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02/21/11 3:10 PM ET

Astros' hitters take some live hacks

Pitchers usually have the edge at this time of year

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- For the hitters, it's one of the worst days of camp. Astros batters stepped into the cage Monday morning and faced live pitchers for the first time this spring. The pitchers were throwing for the third time, so they are typically a little ahead of the curve.

"I felt pretty comfortable in the box actually, and I actually had some good results, but that doesn't mean anything right now," said catcher Jason Castro, who faced Fernando Rodriguez. "It's about getting reps, and it's good to see early on it felt pretty good."

The Astros' first three groups of pitchers threw to hitters, including Brett Myers, J.A. Happ and Wandy Rodriguez. Myers sawed off the bat of infielder Jimmy Paredes with the second pitch he threw, which was a common sight around the four fields.

"I was very happy with how it went, the rotations and the timing of it," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "The first day we try to get everything down and I thought it went really well."

Mills didn't see all the pitchers throw, but he said he liked what he saw from Jordan Lyles, Sergio Escalona, Arcenio Leon, Myers and Happ.

"There were a lot of guys I didn't have an opportunity to see, but it was nice to see them facing some hitters and throwing the ball well," Mills said.

Bunting a priority for Bourn

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- One of the things Michael Bourn wants to work on more this spring to take advantage of his super speed is bunting. Bourn doesn't feel he bunted too well last year, and he and hitting coach Mike Barnett are working to try to make it a bigger part of his arsenal.

Bourn's 10 bunt hits last year ranked fourth in the National League, but his 17 bunt hits in 2009 led the league. After Bourn gets done hitting in the cage at 8:30 each morning, he goes to one of the back fields at Osceola County Stadium and works on bunting for five to seven minutes.

"The more you do it, the more consistent you are with it," Barnett said. "There's no doubt you can become better because he's definitely got the speed."

Bourn, who's led the league in steals the past two seasons, knows the advantages of being able to bunt more consistently. The infielders play in at the corners, which allows him to shoot balls through the holes for hits more regularly.

"I talk to guys all the time, 'Would you like hitting with the infield in?' and they say, 'Shoot, yeah,'" Barnett said. "Well, the guy that can bunt for a base hit, it forces the corners to come up and the second baseman to cheat a little bit so it creates more holes in the infield. If he can be successful in that, it adds so many dimensions to his game. Not only can he get on with that, but it opens more holes for him when he's swinging the bat."

Manzella expanding his infield duties

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Infielder Tommy Manzella, who was the Opening Day shortstop a year ago, has been taking ground balls at third base and second base in an effort to expand his versatility.

Manzella, who missed six weeks last year with a broken thumb, is fighting for a spot on the club in the wake of the additions of Clint Barmes and Bill Hall to the infield, and being able to play multiple positions will only help his cause.

"I'm a pretty strong believer, and I think a lot of people will agree, that if you can play shortstop, a lot of the other positions -- I don't want to say easier -- but they're easier to transition to rather than if you were a second baseman who tried to switch to third or tried to learn third base, or a third baseman trying to learn second," he said. "Just from seeing the game from the shortstop's perspective, it makes those two a little bit easier to transition to."

Manzella played second base for one year at Tulane University, but hasn't played third since high school. He's played exclusively shortstop as a professional.

"We've done a lot of work moving him around in his individual defensive work," manager Brad Mills said. "He knows that he's going to need to move around and play everywhere, and he's getting a chance to do that."

Astros to be cautious with Arias

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Right-hander Alberto Arias, who is less than a year removed from major surgery on his right shoulder, will be handled with kid gloves for the next few days. Arias has recently been experiencing some tightness in his shoulder.

Both general manager Ed Wade and manager Brad Mills said the team planned to take it slow with the reliever, who missed all of last year. Arias is scheduled to throw on Tuesday, but it's unlikely he will throw for at least a few days.

"We're going to have to give him a couple of more days off and see how he comes back and how he works with that," Mills said. "He wasn't able to throw the ball like he really wanted to [Sunday], but we'll see how he is after a couple of days off. We're going to bring him along slower to build up that range of motion and everything else."

Arias went 2-1 with a 3.35 ERA in 42 games in 2009 after being claimed off waivers from Colorado a year earlier, but he was injured last spring and underwent surgery April 22. Arias agreed to terms on a one-year contract on Monday worth $439,000.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.