4/19/2014 3:18 A.M. ET
Villar making strides in field with glovework
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
OAKLAND -- After committing 16 errors in 58 games last year in his rookie season -- and struggling on defense this spring -- Astros shortstop Jonathan Villar has made a solid contribution with the glove during the first two weeks of the season. He and Jose Altuve are the only shortstop-second base combo in the Majors without an error entering Friday.
Villar said improving his defense has been a top concern since the start of the spring.
"When you play and you're batting, you go up and down," he said. "The defense, you have to have everything all the time. You have to make a routine play."
Astros third base coach Pat Listach, who handles infield defense, said he's proud of the defense of the entire infield, especially considering their struggles with the bats.
"I think for the most part, they haven't taken their at-bats to the field because we aren't hitting," Listach said. "If we're not hitting and not playing defense, now that's really bad. We will eventually hit, but the defense has to be there every day.
"You may hit four balls hard and not have any hits, but that's one of those things. The next day, three broken-bat hits fall. The defense has to be there every day. When the game's on the line in the ninth inning and two outs, I don't care which one of the infielders they hit it to. I'm comfortable with all of them, but there's always room for improvement."
Prospect DeShields hit in face by pitch at Double-A
OAKLAND -- Delino DeShields Jr., the Astros' seventh-ranked prospect, was taken to a hospital Friday night after he was struck on the right side of the face by a pitch in the seventh inning of Double-A Corpus Christi's game in Frisco, Texas.
DeShields, who walked off the field under his own power, went 1-for-3 and is hitting .259 with two homers and four RBIs this season as the Hooks' starting center fielder.
DeShields, 21, hit .317 with five homers, 54 RBIs and 51 stolen bases last season at Class A Lancaster. After the season, he made the move back to center field after playing a few seasons at second base.
After hitting .220 in Class A Lexington in his first full season of pro ball in 2011, DeShields returned to the South Atlantic League in 2012 and was spectacular. He hit .298 with 96 runs, 10 homers, 52 RBIs and had 83 stolen bases in 111 games, finishing with 101 steals after swiping 18 more bags at Class A Lancaster.
DeShields, whose father, Delino DeShields Sr., hit .268 and stole 463 bases over a 13-year big league career with the Expos, Dodgers, Cardinals, Orioles and Cubs, was the Astros' first-round pick (eighth overall) in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.
Astros bat Springer fourth to jumpstart lineup
OAKLAND -- George Springer found himself in the cleanup spot in manager Bo Porter's lineup Friday in the series opener against the A's in only his third Major League game. Porter admitted it's something he didn't want to do, but he was hoping it could help get the offense rolling.
"I actually wanted to try to prevent it, but I think when you look at our offensive woes, you just try to mix it up," he said.
Porter also had Jose Altuve in the leadoff spot for the first time this year, followed by struggling Dexter Fowler, Jason Castro and Springer. Altuve has batted primarily fourth this season, and Fowler has batted first in the previous 11 games he played in this year.
"Having [Springer] in the No. 2 hole would be ideal, but the fact we're not clicking on all cylinders, he's a guy that can change the game with one swing," Porter said. "By getting Altuve at the top of the lineup, who's swinging the best bat right now, you figure you'll get the guy swinging the bat the best the extra at-bats at this time."
Springer, who was called up Monday night, hit second and third this year at Triple-A Oklahoma City.
"I'm going to treat it the exactly same way," he said. "I like to drive the ball and do some damage, so I'm going to go out and get something good to hit and try to hit it hard."
Springer said he's been leaning on teammates to try to get some scouting reports from the pitchers he hasn't seen before, including Oakland starter Sonny Gray.
"You always want to have more information," Springer said. "Some of the best information comes from just talking to guys like Castro, who has faced him before. He knows what he does, and it's one of those things where you talk to guys that and experience it for myself and go from there."
Presley latest to catch bug, scratched due to illness
OAKLAND -- Outfielder Alex Presley was the latest Astros player to come down with flu-like symptoms. Presley was scratched from the lineup shortly before game time Friday and replaced by L.J. Hoes because he was ill.
Several players and members of the staff, including manager Bo Porter, have been sick this season with either flu symptoms or a stomach virus. Porter couldn't get out of bed Monday because of his illness, and Dexter Fowler missed four games in the first week of the season with a stomach virus.
Reliever Chad Qualls, who wasn't at the ballpark Wednesday because he had been vomiting, was available to pitch Friday for the first time since getting sick.
"For the past two and a half days, all I had to eat was two bananas, a kolache and a bowl of soup," Qualls said. "I had a little bit of food last night after the game and halfway through the flight [to San Francisco from Houston], two hours in the flight, I started to get hungry and good starting to sound appetizing again.
"I had half a breakfast burrito today, and it tasted good and went down good. I feel better. I'm still getting over it, but I feel a lot better than I have. That's the worst I've probably felt in my adult life. I was miserable."
Left-hander Brett Oberholtzer, who's scheduled to start Saturday, was asleep on the couch in the clubhouse a couple of hours prior to Friday's game because he didn't feel well, but Porter says he'll be ready.
"It took its course through the clubhouse," Porter said. "Let's hope we don't have anymore."
Porter spoke too soon. Add Presley to the list.
Porter preaches patience to slumping offense
OAKLAND -- With so many Astros players in slumps to start the year, manager Bo Porter said he told the guys on Friday during the pre-series hitters' meeting to clear their minds. The Astros began play Friday hitting .188 as a team, which was the lowest batting average in baseball.
Porter reminded the players the season was still only two weeks old and their sample sizes and number of at-bats were small.
"You can get caught up real easy," he said. "Just as fast as a guy can go 1-for-20, he can go 10-for-20 and they think, 'Wow, this guy is the best player ever.' It all comes in cycles."
The last thing the Astros want to do now is fill the players' heads with complexities.
"The message that we've been delivering to these guys all day is we told them to come out and let your hair down and be nice and loose and have fun," Porter said. "If we continue to play defense and get good pitching, when it all comes together, we're going to hit our stride and win a lot of ballgames."