4/4/2014 12:03 A.M. ET
Porter happy with Astros' approach at the plate
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Unlike in 2013, when the Astros began the season with a record strikeout rate, manager Bo Porter has been pleased with the quality of the team's at-bats through the first two games. The Astros struck out 11 times in Tuesday's opener and only seven times on Wednesday.
That's in stark contrast to last season, when they struck out 28 times through two games and 56 times through four games en route to setting a club record.
"The approaches have been good," hitting coach John Mallee said. "The personnel, they have some of that in them. The addition of Dexter [Fowler] has helped out, because he's a high-on-base-percentage guy. You've got Robbie [Grossman] at the top of the lineup, and [Jose] Altuve's been more selective.
"It's nice to see guys manage their at-bats better, and they're taking to the advance reports we're getting and understanding how the opposing pitchers are trying to get them out. It's a combination of all that."
Though the Astros were hitting just .213 as a team through two games, nine of their 13 hits were for extra bases, and some of the outs were productive. Grossman advanced Fowler to third base with outs in his first two at-bats on Tuesday, and he sent him home in the third inning of Wednesday's game with a hard grounder that was ruled an error on Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira.
"I've been pleased with the at-bats, especially looking at the [situational] hitting and guys grinding at-bats out, and even some of the strikeouts," Porter said. "It's not like we're expanding the zone much. We're swinging at good pitches, and frankly, we've missed a couple of pitches that we probably could have hit hard. But at the same time, overall, the at-bats have been outstanding these first two games."
Crain heading to Florida to continue rehab work
HOUSTON -- Pitcher Jesse Crain, who began the season on the disabled list while he recovers from October surgery for biceps tendinitis, will head to Kissimmee, Fla., on Monday to continue his rehab at the team's complex at Osceola County Stadium.
Crain, who didn't pitch in the second half of the 2013 season after being traded by the White Sox to the Rays, is hoping to return to action by May. He's thrown once in the bullpen and plans to get on the mound again next week in Florida.
"That's the plan," Crain said. "When it's ready, I'll be back here."
The Astros continue to take caution with Crain, who signed a one-year, $3.25 million deal to pitch for his hometown team.
Crain was an All-Star during a 2013 season in which he posted a 0.74 ERA in 38 games with the White Sox, striking out 46 and walking only 11 in 36 2/3 innings, including a 29-inning scoreless streak.
"I wanted to be back at the beginning of the year, but you've got to take it day by day, because you never know," he said. "Everything could be going great, and then you wake up one day and it doesn't feel good. I've been dealing with [this] since the middle of last year."
Watching his teammates get key outs late in games during the first two games of the season has increased Crain's thirst to compete.
"Seeing these guys the past two days and being here, it for sure makes me want to be out there," he said. "The grand scheme of things, maybe it's better for me to go out there and make sure I can do my work without overdoing it and maybe getting out there sooner than I should."
Chapman unavailable for series finale with Yankees
HOUSTON -- The Astros had planned to carry two left-handers in the bullpen to start the season but wound up designating Raul Valdes for assignment when they had an opportunity to grab outfielder Alex Presley off waivers last week.
Kevin Chapman, the team's lone lefty reliever, was used in the first two games of the season, and manager Bo Porter said Chapman was unavailable for Thursday's game. Chapman got a key out to strand a pair of runners in the seventh inning on Opening Day, and he pitched two-thirds of an inning on Wednesday.
"The fact we only had one lefty down there, we could not use him three consecutive days," Porter said. "He will be down today, but we felt like he gave us everything we needed in this series. The pockets in which we've been able to bring him in, we discussed prior to coming into the series."
With Chapman not an option, Porter said that it would be up to veteran right-hander Chad Qualls and perhaps Matt Albers to get lefties out. The Yankees had lefties Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki in their lineup on Thursday, along with three switch-hitters.
"[We] have those guys down there, Qualls and Albers, who can sink the ball, four-seam it, cut it. They all have the ability and the arsenal that we're comfortable having them face guys, lefty or righty," Porter said.
Astros have top pool for international signings
HOUSTON -- The Astros will have the most money to spend of any team during the international signing period starting July 2, with a bonus pool of $5,015,400, the product of finishing last season with the worst record.
Houston will have the second-highest bonus pool for the first 10 rounds of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, at $13,362,200, behind the Marlins' $14,199,300. Miami has 13 picks in the first 10 rounds, which is why they'll have more money.
The Astros have the No. 1 overall pick for the third year in a row, which this season is valued at $7,922,100, just shy of the all-time Draft bonus record of $8 million, paid by the Pirates to No. 1 overall selection Gerrit Cole in 2011.
The Draft pools cover the top 10 rounds and any bonus money in excess of $100,000 given to players taken in rounds 11-40. If a player selected in the first 10 rounds doesn't sign, his assigned value is subtracted from his team's pool. There are penalties for exceeding Draft bonus pools.
The international bonus pools cover signings from July 2 through June 15 of the following year. Players who are at least 23 years old and have played in a professional league recognized by the Commissioner's Office (such as in Cuba or Japan) for a minimum of five seasons don't count against the pool, nor do players who sign for $10,000 or less.
Clubs are penalized for exceeding their allotments for international players, but not as harshly as they are with the Draft. Any overage is taxed at a 100 percent rate. In addition, teams can't sign a player in the next signing period for more than $500,000 if they surpass their pool by more than 5 percent and up to 10 percent; can't sign a player in the next signing period for more than $300,000 if they go over by more than 10 percent and up to 15 percent; and can't sign a player in the next two signing periods for more than $300,000 if they exceed their allotment by more than 15 percent.