7/24/2014 4:28 P.M. ET
Feeling's mutual: Astros holding on to Qualls
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
OAKLAND -- With a week remaining prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Astros are expected to be relatively inactive, which would be a change from the previous four years in which they made a handful of deals to ship off veterans for young players.
The Astros could be looking for some outfield help, considering they have three outfielders on the shelf, but one player who won't be moved is closer Chad Qualls, who has a 1.78 ERA and 11 saves this year. He hasn't allowed an earned run in 31 of his last 33 outings (0.59 ERA in that span).
He's certainly drawing interest, but the Astros simply can't afford to lose him. The bullpen struggled mightily last year after closer Jose Veras was shipped off to the Tigers.
"I hesitate to use the word 'untouchable,' but he likes it here, he's comfortable here and he's pitching well," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "To have a guy who's capable of pitching late in the game, in close games, we're going to have opportunity going forward. This is a team that's improving, and as the team improves, you have more save opportunities, more opportunities to pitch at the end of close games. We need more Chad Qualls. We don't need less."
The Astros signed Qualls in December to a two-year, $6 million deal with a $3 million option for 2016. Qualls, who was drafted and developed by the Astros, wants to finish his career in Houston and be part of the team's turnaround.
"That's why I signed here in the first place is to help get this team back to its winning ways and start bringing some victories to the city of Houston, kind of like the old days," said Qualls, who was a reliever on the 2005 World Series team. "Obviously, I want to be part of that and stay here. I would love to be able to stay here for 2 1/2 years and even beyond that and retire as an Astro. That's been my plan all along is that I prefer to stay here."
Astros taking it slow with Fowler's recovery
OAKLAND -- Astros outfielder Dexter Fowler doesn't appear to be close to returning to action, and it's not a stretch to assume that he won't be available until after the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Fowler, who's been on the disabled list since June 27 with a right intercostal strain, still hasn't swung a bat or picked up a ball, which means he's got a long way to go before he returns to the lineup. That's especially true considering he would need to have a Minor League rehab assignment before being activated.
"I'm getting better," said Fowler, who's still traveling with the club. "Each day, I'm starting to feel a little bit better."
When asked if he knew when he would be ready for a Minor League rehab, Fowler said: "Nah, I don't have a clue."
Fowler has played in only 76 games and was hitting .270 with six homers, 24 RBIs and a .377 on-base percentage. George Springer took over for him in center field, but now Springer is on the DL with a quad strain. Outfielder Alex Presley is on the DL with an oblique strain.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow hinted Fowler would be brought along slowly.
"With this type of injury, it can clear up quickly and it also tends to linger," he said. "We're going to take it easy until there's no symptoms, and then we'll send him out on rehab and he'll have a chance to get his bat going again and come back here, but I don't expect that to be during this road trip [which ended Thursday]. I think it will be sometime during this homestand."
The Astros open a 10-game homestand Friday against the Marlins.
Astros keeping close eye on Marwin's hamstring
OAKLAND -- Astros manager Bo Porter admitted Thursday he was concerned about the sore right hamstring of starting shortstop Marwin Gonzalez, who was lifted in the seventh inning of Wednesday night's 9-7 loss to the A's to rest the leg.
Gonzalez was in the lineup Thursday out of necessity, considering the Astros' mounting injury problems. Enrique Hernandez can play shortstop, but he's been put in center field, with Dexter Fowler, George Springer and Alex Presley all on the disabled list.
"Marwin's hamstring is a concern of mine," Porter said. "Watching him run around and knowing he's not 100 percent, he's doing the best he can to get out there and gut it out and play. But it's something we have to be very mindful of and not blow his hamstring, and now you're looking at a considerable amount of time being missed."
Gonzalez injured the hamstring running the bases Saturday in Chicago and said Wednesday night he wasn't at 100 percent. The last thing the Astros need is another position player on the DL.
"You just pray that we're able to get healthy here soon and get some of these guys back and get some of these guys feeling better," Porter said.
Albers, Crain progressing slower than expected
OAKLAND -- The calendar is getting ready to flip to August, and with each growing day it's becoming less likely injured relievers Matt Albers and Jesse Crain will be able to make significant contributions to the team this year, if at all.
Albers, who went on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis after only eight outings, and Crain, who's been out all season, are in Houston and don't appear to be close to action. General manager Jeff Luhnow said the hope is that sometime in the next 10 days they'll start throwing on the mound, which would be the first step toward rehab assignments. He said both are making "slow, but deliberate progress."
The Astros signed Albers for $2.25 million and Crain for $3.25 million.
"It's one of those things it's taken so much longer than I, or they, originally anticipated that it's hard to put a specific date on it," Luhnow said. "They are progressing, and neither has had any sort of setback in a while, which is good news, but we're taking it very slow because we really don't think we can afford any more setbacks. It would probably cost us the rest of the season if that occurs."
Crain has recovered from the right biceps surgery he had last October, and his issue now appears to be strength in the back of his shoulder. He hasn't pitched in a big league game in more than a year.
"He had to take some time off from throwing on the mound to strengthen his muscle back there," Luhnow said. "He did that with our rehab guy here in [Houston], who's one of the best in the industry, and he's gotten through that and now he's back out tossing again. We feel good that was the final milestone, and now it's just a matter of getting him in shape again."