HOUSTON -- And then there were two.
The Astros on Tuesday announced the final two contestants for their "You Make the Call" Radio Apprentice Contest -- Crawford Jones, a football player at the University of Houston, and Nate Kurant of Kenneth City, Fla. They are the last two standing following a month-long competition.
Jones and Kurant will return to Minute Maid Park on Thursday and Friday, respectively, to conduct pregame and postgame interviews and in-game interviews with a fan. The winner of the competition will be announced during a pregame ceremony prior to the final home game of the season, Sept. 26 against St. Louis.
The winner will have the opportunity to work as part of the 2013 radio broadcast team in a role that will include conducting pre and postgame interviews, covering news conferences and serving as a roving reporter during games. It is a paid position.
Astros not renewing assistant GM Gottfried's deal
HOUSTON -- Astros assistant general manager David Gottfried, who has worked for the team in various capacities the last 14 years, will not have his contract renewed by the club.
Gottfried was in his sixth season as assistant general manager for player relations, a position he took in 2006. He was previously the club's senior director of baseball operations and earlier the director of Minor League administration.
He joined the Astros in 1998 as a baseball operations assistant.
"I really enjoyed my time there and am proud of the contributions I've made over the last 14 years," Gottfried said. They've decided to go in another direction, and I'm looking forward to my next opportunity."
Gottfried's departure is the latest in a series of front office moves by the Astros that included assistant general manager/director of scouting Bobby Heck and director of professional scouting Ricky Bennett not having their contracts renewed.
Prior to joining the Astros, Gottfried spent five years with the Oakland A's Class A affiliate in Modesto, Calif., serving as GM for two years. He also worked for the Arizona Fall League.
Lowrie, Altuve could return to lineup Wednesday
HOUSTON -- The Astros could have their starting middle infield back together as early as Wednesday. Second baseman Jose Altuve hasn't played since straining an abdominal muscle on Friday, but shortstop Jed Lowrie has been out since July 14 with an injury to his right leg and ankle.
Lowrie returned from his Minor League rehab on Tuesday and could play Wednesday. Altuve was cleared for game action Tuesday, but wasn't in the starting lineup.
"It was a question whether I was going to play again this year, but I worked hard and I'm looking forward to an opportunity to finish out the year," Lowrie said.
Lowrie, acquired from the Red Sox in a trade last winter, was hitting .253 with 14 homers and 36 RBIs through 80 games before getting injured.
"That's a professional bat," Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said. "We've got a lot of young guys, and Lowrie's been here and been around the game for a while, and played the game for a great organization with the Red Sox and knows how to win. When you have a shortstop with 14 homers, hopefully he can help us the next couple of weeks."
Lowrie wants to finish the season healthy, which will give him peace of mind going into the offseason.
"Hopefully, I get the point where I'm playing every day again and I'm contributing like I was before the injury," he said. "I'm here to help and here to produce."
DeFrancesco in mix to stay on as Astros skipper
HOUSTON -- Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco is awaiting his chance to interview for the permanent managerial position with owner Jim Crane, general manager Jeff Luhnow and team president George Postolos. The Astros are interviewing candidates this week, and DeFrancesco is in the mix.
"I'm excited about it," he said. "I'm glad I have an opportunity right now. We're going to sit down with Jim and Jeff and talk about the future here. I hope my presence on the field right now and the experience I'm getting right now can lead to a permanent position. I'm excited and honored to be asked."
DeFrancesco took over for Brad Mills last month. He was in his second season managing at Triple-A Oklahoma City and has 18 seasons as a Minor League manager under his belt, posting a 1,235-1,088 record. He made his managerial debut in 1994 with Oakland's rookie affiliate in the Arizona League and spent the next 16 years managing in the A's system, including seven at Triple-A Sacramento.
"I know I can do the job," he said. "I feel confident when I'm on the bench, and running the game is something I've done my whole life. It's no different. I don't feel any pressure. I just feel like it's another game, and we're trying to win a ballgame like any manager."
Luhnow has said he wants a manager willing to embrace the Astros' increased use of analytics, something that DeFrancesco had extensive experience utilizing in the Oakland organization.
"My background is the A's, and the 'Moneyball' area," he said. "I grew up with that system. I believe in it 100 percent, and it's something I hope we can teach to these young players. If you watch the games, we're making outs by chasing too many balls out of the zone and we're not as selective as we could be -- putting ourselves behind in counts. If we can continue to increase our on-base percentage and work the count with the starting pitchers out of the game, all that comes into play when you're trying to win ballgames."
Astros pay tribute with ceremony on Heroes Night
HOUSTON -- Houston Mayor Annise Parker honored area first-responders and military personnel during a ceremony prior to Tuesday's game against the Cubs in recognition of Heroes Night on the 11th observance of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and rural Pennsylvania.
The ceremony included five ceremonial first pitches thrown by five members of the first-response team sent from Houston to New York after the attacks.
Astros players Brian Bogusevic, Justin Maxwell and Chris Snyder and former Astros player Jose Cruz visited four different area firehouses earlier in the day and signed autographs and presented a framed, autographed jersey to firefighters.
"It was a lot of fun," said Bogusevic, who was a senior in high school when the attacks occurred. "Putting it in the context of today being Sept. 11 made it a little bit more special. It makes you really appreciate what they do, and on a day like this, you appreciate it even more."
Maxwell was a freshman at the University of Maryland when the attacks occurred and was glad to be able to spend some time with firefighters Tuesday. He even brought his kids along.
"It's amazing what they do, and I'm grateful for them," he said.