3/22/2014 5:53 P.M. ET
Middle infield among unsettled roster spots
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- By releasing outfielder J.D. Martinez, optioning left-handed reliever Darin Downs to Triple-A and reassigning Japhet Amador and Gregorio Petit to Triple-A on Saturday, the Astros are slowly bringing their roster into focus.
The moves leave the Astros with 34 players left in camp, including four pitchers who are injured -- Asher Wojciechowski, Alex White, Jesse Crain and Peter Moylan -- and two catchers who won't make the club in Rene Garcia and Carlos Perez. That leaves 28 players vying for 25 spots.
Among the positions up for grabs is the backup middle infield spot, where Marwin Gonzalez appears to have a leg up on veteran Cesar Izturis. The Astros will owe Izturis $100,000 if he is not on the 40-man roster by Tuesday, but he would bring valuable experience on and off the field.
"Both of them are superior defenders," manager Bo Porter said. "Marwin has had a tremendous spring. Offensively, he's working on some things that have really increased his value from a standpoint of how he's produced offensively and the flexibility that gives our roster, being able to play multiple positions.
"Izturis is about as steady as it comes when it comes to infield defense. For a long time in Major League Baseball, his presence on and off the field is something we value. We're going to continue to evaluate that situation as well and see how it plays out."
Iztruris has been impressed by Gonzalez, who entered Saturday hitting .444.
"He's a great player, and he's been doing it all Spring Training," he said. "He's been doing his job, and hopefully it will be good for the team."
If the Astros carry eight relievers, they would have to decide between Gonzalez and Izturis. Meanwhile, Marc Krauss and Jesus Guzman could both make the club as a platoon at first base with the ability to play the outfield.
Elsewhere, Raul Valdes and Kevin Chapman are the lone lefty relievers in camp, and from among the four pitchers still battling for the final two position spots, all four could wind up in the rotation, bullpen or Minor Leagues.
"The guys that are for sure on our team, that's been communicated to them or announced they are on the team," Porter said. "Our roster is such we're not in a position we can say, 'Look, these 25 guys are on the team.' There's other variables that come into play."
Altuve: 'My only goal is to play 162 games'
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- If Astros manager Bo Porter ever decides to give Jose Altuve a day off this season, he might have a fight on his hands with the former All-Star.
Altuve said Saturday that one of his goals for 2014 was to play in every game of the season. He started 142 games in 2012, his first full season, and last year played in 152 games, missing three following the death of his grandmother and a handful of others with a left quad injury.
"I'm working on being 100 percent for the season," Altuve said. "My only goal is to play 162 games. The other goals are to go, play, win, simple stuff -- get to the playoffs, get to the World Series this year, next year, whenever we can do it."
Being in the American League helps, as Porter can start Altuve at designed hitter a few times to give him some rest. Still, Porter likes to give his players days off during the season in an effort to keep them fresh.
"If you play hard and you're still healthy, there's no reason why you can't play 162 games," Altuve said.
Of course, the better Altuve plays, the harder it will be for Porter to keep him on the bench. He hit in the cleanup spot in the order Saturday -- he will hit primarily second during the regular season -- and belted a mammoth homer to center field off Michael Wacha.
"I'm the fourth hitter; that's what I'm supposed to do," he joked.
It was Altuve's first Grapefruit League home run, and he said it was his first ever in professional spring ball.
"I remember since the first time I came here in '08, I never hit a homer in Spring Training in Minor Leagues or big leagues," he said. "I'm really happy about that."
Qualls, Albers answer fatigue with scoreless innings
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- You know the start of the regular season is around the corner when relief pitchers begin throwing on consecutive days. That was the case Saturday for veterans Matt Albers and Chad Qualls, both of whom tossed scoreless innings in a 5-2 loss to the Cardinals after pitching Friday against the Marlins.
"You get to this stage of the spring and you want to make sure you start to back-to-back those guys to prepare for the season," manager Bo Porter said. "That will be the case based on the stressfulness of the innings the day before, but it was good to see both of those guys go back to back. I felt Qualls was sharper today. Sometimes those sinker-ballers, they get a little fatigued, and the ball gets a little bit more action."
Qualls and Albers, both of whom were drafted and developed by the Astros and traded away within days of each other in 2007, figure to play key roles in the back of the bullpen this year. Qualls is the probable closer, though he has not been given that role just yet.
"Usually once every Spring Training I try to get one-plus, and you definitely try to go two in a row to warm up and get in a game where you're still sore from the day before; that way you can get your body used to getting heated up," Qualls said. "I was tired and achy today, and once you warm up and get going, everything falls into place. I felt pretty good."
At this point, Qualls is trying to refine the location of his sinker.
"The most important pitch for a lot of pitchers is commanding your fastball and being able to pitch ahead of that in any count," he said. "Being able to locate the fastball now is what I need to work on."
Crain among Astros likely to start year on DL
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Saturday that pitchers Jesse Crain, Asher Wojciechowski and Alex White were likely to begin the season on the disabled list, which would certainly not come as a surprise considering they had spent all spring rehabbing injuries.
Crain, signed as a free agent in the offseason, has been working his way from biceps tendinitis surgery performed in October and is eyeing a return to the mound in late April. Wojciechowski has not thrown on a mound all spring because of a strained lat, and White is progressing from Tommy John surgery performed 11 months ago.
Crain hopes to throw in the bullpen for the first time at the end of next week. He's thrown between 100 and 120 feet of flat ground and threw short off the mound Saturday.
"I'm feeling pretty good and getting stronger," Crain said. "It's still a little ways to go, but it's good."
White has thrown several live bullpen sessions this spring, but he has not pitched in any games and is likely headed for extending Spring Training. He has made significant process in even the last 10 days when it comes to his velocity. He was in the low 80s 10 days ago and is now in the high 80s.
Additionally, the Astros will be without reliever Peter Moylan, who appears headed for his second Tommy John surgery. Moylan injured his elbow a week ago and is seeking a second opinion from renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews.
Astros expand technology to follow prospects
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros' efforts to beef up their video capabilities in all areas of the organization will be evident at the upper levels of the Minor Leagues this season when club officials will have the ability to access more game video, no longer relying only on scouting reports.
The Astros will have an intern at the home parks of most of their affiliates who will be in charge of archiving and organizing video of players. The video feeds will be sent back to Houston.
"When a roving instructor or myself or one of our Major League coaches can watch video of one of our Minor League players -- because we can't be there all the time -- it really helps us get a sense of how they're progressing, how close they are to the big leagues and what they need to keep working on," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "Ultimately, our goal is to have video at all of our Minor League facilities and eventually get video from all of our visiting teams as well."
Home games involving Triple-A Oklahoma City and Double-A Corpus Christi are available on MiLB.TV, but the angles are not exactly the ones the Astros want to see. Instead, they will have the cameras positioned so they can see the hitters swing, see the pitchers' deliveries and be able to watch the pitches.
"Video has become a tool that's really important, not only for player evaluations, but player development," Luhnow said.
• Astros catcher Jason Castro on Saturday missed a second consecutive game because of flulike symptoms, a problem that is going around the clubhouse. Porter said Castro would not make the trip to Jupiter on Sunday as expected but should return to the lineup Monday night against the Braves.