8/9/2013 9:20 P.M. ET
Astros' pace of play has slowed since move to AL
By Brian McTaggart and Chris Abshire / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- While the Astros have now played in the American League for over four months, they may have just received their most intensive taste of their new league's pace of play.
The final two games of Houston's series against Boston took a combined seven hours and 47 minutes, with both clocking in a shade under four hours. Neither of them were extra-inning affairs.
The games were both longer than a 10-inning game against Milwaukee on June 20, and clocked in a minute or two shy of an 11-inning win over Pittsburgh on May 18.
With the designated hitter, the discrepancy between the team's former league and the AL are well-documented, and the Astros are seeing it firsthand this summer.
Houston's 2013 games have averaged three hours, 12 minutes and 38 seconds -- a 10 1/2-minute increase over the 2012 mean. Already, 79 of Houston's 113 games have clocked in over three hours, compared to 87 over a full 162 last season.
Raise that total by half an hour and the difference is even more staggering.
Prior to Friday's game, 24 Astros game have lasted at or beyond the 3 1/2 hour mark, compared to 18 in the National League last year. Houston has only played six extra-inning contest.
Despite pushes in recent years to speed up the game, Houston manager Bo Porter said no one from Major League Baseball contacted him or the organization after the notoriously slow Red Sox rolled through.
"No, we've never heard from anybody," Porter said. "You can have a lot of pitching changes, deep counts, timeouts, multiple baserunners where the pitcher holds the ball a little longer. There are so many things over the course of a game that could add to the normal make a pitch, catcher throws the ball back and he's on the mound in 9-10 seconds. Those games obviously go fast."
Porter said the pace of play is a concern to fans or the media, but it doesn't really affect coaches or players much.
"As the manager, I'm so in tune pitch by pitch and thought by thought, I couldn't tell you what time it was," he said. "Sometimes after a game we win, I have to ask what the score was. I just know we had more than the other team. I'm oblivious to the amount of time the game could be taking."
Still, some games have to feel longer than others, right?
"The games that we win go real fast and the games that we lose take forever," he quipped.
Injured Martinez plans on playing winter ball
HOUSTON -- Astros outfielder J.D. Martinez can take a glance around him and understand he's going to have to open some eyes to be a part of the team going forward. Players like Robbie Grossman, Brandon Barnes, L.J. Hoes and Chris Carter will be pushing for playing time, along with Minor League standout George Springer.
That's why Martinez, on the disabled list since July 27 with a left wrist sprain, plans to head to winter ball this offseason to try to make up for lost time -- and put up some numbers. Martinez is still recovering from his injury and will head to Florida on Monday to continue his rehab while the team is on the road.
"That's really what I need to do," he said. "I know I have to play winter ball this year. I'm looking and trying to find places to go out and stuff like that."
Martinez hurt his left hand at the end of last season, spent most of the winter recovering and came to Spring Training without having swung the bat very much. He had a good spring but only made the Opening Day roster because outfielder Fernando Martinez was injured just as camp broke.
He was hitting .256 with seven homers and 36 RBIs in 78 games before being injured in July.
"The reality was last year I hurt my hand, and I came to Spring Training [this year] and still hit like .300 and I didn't make the team," Martinez said. "I wasn't able to pick up a bat all offseason. I feel if I have a chance to make a team next year, I'm going to have to put numbers in winter ball and do something to get the at-bats and try to get the attention."
Martinez is hoping to start swinging a bat in early September, with hopes of getting some rehab time in the Minor Leagues. The Astros' top six Minor League affiliates were in first place earlier this week, so he'll have plenty of options.
"If I knew I had a spot on the team and knew it was a guarantee, I would just rest and not really worry about [winter ball]," he said. "I would start getting ready for next year. I don't feel like I have that luxury. I have to go do something to try to catch their attention again."
Villar's thumb is improving, but he's out of the lineup
HOUSTON -- Astros rookie shortstop Jonathan Villar thinks he can already play with the sprained left thumb he injured on Tuesday.
The club isn't ready to go that far just yet, holding Villar out of the lineup for Friday night's game against the Rangers.
"He's not going to play today," manager Bo Porter said. "He went in the cage, he did BP and will go throw. "He's going through the whole routine, and then we'll examine what degree of soreness, if any, is there and move forward."
The Dominican Republic native is expected back sometime this weekend, though whether he'll start before the Astros head off for a 10-game road trip remains in doubt.
"He's no disabled-list threat, at least," Porter said.
Villar injured his thumb during the fourth inning of Houston's 15-10 loss to Boston when he jammed it in the third-base bag as he was caught stealing. He exited the game after making an error in the sixth inning.
The caught stealing was a rare sight, as the speedy shortstop has already swiped 10 bases in 15 games since being called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City on July 21.
Villar had a new splint on the thumb Friday and said it was more comfortable, with the swelling basically gone and pain barely noticeable.
However, there's enough there that swinging right-handed is uncomfortable, temporarily eliminating half of the switch-hitter's repertoire at the plate.
"I can hit with the left hand because it's on top, so no pressure," Villar explained. "The right is tough with the upper hand pushing against [the left] lower hand with the thumb. I'm testing it out. Ready to play today if I can, probably back tomorrow."
Chapman is latest rookie to join Astros' bullpen
HOUSTON -- Kevin Chapman became the 14th rookie to join the Astros' roster when he was called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City on Friday to replace left-hander Travis Blackley, who was designated for assignment. The move lowered the Astros' average age to 25.5 years -- the youngest team in baseball.
Chapman, 25, is the fifth rookie member of the Astros' seven-man bullpen. He was 1-2 with a 3.20 ERA in 45 appearances for the RedHawks, with two saves and 61 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings of work. Left-handers were hitting .193 against him.
"The most important thing is to learn," said Chapman, who throws a mid-90s four-seam fastball and a slider. "I'll try to pick [Erik] Bedard's brain and guys like [Lucas] Harrell and Wesley [Wright], and whatever they have to offer, take it in."
Chapman found out he was going to the Major Leagues for the first time Thursday morning during Oklahoma City's series in Las Vegas -- Chapman's first visit to Vegas. He was sleeping late and had his cell phone on silent mode before the Astros tracked him down in his hotel and told him to head to Houston.
"On the plane ride over here, I was thinking this is sort of different, because a lot of these guys were friends that I know pretty well," he said. "It's not like it's going to be a heavy veteran team. It's a little bit different, but it's exciting to have all these guys here. They're all my friends and I got to share my experience with them."
Chapman, acquired last spring from the Royals in exchange for Jason Bourgeois and Humberto Quintero, will be the second rookie reliever to join Houston's bullpen in as many games. Jorge De Leon was called up prior to Wednesday's game, but he's yet to make his Major League debut.
"Chapman threw the ball well in spring and he's thrown the ball well all year," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "You look at the bullpen situation we have, to add a lefty of his caliber that has a mid-90s fastball and has been successful at Triple-A, we felt like it was time to get him here and get him an opportunity for the rest of the season to see what it is he can do, and hopefully he can help us next year all year."
Porter hears Nationals talk, commited to Astros
HOUSTON -- Could Bo Porter be a candidate to manage the Washington Nationals next year? Not so fast.
Porter's name has already surfaced as a potential replacement for Davey Johnson, but the first-year Astros skipper isn't buying it. When asked Friday about a Washington Post article that said Porter was an ownership favorite in Washington and highly regarded by general manager Mike Rizzo, Porter brushed it aside.
Porter was the Nationals' third-base coach prior to coming to Houston, where he's made his home for several years.
"I'm the Houston Astros manager," he said. "I enjoyed time my time in Washington. It's something that you have no control over what somebody is going to say or what someone else is going to think. I'm 100 percent entrenched into getting our situation here to where it is we want to be. The situation in Washington is completely out of my hands and -- I'm going to give you my famous one -- out of my jurisdiction."
Because he's in the first year of a multiyear contract, Porter could only land in Washington if the Nationals made a trade or if he was let go by the Astros, but the Astros remain committed to him as much as he remains committed to the Astros.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. Chris Abshire is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.