last year, I was able to control it. I started to hone in on what I could control and staying within myself. I realized what I have in my repertoire is enough. That really helped me last year. Coming into this year I really settled in."
Gene Duffey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.