© 2013 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

9/4/2013 3:30 A.M. ET

Astros pay respects to firemen in visit

HOUSTON -- Astros players Jake Elmore, Josh Fields, Brad Peacock, Cody Clark, Josh Zeid and Lucas Harrell joined general manager Jeff Luhnow in visiting two local fire stations that lost firefighters in a motel blaze that claimed four lives in May.

Elmore, Fields, Peacock and Luhnow visited Firehouse 51 on Bellaire Avenue in Houston and presented the firehouse with an autographed jersey, as well as delivering lunch. They also got to take a ride in a firetruck, try out the equipment and even spray the hose.

Clark, Zeid and Harrell went to Firehouse 68, also on Houston's west side, and also presented an autographed jersey and delivered lunch.

"It was really exciting to go there and let them know we understand they put their lives on the line for us every day," Elmore said. "We do understand our life takes place in an air-conditioned, nice building and we kind of have the easy life. We wanted to show them it was important for us to take the time out of our day to let them know we're thinking about them and still understand the losses they endured and know we're behind them. Just kind of support them in any way we can."

In the immediate aftermath of the firefighters' deaths, the Astros obtained permission from Major League Baseball to wear a black HFD patch on their uniforms during their series against Baltimore in early June.

The players signed those game day uniforms and the team gave all of the jerseys to the Houston Fire Department and the Houston Professional Firefighters Association to share with the families of the fallen firefighters, those who were injured and to various fire stations.

Villar pulled after baserunning mistake

HOUSTON -- Astros manager Bo Porter pulled starting shortstop Jonathan Villar in the third inning of Tuesday's 9-6 loss in 12 innings to the Twins for what the skipper described as an ill-advised baserunning gaffe with his team trailing, 4-1.

Villar led off the third with a single to left field, but he was thrown out trying to stretch the hit to a double. Marwin Gonzalez played the rest of the game at shortstop while Villar, the team's 10th-ranked prospect, watched the final nine innings from the bench.

"I learned this a long time ago from Sandy Alomar," Porter said. "He told me the scoreboard is the most important object on the baseball field. I explained this to Jonathan after the game."

What did Porter tell Villar exactly: "'I would never want to take your aggression away from you. It's part of what makes you a special player. But at the same time you have to be aware of the situation that's going on and what's the score.' We have a starting pitcher out there who has basically labored for three innings, we're down, 4-1, and get the leadoff man on and that's not a time to take that kind of a chance."

Earlier this season, Porter benched outfielder J.D. Martinez for swinging at a pitch in a situation in which the hitters had been instructed not to swing. Porter said Tuesday pulling Villar was a "no-brainer."

"As the umpire was calling him out at second base, I was telling Gonzo to get ready to go to shortstop," Porter said. "I believe that Jonathan will receive the message properly, because him and I talked about it. I think it will help him moving forward. He's young, he's aggressive and I told him, 'Your aggression is what allows you to be an impact player. But at the same time, that scoreboard is the most important object on this field and you have to understand there are times when the scoreboard will dictate to you exactly how aggressive you should be.'"


Grossman leaves game with injury

HOUSTON -- Astros left fielder Robbie Grossman had to be pulled from Tuesday's 9-6 loss to the Twins in the middle of his at-bat in the 12th inning after suffering a strained right oblique while swinging the bat. It's unclear the extent of the injury.

"It just bit me on the swing," said Grossman, who went 2-for-5 and is hitting .322 since he was called up for the second time on July 28. "We'll see how it feels [Wednesday] and go from there."

Astros manager Bo Porter noticed his leadoff man grimace on the swing and sent assistant athletic trainer Rex Jones to the plate to check on the rookie. Matt Pagnozzi, acquired by the Astros in a trade late Monday, took Grossman's place in the box and grounded out to end the game.

Grossman said he had a similar injury a few years ago.

"At this stage of the season, you just don't want to end up having a guy miss a considerable amount of time," Porter said. "It was best to get him out at that point and allow the trainers to do everything they can to get him healthy."

Castro has cyst drained on right knee

HOUSTON -- All-Star catcher Jason Castro had a cyst on his right knee drained on Tuesday and doesn't expect to be sidelined long term.

Castro, who was taken from the game in the second inning Monday following his second hit, was examined by team doctors on Tuesday and diagnosed with a cyst on the medial side of his knee. After having it drained, Castro said he was already feeling better.

"It was kind of interfering with my hamstring tendon based on where it was located," he said. "They drained it, and hopefully that should provide some relief. We'll see. It's just day-to-day, I guess." Castro, who missed the entire 2011 season following surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, said he fouled a ball off his knee in the first inning Monday, which aggravated the cyst.

"I think that kind of getting it taken care of and getting it drained out and tended to will solve the problem," he said. "Like I said, it's a day-to-day kind of thing. As of right now, it's feeling OK and the more time we get away from it happening [Monday] the better it feels. As the day goes on, it feels better and better."

Castro, an All-Star this season and two-time American League Player of the Week, is having a career season, hitting .282 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs. He's the latest in a string of catching injuries for the Astros.

Carlos Corporan suffered a concussion Aug. 19 when he took a foul ball of his facemask, and his replacement, Max Stassi, was hit in the head by a pitch two days later and hasn't played since because of a concussion. Corporan could return to the Astros on Monday.

Bullpen struggles may lead to change

HOUSTON -- A few weeks after saying Josh Fields and Chia-Jen Lo would share the closing duties, manager Bo Porter suggested on Tuesday he was again going with a closer-by-committee formation. Lo blew a save in the ninth inning of Monday's 10-6 loss to the Twins.

The Astros have struggled to close games since trading closer Jose Veras to the Tigers at the end of July. Houston has 26 blown saves this season, including 11 in 17 opportunities since Veras was traded, and features a bullpen dominated by rookies.

"We've given all those guys a chance," Porter said. "It will come down to who's available. Fields is not available [on Tuesday]. When we get there, we'll see where we're at and make a decision at that point. It's not a decision I could sit there and say each and every time the situation arises that we have a guy that's going to close. We're just not fortunate to be in that situation right now."

Porter could even use one of his starting pitchers to close like he did last week when Jordan Lyles finished off a win over the White Sox. The Astros have a six-man starting rotation, and pitchers who are scheduled to throw in the bullpen between starts could instead pitch in a game.

Porter said that wouldn't apply to rookie Jarred Cosart, who started on Tuesday and surpassed a career high in innings pitched.

Worth noting

• Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez was out of the starting lineup on Tuesday after reporting to the ballpark with nausea. Dominguez said he would be available to pinch-hit.

• The Astros' short-season Tri-City affiliate won the Stedler Division of the New York-Penn League on Tuesday, meaning the organization's top six Minor League affiliates each made the postseason for the first time in franchise history. The Astros are the first organization to have six domestic affiliates qualify for the postseason since the Pirates in 2003.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.