6/26/2014 8:50 P.M. ET
Before game, Astros watch US soccer advance
By Brian McTaggart and Mike Vernon / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Rookie outfielder George Springer walked into the Astros' clubhouse Thursday morning wearing the orange jersey of Brad Davis of the Houston Dynamo while preparing to cheer on the United States Men's National Team in its World Cup match against Germany.
So when Springer found out Davis was in the starting lineup for the Americans, it only buoyed his excitement.
"I think they've got a tough match today," he said. "They've been playing really well. It's a shame they gave up that goal in the last seconds in stoppage time [Sunday against Portugal], but I feel confident. I feel like they're going to tie at the very least."
The U.S. lost to the Germans, 1-0, but still advanced to the next round by way of Portugal's 2-1 win over Ghana. When the match started, Springer and his orange jersey were front and center leading the cheers in the middle of the Astros' clubhouse, where several players flopped down on leather chairs to watch the match.
"Give it to Davis," Springer shouted. "It's raining. This is the shot we have. Brad's going to put one in the back of the onion bag."
Springer was joined by outfielder and soccer aficionado Alex Presley, with pitcher Jake Buchanan sitting close by. Soon, Jose Altuve and Jesus Guzman joined the viewing party, with Jerome Williams sitting on the fringes to provide some commentary.
"'Why are we going the other way, guys?'" cracked Williams when the U.S. passed the ball back to keeper Tim Howard.
Germany dominated possession early, which really didn't bother Presley. He understood the U.S. needed at least a tie, so losing possession and keeping the Germans off the board was OK. Presley has a keen eye for the game, having played in high school.
"Soccer and baseball, I played my whole life," said Presley, who wore a red U.S. soccer T-shirt to the park. "I know what's going on when I watch a game and most guys don't know what's going on."
Six minutes into the match, Springer finally turned up the television and turned off the reggae music that was started by Chad Qualls. Altuve didn't sit down to watch the match until the eighth minute.
"Just be careful with [Thomas] Müller," Altuve said. "He's so good."
Altuve played lots of soccer while growing up in Venezuela and has a rooting interest in this year's World Cup.
"I think I'll go with Brazil and United States," he said. "Those are my two teams. I would like to go with my country, but they're not there. I know they're working hard to be in the World Cup in the future."
In the 10th minute, Springer grew more frustrated with the U.S. play: "OK, United States, there are sides of the field -- your defensive side and your offensive side."
Outside the clubhouse, the game was showing on the large scoreboard inside Minute Maid, and a few hundred Astros fans were in the stands watching. Pitchers Josh Zeid and Collin McHugh watched intently from the dugout railing, with McHugh pulling a stool from the dugout to get a better view.
When Howard made a spectacular save, McHugh put his hands on his head and screamed.
"We need a tie," he said. "I don't know if we can win this game. Anything can happen, but we do need some good, hard defense."
McHugh is also a huge soccer fan. A lot of his friends were soccer players in middle school and high school, and he started following the English Premier League. His roommate for three years in the Mets system was a German, so he also followed the German Bundesliga.
"Soccer's starting to catch on in the States," he said. "I don't think it's going to be long, maybe four or five years, before we're like an actual influence in the world of soccer. It's exciting to see."
When the final whistle blew and the Americans were assured safe passage to the next round, it was only about 15 minutes prior to first pitch against the Braves and most of the players were still in the clubhouse watching the game and soaking up the win.
You can bet Springer's orange jersey will be back to cheer on the Americans in the round of 16.
"I think it's great for them, obviously, as a team, but for us as a nation," Springer said.
Astros promote Veras, outright Farnsworth
HOUSTON -- Jose Veras walked through the Astros' clubhouse and shook hands with his old teammates, and a few new ones.
He chatted with Marwin Gonzalez along with greeting Astros rookie George Springer. Veras was called up Thursday from Triple-A Oklahoma City in place of Kyle Farnsworth, who was outrighted off the active roster.
It didn't take long for Veras to make his return to the mound for the Astros. He entered in the ninth inning of Thursday's 6-1 win over the Braves and struck out Justin Upton for the final out of the game.
"It feels great for me, being here with my teammates," Veras said. "I always feel really comfortable here with this team, this organization."
Veras played the first half of last season with the Astros, appearing in 42 games and posting a 2.93 ERA with 19 saves in 43 innings. Houston traded Veras to the Tigers last season, and he went on to sign with the Cubs in the winter. He was projected to be the Cubs' closer, but he lost that role after compiling an 8.10 ERA in 12 games.
Astros manager Bo Porter reiterated that Chad Qualls will continue to close for the Astros, but was also quick to point out the advantages of adding Veras to the roster.
"If there's a situation where Qualls is not available, then you know you have another guy that you feel just as comfortable with," Porter said. "He was our closer last year and did a tremendous job."
Farnsworth was signed by the Astros on May 17 and appeared in 16 games, posting a 6.17 ERA in 11 2/3 innings. He started the year with the Mets, who released him just a few days prior to reaching a $1 million salary bonus.
The team expects Farnsworth to elect free agency instead of accepting an assignment to Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Porter switches up lineup, separates lefties
HOUSTON -- While manager Bo Porter inserted Marwin Gonzalez in the lineup Thursday to help bolster the Astros' struggling offense, he had a different reason for switching Jon Singleton and George Springer in the three and four spots.
Springer, a right-handed hitter, will bat cleanup Thursday and Singleton, a left-handed hitter, will bat third, which is the opposite of where they normally bat.
"It's just to put some more distance between our two lefties," Porter said. "And adding another right-handed bat between the two lefties."
The Astros will try to revive their struggling offense against Mike Minor, a left-handed pitcher, and the Braves. Houston has scored seven runs in its last six games.
Gonzalez, who is batting .264 this season, is playing shortstop in place of Jonathan Villar. Jesus Guzman is in left field for L.J. Hoes.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. Mike Vernon is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.