Houston Astros: Cutting And Whittling!

The Houston Astros are on a mission this season with Jose Altuve leading the charge. Photo Courtesy: Rick Leal
The Houston Astros are on a mission this season with Jose Altuve leading the charge. Photo Courtesy: Rick Leal

By Will Martin

One of the great nuances about watching the process of Spring Training run its course is to see the way the rotation is utilized from a pitching and positional standpoint. Then see if your picks and switches match up with what the powers that be in the bigs are up to.

With only one direction to go for this ballclub in 2014 and onward this much we do know. It was announced earlier this past week that one-time Texas Ranger RHP Scott Feldman will be the Opening Day Starter for the Astros on April 1st when the Yankees roll into town for a midweek series.

Also announced by Bo Porter, to fill out the top end of the starting rotation following Feldman are RHP Jarred Cosart and LHP Brett Oberholzer to pitch the second and third games of the season. If I had to garner a guess your 4th and 5th starters, at  least through April, will be Lucas Harrell as your #4 and Dallas Keuchel at #5.

Through March 21st the Astros accumulated a record of 8-12. In the space of one calendar week Houston has dropped 6 of 7 after a 7-6 start in Florida. Jarred Cosart and Dallas Keuchel with 2-1 marks, while Lucas Harrell has gone 1-2.

Two games remain in Florida before Houston makes the trek to San Antonio to play the Texas Rangers at the Alamodome on the 29th and 30th, and also Team Veracruz on those same days in Houston.

One thing to keep an eye on is who makes the Final 25 cut and who gets released or reassigned. After a 6-3 loss to the Phillies on Friday the following players were optioned/reassigned to minor league camps: IF Jon Singleton (optioned), RHP Mark Appel, IF Carlos Correa, OF Delino DeShields Jr, RHP Mike Foltynewicz, and OF George Springer. With these moves made the Spring Training roster sits at 38. 30 players on the 40 man roster and 8 on the non-roster invite side.

The St. Louis Cardinals were in town for two games over the weekend in Jupiter at Roger Dean Stadium. This is a moment for sentimentality as 2014 will mark the first time since 1962 the Astros and Cardinals will not play one another in the regular season. Since 1962 St. Louis and Houston have met 706 times! In 2013 the Cardinals went 3-1 against Houston.

Jose Altuve got his first homer of the season. A 425-foot blast off the batters eye in straightaway center field in a 5-2 loss to the Cards. Bo Porter may have a bigger problem with Jose. That is, if he tries to rest or bench him during the season. Jose intends to play every game in 2014. In 2012 he went 142, 152 in 2013, and now ten more for perfection.

“I’m working on being 100 percent for the season,” Altuve said. “My only goal is to play 162 games. The other goals are to go, play, win, simple stuff — get to the playoffs, get to the World Series this year, next year, whenever we can do it.”

With two exhibitions left in the Grapefruit League before heading home look for Jerome Williams, Anthony Bass, Kevin Chapman, and Raul Valdes to get some spot work at St. Louis.

Scott Feldman will make one more start on Wednesday against the Mets on the 26th before his Opening Day start. Dallas Keuchel and David Hale will also get some innings in a game at the Braves on the 24th.

Further roster moves: Late on March 24th, IF Japhet Amador and IF Gregorio Petit were both reassigned to minor league camp. LHP Darin Downs was optioned back to the minors. OF J.D. Martinez was given his unconditional release. The roster now sits at 34. 29 on the 40 man roster and five non-roster invites.

History will be made this weekend in Houston for two reasons. The first time use of instant replay and playing the Veracruz Red Eagles from the Mexican League at Minute Maid Park. Part of the Astros team will also be traveling to San Antonio to play the Texas Rangers. Its all part of the H-E-B Big League Weekend. Tickets will go quickly.

Get Well Wishes: Oklahoma City Redhawks Manager Tony DeFrancesco who was in Kissimee and discovered he had cancer. Since the symptoms were caught early treatment will begin at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Treatment is to last for about six weeks. DeFrancesco expects to make a full recovery and return to the Redhawks in May. In the interim, Tom Lawless will fill that position.

“I am overwhelmed and truly grateful by the support of family, friends, and everyone associated with the Houston Astros organization,” DeFrancesco said. “I am very confident in my medical team at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.  I am optimistic for 100% recovery. My wife, Adriene, and I would like to thank everyone for their phone calls and prayers.”

“Tony has handled this situation admirably,” said Astros Player Development Director Quinton McCracken. “Tony has done a tremendous job with our players and is a credit to our organization. We know he’ll tackle this and we look forward to his return to OKC.”

Totally random: Marwin Gonzalez through 16 games was leading all hitters in the Grapefruit League with a .467 average going 14 for 30.

While the Astros look to have a set lineup one thing that has not been agreed to is an official closer. Some candidates to get that worthy nod are Anthony Bass, Josh Fields, Matt Albers, Chad Qualls, Kevin Chapman, even Jesse Crain once he returns from surgery for biceps tendinitis.

This from the skipper: “I think if we had a guy, it would have been decided by now,” Porter said. “We will go into the season with a closer by committee and try to look at the best situation given that night in each game.”

“If you have a guy down there that you can say to yourself, ‘This guy has separated himself from the other guys that were in the competition, the information will be in front of you,” Porter said. “That’s not the case right now. I’m not going to speculate on what’s going to happen by April 15, but as we sit here today, that’s the situation we’re dealing with.”

More importantly the Houston Astros will have a set quintet of starters. Probably the ones already referred to earlier. Even with five solid starters on paper Bo Porter likes the problem of too much consistency from the beginning of a game.

“All of those guys have done a really good job,” Porter said. “When you don’t have one guy that has separated himself, you would rather it be the way it is where all those guys are throwing the ball well. That’s a good problem to have.”

Upcoming Schedule
3/26  vs Mets                               5:05 PM
3/28  @Rangers                         7:05 PM
3/29  @Rangers                         1:05 PM
3/29  vs Aguila De Veracruz      7:10 PM
3/30  vs Aguila De Veracruz      1:10 PM