4/10/2014 1:35 A.M. ET
Fowler enjoys return to Astros' starting lineup
Outfielder returns to normal leadoff spot after battle with stomach illness
By Chris Toman / Special to MLB.com
TORONTO -- Astros center fielder Dexter Fowler, who had been battling a stomach virus, returned to the starting lineup on Wednesday night for the first time in six games and made his presence felt out of the leadoff spot.
Fowler went 1-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and made three putouts on defense in Houston's 7-3 loss to the Blue Jays.
"My timing wasn't that bad, but I felt a little weak out there," said Fowler, who had trouble eating solid foods during his time off. "I'll take it day by day, but it's just a blessing to be able to get back out there."
Manager Bo Porter said Fowler's absence was felt, and it forced the skipper to juggle some things at the top of the order.
"It was great to get Dexter back in the lineup," Porter said. "Obviously, offensively, he was the catalyst at the top of our lineup."
Fowler did pinch-hit in Tuesday's 5-2 loss at Rogers Centre, but had missed the previous four games. Before Wednesday's game, Fowler was very eager to see a full game's worth of action.
"I'm not at 100 percent, but I'm ready to play," he said. "It's awesome to be back on the field, that's all you can ask for. That's what you're out here for, not to be sitting there sick."
The 28-year-old Fowler hit in the cages on Tuesday and participated in a full workout for the first time since becoming ill, but wasn't worried that the layoff would disrupt his timing at the plate. Neither was Porter.
"I think he's fine. Even [Tuesday] after he finished in the cage ... he was itching to get back in there," Porter said. "He came in today and said he is holding down food and there should be no restrictions."
Fowler, acquired in an offseason deal with the Rockies, is batting .438 with four extra-base hits over 16 at-bats.
Grossman drops in order following slow start
TORONTO -- Left fielder Robbie Grossman was dropped to the No. 8 spot in the lineup for Wednesday's contest against the Blue Jays, the lowest he has hit in the Astros' order this season.
Grossman didn't respond well, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the club's 7-3 loss at Rogers Centre.
Grossman, who is hitting just .063 this season, batted leadoff in Tuesday's 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays and had hit second in his previous seven games. Astros manager Bo Porter said his intention was to take some pressure off Grossman by slotting him in lower in the order with the hopes that it will help get his bat going.
"Robbie is one of those guys, who sometimes as a manager, you have to protect them from themselves," Porter said. "Moving him down hopefully gives him a little bit of a chance to relax."
Porter said the move isn't necessarily going to be long term and the skipper reiterated how much faith the organization has in Grossman, who hit .268 with a .702 OPS over 63 games in his first taste of the big leagues last season.
It's only a matter of time before Grossman starts racking up some hits, Porter said. Grossman walked twice on Tuesday loss and stung a hard liner that was caught by Toronto shortstop Jonathan Diaz, all of which were positive signs in Porter's opinion.
"He had a great second half last season and a great Spring Training, and that's why he was announced as the Opening Day starter," Porter said. "We will continue to give him opportunities, and we believe that this guy is an everyday player. Just because he has had a bad eight games, we aren't going to give up on him."
Williams day to day with right groin strain
TORONTO -- Astros right-hander Jerome Williams exited Wednesday's 7-3 loss to the Blue Jays in the sixth inning with a right groin strain and is considered day to day.
The club is classifying the strain as mild and Williams is optimistic he will avoid a trip to the disabled list. Although Williams will be further evaluated on Thursday, he said he's not concerned.
"It's a slight pull, we'll see how it is [Thursday]," Williams said. "I don't need an MRI."
Williams first felt something in his groin while pitching to Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion, but he thought he could fight through it. The very next pitch Williams threw, however, a 1-2 offering to Encarnacion, is when he knew he could no longer continue pitching.
Williams, who relieved starter Lucas Harrell in the fifth, immediately grimaced after the pitch and signaled toward the Astros' dugout, prompting manager Bo Porter and trainer Rex Jones to come out to the mound to check on the reliever.
Following a brief meeting, Williams walked off the field and was replaced by righty Josh Zeid, who was recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City on Tuesday.
"After he gets home tonight, and goes to sleep and comes back [Thursday], the trainers will be able to better assess it," Porter said.
Williams threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings, while walking two and striking out one.
Porter gains clarity on home-plate collisions
TORONTO -- Astros manager Bo Porter had a 15-minute conversation with Major League Baseball special adviser Tony La Russa on Wednesday to get some clarification on the rules which pertain to home-plate collisions and catchers blocking the plate.
During the call, Porter was informed by La Russa that the league will be sending out a memo to all 30 teams in the coming days to better outline the rules already in place. Porter made the call to La Russa because of a play that occurred in the club's 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays on Tuesday.
With Houston batting in the eighth, Toronto reliever Brett Cecil fielded a weak grounder and fired home to nail L.J. Hoes, who was attempting to score from third base. Hoes was ruled out, a play Porter unsuccessfully challenged, but the skipper's biggest issue was that he didn't feel Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro gave Hoes a proper sliding lane, which is mandatory.
Although Porter didn't agree that Hoes had a sliding lane, he did sympathize with Navarro, too. Porter said that ever since home-plate collisions were banned in baseball, plays at the plate and the language that has followed has focused on throws coming in from the outfield, which would give catchers ample time to set up. When an infielder is coming home with a throw, however, catchers don't have nearly enough time to react, which can make it difficult for them to create the proper sliding lane, Porter said.
"I think a lot of the conversations that we had leading up to the season was more about the ball coming in from the outfield and the catcher having reasonable time to position himself in a place where obviously there'll be a sliding lane," Porter said.
"The play happened so fast or it was going to happen so fast, that the catcher has to have reasonable time to get from behind the plate into a position to receive the ball. They're going to come up with some language that brings some clarity to it."
Porter also explained that he never thought he challenged Tuesday's play at the plate, which he first mentioned after the game. In his opinion, the umpires chose to review the play after he asked them to, but the crew believed that he in fact challenged it. Porter said there is still a lot to learn about the new rules and spoke to the umpiring crew before Wednesday's contest.
"Obviously, I didn't get a chance to talk to them after that play [on Tuesday] because once they go to the headset, you can't go back out and argue," he said.
• Wednesday's contest against the Blue Jays was televised nationally on ESPN2, something about which Astros players were excited.
"A national TV game like this is awesome, especially for the young guys," Fowler said.
Reliever Chad Qualls echoed the same sentiments and believes the exposure that some of the Astros players will get is good for them and also fans of the game.
"When I was younger, I always thought it was pretty cool to play a game that was being nationally televised," Qualls said. "It's cool to get some national recognition. The young guys can go out and everyone can see how they play. Everyone is here for a reason and that's because they are good enough to play in the big leagues."
• Reliever Jesse Crain returned to the Astros' Spring Training complex in Kissimmee, Fla., on Tuesday to continue his rehab. Crain, who signed with the club this offseason, is recovering from right biceps surgery and is expected to rejoin the Astros at some point in May.
Chris Toman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.