HOUSTON -- The signing of veteran catcher Chris Snyder in the offseason gave the Astros some depth at the position and some added offensive punch that was sorely needed. But Snyder's presence in the clubhouse and handling of the pitching staff can't be overlooked.
Making his first start for the Astros on Saturday, Snyder was behind the plate when starting pitcher Lucas Harrell threw seven scoreless innings in a win over the Rockies. Harrell credited Snyder with helping him pitch to his strengths in different situations.
"I shook him off maybe three or four times to get a different pitch," Harrell said. "One time I shook him off and he shook his head back and put down the same sign, and I threw it and got the guy out. I turned and looked at him and gave him a smile. He knows what he's talking about."
Astros manager Brad Mills is still trying to figure out how he's going to split up the playing time between Snyder, a right-handed hitter, and Jason Castro, a left-handed hitter. Both are coming off major surgery and had strong springs, but Mills wasn't ready to commit to Snyder catching Harrell from here on out, despite the good results Saturday.
The Astros are in the midst of facing a steady flow of right-handed starters, which means Castro figures to make most of the starts in the coming days.
"We're just going to have to kind of see how things come as we move forward," Mills said. "There's no doubt that [how well a pitcher works with a catcher] will have consideration, but after just one time? I don't know yet. That might pan out later."
Lee's input helps Bogusevic find stroke
HOUSTON -- When Brian Bogusevic was struggling at the plate during Spring Training, he was in the weight room when Carlos Lee started picking his brain, trying to help Bogusevic get his swing back on track. It worked, too, as Bogusevic finished spring with a flourish and homered on Opening Day.
"It's not the first time that's happened," Bogusevic said about Lee having a talk with him. "He's so naturally talented, but at the same time he knows hitting so well, so he can kind of use that knowledge of general hitting to get to other people.
"I was struggling and we were in the weight room one day and he was asking me, 'What do you feel like?' He was just kind of telling me, 'If you feel that, try to do this and work on this.' We talked for a while and I went to the cage and for the next few days while we were hitting we were talking about things. It definitely helped a lot."
Lee wasn't the only one to lend some advice to Bogusevic in the spring. Towards the end of camp, manager Brad Mills sat him down for a heart-to-heart talk and reaffirmed his confidence in his abilities.
"He sat me down and said, 'You're going to be all right, just fight through it and get going,'" Bogusevic said. "It was nice to feel a little bit of confidence from them, and it helped to keep my confidence up. It was nice to have a chance to fight through it."
Mills impressed by Gonzalez in early going
HOUSTON -- Astros manager Brad Mills admittedly didn't know much about shortstop Marwin Gonzalez when the club took him in the Rule 5 Draft in December, but it didn't take him long to fall in love with infield's skills, especially his superb defensive ability.
Gonzalez, who made the club after a good spring with the glove, has started the first three games in place of the injured Jed Lowrie at shortstop. He missed a swipe tag and a throw from catcher Jason Castro in Friday's game, but played a terrific defensive game Saturday and threw out a runner at the plate.
"We got him in Spring Training and he appeared to be a true shortstop that is very heady, very alert and wants to learn and is a good kid," Mills said. "That's kind of what we saw in Spring Training."
Gonzalez, who combined to hit .288 with four homers and 39 RBIs in 124 games between Double-A and Triple-A last year in the Cubs organization, collected his first Major League hit Saturday, and Mills expects more offensive production to develop.
"He has really shown us a lot of ability," he said. "He's done a really good job with the way he's handled everything."
That being said, Lowrie is expected to come off the disabled Friday and will be the starter at shortstop, which means Gonzalez will have to come off the bench. He has appeared in games at every infield position in his career and has even played some outfield.
Astros claim Maxwell from Yanks, option Abad
HOUSTON -- The Astros added depth to their outfield mix Sunday by announcing they had claimed Justin Maxwell off waivers from the Yankees. The club optioned left-handed pitcher Fernando Abad to Triple-A Oklahoma City on Monday to make room.
Maxwell will give the Astros a right-handed outfield option off the bench, something they've been without since trading Jason Bourgeois. The Astros currently have four outfielders on their roster, though infielders Brian Bixler and Matt Downs can play the outfield.
Maxwell, 28, spent his entire 2011 season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the Yankees system, hitting .260 with 16 home runs and 35 RBIs. He appeared in 27 games for the Yankees this spring, hitting .310 with 11 RBIs before being designated for assignment on Wednesday.
"Just looking at what he did last year in limited playing time in Triple-A -- 16 homers in 48 games -- he's got some speed and can play the outfield, all three positions," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "We had our scouts look at him this spring and we suspected he might be available, and when he became available it was a pretty easy decision for us."
The only Major League experience for Maxwell has come with the Washington Nationals, for whom he appeared in 122 games (2007, 2009-10). He's played all three outfield positions in his Major League career, including 57 games in center field.
Luhnow said the Astros have to take advantage of having the first crack at waiver claims, based on finishing with the worst record in the league last year.
"It's nice when you claim someone, you know you're going to get him in this position," he said. "Hopefully, we're not in it for too long, but for now it's a nice position to be in. He'll be here tomorrow and we'll figure out where to go from there.
"When an asset like that becomes available, there's really no downside to bringing him in. We're going to take advantage of it. This won't be the last time you see that."
Shortstop Jed Lowrie, who's on the disabled list with a sprained right thumb, took batting practice on the field Sunday from both sides of the plate and will hit again on the field Monday and Tuesday. Lowrie is scheduled to be activated Friday, but he could get some Minor League at-bats prior to his return.