Japhet Amador, who is expected to compete for the Houston Astros' open first base job, is steadily working his way back into baseball shape after arriving late to camp Feb. 27.
The 300-pound Mexican slugger passed his physical and was cleared to begin working out with the club over the weekend, but he is not likely to make his Grapefruit League debut until at least later in the week.
With Amador back in the fold, he will start competing with outfielder/first baseman Marc Krauss, top prospect Jonathan Singleton, veteran Jesus Guzman and Brett Wallace, who is in camp as a non-roster invitee after he was taken off the roster in early February. Slugger Chris Carter can also play first, but he is the incumbent designated hitter and already somewhat of a lock to make the Opening Day roster.
"I think these next two days are important for (Amador),"Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "He'll stay back with the players who aren't playing, get a lot of swings in, work out and take ground balls.
"Later in the week we'll evaluate. We'll have a discussion later this week. We'll probably have him take some live (batting practice) on the minor league side. Because he showed up essentially two weeks later than everybody else we're going to be patient so he's not going to be rushed."
Amador, 26, reported late because his pregnant wife was ill back in Mexico. The career .320 hitter in the Mexican League hit 112 homers in Mexico before the Astros signed him last summer.
Although the corner outfield spots are technically open this spring as left fielder Robbie Grossman and right fielder L.J. Hoes try to maintain their spots and hold off top prospect George Springer, the first base job is the most open competition among the position players.
"Krauss has been swinging the bat well early," Luhnow said. "He's definitely a candidate. He plays outfield and first. Wallace got several at-bats early. Guzman was swinging the bat well. It's probably going to be a question all the way through camp. I doubt it will be resolved early."
--RHP Jarred Cosart, who had a breakthrough rookie season in 2013 and is fighting for the No. 2 spot in the rotation, wasted no time getting into a solid rhythm. Cosart needed only 27 pitches while throwing two no-hit innings March 1 against the Atlanta Braves. He struck out one and walked one over the scoreless frames.
--RHP Asher Wojciechowski, who suffered a lat strain during a bullpen session Feb. 1 at home, remains shut down from any throwing activities. Wojciechowski traveled to Houston Feb. 28 to be examined. He took a PRP injection and rejoined the club Sunday in Kissimmee, Fla. "We're not concerned about anything too significant there," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said.
--RHP Anthony Bass, who is fighting for a bullpen spot this spring, earned some praise from Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow one day after earning the save against the Atlanta Braves. He struck out two batters over one perfect inning. "Anthony Bass was pitching in the mid-90s and throwing strikes," he said. "That was a good outing for him. Probably has the best relief outing of the group (March 2)."
--LHP Brett Oberholtzer, who is expected to earn a spot in the Opening Day rotation after a solid rookie season in 2013, showed up with a refined curveball in his Grapefruit League debut March 2. Although he gave up one run over two innings, he took a step in the right direction by using a pitch he vowed to improve over the winner. "It's come along really well," pitching coach Brent Strom told the Houston Chronicle.
--LHP Dallas Keuchel, who is battling for the fifth spot in the rotation or at least a bullpen spot as a long reliever, came out firing. He needed only 17 pitches to throw two scoreless innings March 3 against the Miami Marlins.
--1B-OF Marc Krauss, one of four contending for the open first base job, drilled his first home run of the spring March 3. Krauss will get plenty of at-bats to show what he can do this spring.
--OF George Springer, a top prospect who hit 37 home runs and stole 45 bases last year between Double A Corpus Christi and Triple A Oklahoma City last year, showcased his patience March 3 with four walks. The plate discipline will be crucial because some have wondered about his high strikeout ratio. He struck out 161 times in 590 at-bats last season while walking only 83 times.
--Special adviser Craig Biggio, the Astros icon and member of the 3,000-hit club, reported Monday to begin his first of two brief stints as a guest instructor at Astros camp. "I'll dress up here, and I like working," he said. "Just like if it was. I'm no longer doing the high school (coaching) thing. I enjoy getting out with our minor league kids and I enjoy getting out with our big league guys."
--GM Jeff Luhnow has been pleased with the team's defense early in the Grapefruit League. "With the exception of the ball Domingo (Santana) dropped, we've been playing pretty good defense," said Luhnow, who wants to see dramatic improvement after the Astros led the majors in errors in 2013. "Infielders are making their plays, outfielders are making their plays. We really need to execute that. We can't afford to give other teams any extra outs."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I mean, there's nothing you can do about it. It was really, I mean, we were pretty close. And hopefully next year will be a better year for us. I really think that the way that everybody felt, really, has really made it easier for myself at least as far as the disappointment that everybody expressed to me. It really made it easier for me per se, just from the standpoint that people want it to happen, like we kind of hoped it would happen, but it didn't. But we came close. But the way that everybody kind of felt about it made it easier for me, I know that." -- Astros icon Craig Biggio in his first comments since he fell just two votes shy of earning a spot in the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame class on his second year in the ballot.
RHP Scott Feldman
RHP Jarred Cosart
LHP Brett Oberholtzer
RHP Brad Peacock
RHP Jerome Williams
Feldman was the Astros' first big free-agent acquisition of the Crane era. He earned a three-year, $30 million contract, and Houston manager Bo Porter has made no secret that Feldman is the early favorite for the opening day nod. Cosart was 1-1 with a 1.95 ERA as a rookie, and he arrives in camp with a good chance to earn the No. 2 role. Oberholtzer is likely the only other starter with a firm spot in the rotation.
Right-hander Lucas Harrell, who was a contender for the Opening Day start last spring before eventually having a disastrous season, is on an extremely short leash. He must produce this spring.
RHP Chad Qualls (closer)
RHP Matt Albers
RHP Josh Fields
RHP Josh Zeid
LHP Kevin Chapman
LHP Dallas Keuchel
RHP Anthony Bass
The Astros made no secret about their desire to fix the bullpen, which became a total disaster after Jose Veras was traded at the non-waiver trade deadline. The Astros signed three quality veterans on the free agent market this winter: Qualls, Albers and Crain. Crain isn't likely to be ready for the start of the season as he recovers from shoulder surgery he had last year, but he's a quality arm when healthy. Qualls is the favorite to earn the closer's role. Fields and Zeid hope to build on solid rookie seasons. Fields finished the season as the Astros' closer, but he is likely to have less stressful situations early on.
1. CF Dexter Fowler
2. 2B Jose Altuve
3. C Jason Castro
4. DH Chris Carter
5. 3B Matt Dominguez
6. LF Robbie Grossman
7. RF L.J. Hoes or George Springer
8. 1B Jonathan Singleton, Marc Krauss, Japhet Amador or Jesus Guzman
9. SS Jonathan Villar
Just one year after he admitted that he could only count on Altuve as a sure fire starter, Porter arrived at camp saying he already knows his batting lineup will start with Fowler, Altuve and Castro batting first through third. Carter will likely bat cleanup, considering he led the team in homers and RBIs last year, and Dominguez will likely bat fifth. With Fowler in the mix, speedy second-year shortstop Villar should not feel the pressure of having to lead off.
TOP ROOKIES: RF George Springer and 1B Jonathan Singleton are the only two rookies expected to be considered for spots on the opening day roster, and even they must overcome the fact that the club might want to delay the start of their major league clock until May. Singleton had a breakthrough performance in the Puerto Rican winter league after a disappointing 2013, but Springer was one of the best hitters in the minors last year and almost finished with 40 home runs and 40 RBIs through Triple-A Oklahoma City and Double-A Corpus Christi.
--RHP Asher Wojciechowski (lat strain) was hurt during a bullpen session Feb. 1 at home. He remained shut down from any throwing activities as of March 3. Wojciechowski traveled to Houston on Feb. 28 to be examined. He took a PRP injection and rejoined the club March 2 in Kissimmee, Fla. "We're not concerned about anything too significant there," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said.
--1B Japhet Amador (medical emergency) likely won't make his Grapefruit League debut before March 10.
--RHP Mark Appel (appendectomy in January 2013) isn't sure when he will start throwing off a mound this spring. He is in no rush, though.
--RHP Jesse Crain (right biceps surgery in October 2013), suffered a right calf strain Feb. 19. The 2013 All-Star has not pitched since July. He is not expected back until April, but it is unclear if the calf injury will further delay his return.
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