HOUSTON -- The delicate balance the Astros had to walk with Jose Altuve this spring was trying to get him to be more aggressive on pitches in the strike zone while getting him to be more patient and draw more walks. Altuve walked often in the spring and has kept it up through four games in the regular season.
Entering Tuesday's game against the Braves, Altuve had walked three times in 13 plate appearances. That's not an impressive number, but considering he walked only five times in 234 plate appearances with the Astros last year, manager Brad Mills is ecstatic.
"It's been pretty good," Mills said. "He's done a real good job trying to make adjustments. That's something we worked on since Day 1 in Spring Training. He's definitely shown some improvement, especially these last three games. His aggressiveness in the strike zone has been good."
Altuve went 0-for-3 with a walk on Friday and went a combined 3-for-9 with two walks on Sunday and Monday. He was out of the lineup Saturday.
"We've seen the last three games a good combination of being aggressive in the strike zone and still getting those walks," Mills said.
After rough opener, defense has improved
HOUSTON -- After committing four errors in an Opening Day loss to the Rockies, the Astros took steps to address their defensive shortcomings and have responded. Houston played errorless ball in the next three games, which was more indicative of the kind of team manager Brad Mills thought he had in Spring Training.
"You kind of wonder with a young ballclub how much of that was first-game jitters and everything else -- the newness of the Major League experience," Mills said. "You wonder if all that played into because they played so well this spring. They've picked right up where they left off in the spring, starting with game two [on Saturday]."
Despite losing Gold Glove-winning center fielder Michael Bourn in a trade with the Braves last July and a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop in Clint Barmes this offseason, Mills believes his team is better defensively than last year's.
Center field Jordan Schafer, acquired in the trade that sent Bourn to Atlanta, can cover a lot of ground, and shortstop Marwin Gonzalez has been terrific defensively after struggling on Friday. What's more, Jason Castro and Chris Snyder have upgraded the overall defense at catcher.
"I know we have the talent the way we played the last three games," Mills said.
Jed Lowrie, who was scheduled to play in the first of two Minor League rehab games at Triple-A Oklahoma City on Tuesday, is expected to be activated Friday, which will push Gonzalez -- a Rule 5 pick -- to the bench. Lowrie hasn't played in nearly two weeks because of a sprained thumb.
Astros change way they count attendance
HOUSTON -- Because the Astros aren't issuing nearly as many complimentary tickets as they've done in years past, their announced attendance numbers this year have been lower than they have been in recent years. Sunday's game at Minute Maid Park drew 14,195 fans -- technically the smallest announced crowd in the ballpark's history -- but it wasn't necessarily the smallest crowd.
Astros president and CEO George Postolos said season-ticket holders were adamant that price integrity was important to them, which led to a different way of counting attendance.
"They paid up front, they paid for a lot of games and they want to make sure that we protect the integrity of the pricing, and that's something we intend to do," Postolos said. "We think it's in the best long-term interest of the franchise and consistent with that, our objective is to go out there and find people that want to come to a game and value the experience of coming to a game and get them here with us to enjoy the games. We're going to build the attendance the right way over the long term."
The Astros, under the ownership of Jim Crane, have been active in listening to their season-ticket holders and have made several fan-friendly changes at the ballpark this year, including lower beer prices and allowing fans to bring in food and water.