03/20/2013 10:52 PM ET
Altuve lands role as Astros' leading man
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- In addition to announcing the first three pitchers in the rotation on Wednesday, manager Bo Porter revealed his leadoff hitter: All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve.
Altuve, who hit .290 with seven homers, 37 RBIs and 33 stolen bases last year in his first full season in the Major Leagues, will be the top-of-the-order hitter heading into the season. He hit leadoff in 84 games last year, more than any other member of the Astros.
"I said early on in the spring that if we had a guy that actually took hold of that leadoff spot, it would have been a good scenario for Altuve to hit second, but as we stand here today, we don't have someone that has taken the bull by the horns in that leadoff spot," Porter said. "So it makes the most sense to have arguably one of our best hitters, who's going to get a bunch of hits and get on base a lot, to get an extra at-bats hitting at the top of the lineup."
Altuve hit .281 with five homers, 15 RBIs and 42 runs scored as a leadoff hitter last year while batting .318 with one homer, 18 RBIs and 33 runs scored from the No. 2 spot. Jordan Schafer began last season as the leadoff hitter before eventually giving way to Altuve later in the season.
"I feel really good in both spots I've been hitting -- leadoff and second," Altuve said. "I like to get on base and score some runs, and I think the guys behind me are going to do the heavy work. I just have to get on base."
Lyles disappointed but determined to improve
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Jordan Lyles was clearly disappointed to learn on Wednesday that he will begin the season at Triple-A Oklahoma City, but plans to report to Minor League camp with the goal of getting better.
Lyles -- who entered camp as a near lock to make the rotation -- and fellow right-hander John Ely were both optioned, leaving the Astros with 37 players in Major League camp.
Lyles, 22, struggled this spring, allowing 36 hits and 23 earned runs in 11 2/3 innings.
"I need to focus on pitching downhill more and attacking the bottom of the strike zone," Lyles said following the move.
General manager Jeff Luhnow said that the organization is confident Lyles will get on track and be in the rotation for years to come. Lyles was the youngest starter in the National League for most of his four stints in Houston last year, going 5-1 with a 5.09 ERA in 25 starts.
"Lyles is going to be a part of our organization for a while," Luhnow said. "He knows that. I know it's frustrating and disappointing for him to have to go back to Triple-A. Last year I agonized about that conversation, and yet a month later he was back in Houston. He's clearly a Major League pitcher."
While Lyles has been working on several mechanical issues this spring, Luhnow said it's a matter of effectiveness.
"He's been around the zone, which is good, but his pitches are getting hit," Luhnow said. "So for whatever reason, whether it's hitters are seeing him better and [him] telegraphing what he's going to throw, whatever, he's got to get past that, because we don't want him to go to Houston and have the same result early in the season."
With Lyles out of the picture and Bud Norris getting the nod for Opening Day, the Astros tabbed Lucas Harrell as their No. 2 starter and Philip Humber as the No. 3. That leaves right-handers Brad Peacock, Alex White and Edgar Gonzalez, and left-hander Erik Bedard battling for the final two spots.
"Philip Humber has pitched well this spring, and he's an experienced guy," Luhnow said. "We brought in guys like Humber and White and Bedard ... because we wanted to add more experience to the rotation, but Jordan Lyles is 22 years old, and we believe he's going to be a part of our rotation for many years to come."
Astros have no plans to trade Norris, Harrell
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Despite persistent rumors that the Astros are shopping right-handers Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell, general manager Jeff Luhnow said on Wednesday that any trade is unlikely at this point.
"I've always maintained that there's no such thing as an untouchable, but at the same time, Harrell and Norris are such an important part of this club right now it would take a significant offer to even consider something," Luhnow said.
Luhnow has made more than a dozen trades since taking over as GM about 15 months ago, mostly shipping off veterans for prospects. Norris is the highest-paid player on the team, at $3 million per year, and some consider him the type of the player the Astros would move for prospects.
Luhnow lauded the way Norris has blocked out any trade rumors.
"Every Major League player, when they start to have success, has to be able to tune out rumors, because everybody is in trade rumors at one point or another," Luhnow said. "Bud's done a good job of keeping his focus on pitching and is being rewarded by facing the Rangers on [Opening Day]."
Norris admitted that it was difficult watching so many of his teammates be traded over the last few years, and it was natural for him to wonder if he was next. He doesn't worry about it any more, he says.
"I think that's a maturity process and understanding the business," Norris said. "I made some strides in that direction. It definitely weighed on me last year at times, because it's not easy seeing teammates leave you left and right. Knowing where we are as a team and an organization and having a firmer grasp on that, that's definitely helped me."
White takes another step toward rotation spot
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Alex White may have moved a step closer to clinching a spot in the rotation on Wednesday with the moves that saw Jordan Lyles and John Ely -- both of whom were vying for a starting job -- optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City.
White stated his latest case on Wednesday against the Mets, allowing seven hits and three runs in 4 1/3 innings. He feels good about where he is, but he knows he still has to pitch and get outs.
"We have a week and a half left and still some competition left," White said.
White has been working on a sinker this spring but didn't throw it much on Wednesday, though he did get a couple of key outs with it.
"The breaking ball was so-so today, not real good, kind of pulling it a little bit," he said. "Other than that, everything was good."
White tried make the Rockies' rotation last spring before being moved to the bullpen the final two weeks of camp. He was optioned to Minor League camp on the final day and had to get built back up to be a starter in Triple-A.
White, acquired in December, went 2-9 with a 5.51 ERA in 23 games (20 starts) with the Rockies, but he pitched well in the second half. He went 0-1 with a 4.03 ERA in his final seven starts of the season.
"I didn't get quite as many innings last year," said White, who's thrown 14 2/3 innings this spring. "Spring, for me, is about getting my arm ready. It takes me a whole spring to get ready for the season. This year is a little different because I know I'm competing for a spot, and I came in a lot fresher. I feel good, I feel ready for the season."
White threw 68 pitches against the Mets and hopes to be at 90 to 95 by next week.
Luhnow taking options into consideration
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- When it comes to finalizing the 25-man roster, among the things the Astros are going to take into considering are options. Tyler Greene, Lucas Harrell, Philip Humber, Fernando Martinez, Justin Maxwell and Wesley Wright are out of them, but it appears that only Martinez isn't a lock to make the team among that group.
If the Astros optioned any of those players to the Minors, the players would have to clear waivers first, and the Astros would risk losing them.
"We're trying to pick the 25 best players to go help us win games right now," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "If it's close, if it's a tie between two players and one's out of options and we believe we'll lose that player by trying to clear him through, that would be a consideration."
Luhnow expects the Astros to have a roster with plenty of versatility, with Martinez, Rick Ankiel, Jason Castro, Brett Wallace and Carlos Pena swinging from the left side of the plate and Chris Carter, Justin Maxwell, J.D. Martinez, Brandon Barnes and Brandon Laird swinging from the right side. Marwin Gonzalez and Carlos Corporan are switch-hitters.
"We want to have a really nice lineup against left-handed pitchers and a really nice lineup against right-handed pitchers," Luhnow said. "We can have some thump both ways and some speed both ways, and that's what we want. We want to get guys on and drive them in. Whether a lefty or right, it's going to play to our advantage."
One of the focuses this winter was adding pop to the lineup, and it's showed. The Astros ended Wednesday with 35 home runs, their most since hitting 48 in the spring of 2002.
"I don't think it's a fluke," Luhnow said. "We're going to see more home runs at Minute Maid Park this year out of our team than we did last year, and hopefully all over the American League West."