After missing the entire 2011 campaign due to an injury, former Houston Astros' first-round pick Jason Castro just might be ready to go for opening day in 2012. The catcher is battling for a roster spot with Chris Snyder and Humberto Quintero.
Everyone in the Astros' brick red or in the front office has the same thought at the forefront when it comes to what will make a successful spring training: good health.
And so, as camp kicked off this week with the usual optimism and ability to throw away last year's 56-106 record, the club is getting good news every day with the recovery of catcher Jason Castro
Castro missed last season because of an ACL tear and had a setback in the Arizona Fall League requiring surgery to remove a sesamoid bone in his foot.
Castro has gradually increased his workload the first few days of spring, getting into running and adding to his routine.
"As far as health goes, I'm ready to go," Castro said. "I'm sure we'll ease back into it a little bit."
Castro still has the April 6 regular-season opener as a goal, so he's not really focused on any deadlines within the Grapefruit League season.
With Chris Snyder
and Humberto Quintero
also on the roster, general manager Jeff Luhnow acknowledged that there will be some true competition. After going back and forth this offseason, the team is not looking to take three catchers.
"He, like everybody else, is going to have to win that spot," Luhnow said of Castro.
The health of the former No. 1 pick projected to be the starting catcher last year will probably be the biggest individual storyline of camp.
Astros Notes & Quotes
RHP Livan Hernandez reported for his 17th major league season and first with the Astros as he looks to gain a spot in the crowded battle for the rotation. Hernandez brings to the Astros mostly the ability to pitch deep into games and deep into seasons, 10 times reaching 200 innings.
"A starting pitcher, like Nolan Ryan says, is supposed to pitch more than five innings," Hernandez said. "We're supposed to pitch longer to keep the bullpen fresh, and so I try to throw more than 200 innings every year."
LHP Wandy Rodriguez had an early scare in spring training when his back tightened up during his second bullpen session. "I just stopped because I felt a little bit sore and I didn't want to throw more," Rodriguez said. The injury was not considered serious, but is the latest in a recent run of spring health issues for him.
RHP Kyle Weiland is on the periphery of the Astros' race for the rotation after being acquired from Boston, where he pitched well in the minors but struggled in a short stint with the big club. Should he not make the rotation, he's more likely ticketed for Class AAA Oklahoma City than for the bullpen.
"We need to see if we think that he has that type of stuff to put into a bullpen," manager Brad Mills said. "Right off the bat from what we've seen, I think we'd probably prefer to keep him in the rotation, if not here then in Oklahoma City or wherever."
LF J.D. Martinez was part of a large group of position players to report to camp early. In fact, the young Astros had eight of their nine projected starters in place at least four days early.
"Everyone has an understanding of the opportunity that's available here and knows what the situation is," Martinez said. "Everybody wants a spot. It's going to be very competitive this spring."
OF Fernando Martinez is eager for a new start with a new team. The Astros claimed the 23-year-old with a long history of knee problems on waivers from the New York Mets after a tumultuous career that saw him plummet from elite prospect status. "I've spent all my life with the Mets and I appreciate the opportunity the Mets gave me," Martinez said. "Right now I feel very grateful to be here and to see new people."
LHP Sergio Escalona hyperextended his left elbow in a hitting drill, unfortunate for a player who has never had a plate appearance in his big-league career. "We talk to them about hurting themselves, and that didn't go over real well, obviously because somehow he got hurt," manager Brad Mills said.
By the Numbers: 90 – Days between Jim Crane's buying the Astros and the day he addressed the team at the opening of spring training, which he called a dream come true after three failed attempts to buy baseball teams.
Quote to Note: "I wake up at 5:30 every day for spring training and get here at 6:10 or 6:15 every day. Trust me, I still love this game. You've got to love this game to get up at 5:30." -- RHP Livan Hernandez on what drives him in Year 17.