McCann building rapport with Astros pitchers

Veteran catcher plans on extra time behind plate at camp

McCann building rapport with Astros pitchers

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- As he's done in each of his three springs as the manager of the Astros, A.J. Hinch has a station where pitchers get together with catchers and tell them about their arsenal, what they like to throw and their game plan.

Those exercises are a little more important this year for newcomer Brian McCann, who said he will catch more this spring than he usually does to get up to speed on his pitching staff. McCann, acquired in a deal from the Yankees in November, already has studied video of every pitcher on the 40-man roster, but nothing matches getting behind the plate.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Gurriel begins full-time work at first base

Cuban infielder has spent majority of career at third

Gurriel begins full-time work at first base

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has said his team's offseason additions actually started in July, when the club signed Cuban infielder Yulieski Gurriel to a five-year, $47.5 million deal. A third baseman by trade, Gurriel was forced to move around last year after Alex Bregman's solid rookie debut at third.

The emergence of Bregman, the signings of outfielder Josh Reddick and designated hitter Carlos Beltran, and the trade for catcher Brian McCann have deepened Houston's lineup, with Gurriel moving to first base -- a revolving door for the Astros the past few years.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Javelinas, Mules remain unbeaten at Minute Maid

Six-team Houston Winter Invitational concludes Sunday

HOUSTON -- Texas A&M-Kingsville came into the 2017 Houston Winter Invitational as the only unbeaten team among six NCAA Division II baseball teams competing over three days at Minute Maid Park in the Houston Winter Invitational

The Javelinas continued their fine play Saturday, winning for the second straight day at the Astros' home venue, beating Arkansas-Fort Smith, 6-1, behind six scoreless innings from starter Isaiah Lybarger in the first of three games played Saturday. In the second game, Central Missouri beat Tarleton State for its second win of the tournament. Chico State plays St. Mary's in Saturday's final game.

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Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com based in Houston. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Beltran arrives, eyes October baseball with Astros

Respected vet excited to mesh with young, rising stars

Beltran arrives, eyes October baseball with Astros

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Pretty much everything has changed from the last time Carlos Beltran wore an Astros uniform. That was in 2004, when the Astros were in the National League, had a different color scheme and uniforms, still had spring camp in Kissimmee, Fla., and had different ownership.

When Beltran reported to the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Friday morning as a member of the 2017 Astros, about the only familiar face he saw was Adam Everett, a Minor League infield coordinator who was a shortstop on the '04 team on which Beltran dazzled with his memorable postseason run.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

McCullers happy to learn curve won't hurt elbow

Astros relying on righty to be healthy, effective after rough '16

McCullers happy to learn curve won't hurt elbow

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The curveball has been Lance McCullers' bread and butter in his brief career. When it's on, it's a dangerous weapon to complement his 95-mph fastball. So much so that McCullers threw the curve on 41 percent of his pitches last year.

There have been concerns, however, throwing so many curveballs could mean some wear and tear on McCullers' young elbow, and last year's disabled list stint with elbow discomfort didn't make anyone breathe any easier. McCullers began last year on the DL with shoulder soreness and adjusted his mechanics to compensate.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Correa has wisdom teeth pulled, out few days

Astros SS 'little sore,' but eager to embark on second full season

Correa has wisdom teeth pulled, out few days

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros shortstop Carlos Correa arrived at camp Friday afternoon -- the team's report date for position players -- but it will be a few days before fans get to see him on the practice field at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Correa had four wisdom teeth removed Thursday and was still feeling some pain a day later. He said the doctor told him it would take three to five days before he could do anything, so Correa will be taking it slow while the rest of his teammates hit the field Saturday for the first full workout of the spring.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Keuchel throws 'free and easy' to McCann

Former top Astros prospect Singleton in camp as non-roster invitee

Keuchel throws 'free and easy' to McCann

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Ace lefty Dallas Keuchel, who was away from the Astros on Thursday with an illness, threw in the bullpen Friday afternoon to new catcher Brian McCann, with manager A.J. Hinch watching. Keuchel missed the final month of last season with shoulder inflammation, but he has thrown off the mound six times, though this was the first time at camp.

"First bullpen [session] of the camp and I wanted to tell McCann what I wanted to accomplish here in the next couple of weeks, just start with the fastball in and out and throw the changeup," Keuchel said. "I threw the first couple of cutters, but really focusing on location right now and try to pinpoint that before I come up with the slider and start breaking that in."

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Winter Invitational brings baseball back to Minute Maid

College tournament hosts first games without Tal's Hill in center field

HOUSTON -- After the first day of the 2017 Houston Winter Invitational, Central Missouri has already guaranteed itself a better showing than a year ago, when the Mules lost all three of their games at Minute Maid Park.

In the last of three games involving six NCAA Division II teams on Friday, the Mules used a four-run eighth inning to defeat Arkansas-Fort Smith, 8-4.

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Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com based in Houston. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Giles getting his groove back with Astros

Giles getting his groove back with Astros

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- There's a noticeable difference in the way closer Ken Giles navigates his way around the clubhouse these days. Giles is clearly much more comfortable in his skin and his surroundings after a tumultuous first year in Houston in which his early-season struggles led to stress and self-doubt.

Following an eventful year-plus in which the Phillies dealt him to the Astros, he got married and had his first child, Giles is ready to put it all together on the field this year. Astros manager A.J. Hinch has said Giles will close in most situations in the regular season.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Shoulder an issue for Keuchel throughout '16

Astros lefty regrets not letting club know sooner; feels 'brand new' this year

Shoulder an issue for Keuchel throughout '16

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Being a competitor, Dallas Keuchel couldn't allow himself to not take the ball every fifth day. He knew his shoulder wasn't feeling well at the start of last spring and -- coming off a season in which he won the American League Cy Young Award -- he also knew his team was counting on him.

Keuchel, the Astros' ace lefty, admitted he tried to pitch through shoulder discomfort all of last season, a season in which he underperformed. He went 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA in 26 starts before finally being shut down in late August with left shoulder inflammation. Looking back, a contrite Keuchel said Wednesday he wished he would have said something about the pain earlier in the season.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Springer bests DeShields in friendly Super Bowl wager

Rangers OF, a Falcons fan, has to wear Patriots jersey to camp

Springer bests DeShields in friendly Super Bowl wager

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Although he won't be in Arizona to see it, Astros outfielder George Springer is reveling in the fact that Delino DeShields, his close friend and former teammate, will have to wear a Tom Brady jersey at Rangers camp in Surprise, Ariz., this spring.

Springer and DeShields -- who were both Astros first-round Draft picks and were Minor League roommates -- attended Super Bowl LI in Houston earlier this month. Springer, who grew up in Connecticut, is a Patriots fan. DeShields, who's from Atlanta, is a Falcons fan.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Arb hearing process intriguing for McHugh

Astros righty happy with result, says both sides were fair

Arb hearing process intriguing for McHugh

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Going through the arbitration process was an eye-opener for Astros pitcher Collin McHugh, who will make $3.85 million this year after winning a hearing before a three-person panel on Friday. McHugh said he had no hard feelings against the Astros, who offered to pay him $3.35 million.

"It's a really important part of the collective bargaining process, not only for players, but for teams as well," said McHugh, who is the team's player representative to the union. "To be able to kind of go through it and see it firsthand, I count it as an honor. Not many guys get the chance to go through something like that. It played out the way it played out and I think we can move on and get onto baseball things, which we're really excited about. To see how the engine works from the inside, it was a really interesting process."

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Gattis dealing with soreness in right shoulder

Gattis dealing with soreness in right shoulder

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros catcher/designated hitter Evan Gattis received an anti-inflammatory injection into his right (throwing) shoulder on Wednesday and didn't catch in the bullpen as previously scheduled.

The first group of Astros pitchers threw in the bullpen during the first workout of the season at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, but Gattis didn't participate.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Astros to expand netting at Minute Maid Park

Astros to expand netting at Minute Maid Park

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros president Reid Ryan said Wednesday the club will expand protective netting at Minute Maid Park to run the length of both dugouts, beginning with the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic, March 3-5.

The net above the dugouts will be about 12 feet high, Ryan said, but it will be lowered during batting practice so fans can still have access to players for autographs. The netting behind home plate, which is 32 feet high, and above the dugouts will be replaced this season with a smaller mesh to allow better visibility, Ryan said.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Astros report to new digs, lofty expectations

Astros report to new digs, lofty expectations

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- While portions of the Astros' new Spring Training facility remain under construction, the overwhelming sentiment as pitchers and catchers reported on Tuesday was that the team occupying the space is built to win.

As construction workers bustled around the complex the Astros share with the Nationals, which is still under construction in many parts, players arrived amid expectations of an American League West title and more. The new-look Astros will hit the field for the first workout on Wednesday.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Oswalt to return to Astros as a guest instructor

Oswalt to return to Astros as a guest instructor

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Former All-Star starting pitcher Roy Oswalt, who's second on the Astros' all-time wins list, will return to camp this spring as a guest instructor, manager A.J. Hinch said Tuesday. Hinch added Oswalt is expected to arrive "early in camp."

In addition to Oswalt, former Astros player, coach and manager Phil Garner will come to camp in early March, along with Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell in mid-March. Seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens is also expected to make an appearance.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Bregman's UFC ties helped to boost offseason

Bregman's UFC ties helped to boost offseason

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- His drive to be the best took Astros third baseman Alex Bregman through the hills of his hometown of Albuquerque, N.M., where he chased UFC fighter Holly Holm as part of his intense offseason training regimen.

Bregman, entering his first full season in the Major Leagues, said he worked out with the 35-year-old Holm, a former UFC women's bantamweight champion and multiple world champion in boxing who's best known for beating Ronda Rousey. In fact, Bregman was ringside for Holm's fight in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Saturday.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Classic-bound Astros excited to represent

Classic-bound Astros excited to represent

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros will have eight players representing six countries in the World Baseball Classic later this spring. Veteran outfielder Norichika Aoki will be the first player to leave camp, when he flies to Tokyo to begin working out with Japan on Feb. 27.

The World Baseball Classic begins March 6 and ends with the championship game March 22 in Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Watson broke through racial barriers

A look back at former Astros player, GM during Black History Month

Watson broke through racial barriers

HOUSTON -- Bob Watson's baseball career was something that makes him extremely proud. He slugged 184 homers in his 19-year career, 14 of which were spent in the rainbow uniforms of the Astros. He was a two-time All-Star, and scored baseball's 1 millionth run along the way.

Watson's accomplishments on the field set him up to excel in his post-playing days, giving "The Bull" a remarkable 45 total years in the game. What's more, he succeeded while overcoming racial hate and prejudice in the beginning of his career in the 1960s.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Penciling in 25-man roster a cinch for Hinch

Few position battles remain for Astros entering Spring Training

Penciling in 25-man roster a cinch for Hinch

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com takes a look at a different aspect of this year's Astros squad each day this week. Today's topic: Predicting the 25-man roster.

HOUSTON -- Barring injuries or any other strange occurrences during the Astros' six-week stay in West Palm Beach, Fla., the team's 25-man roster appears pretty close to set.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Deep lineup key to Astros' perfect season

Houston's youth, new vets generating buzz

Deep lineup key to Astros' perfect season

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Astros squad each day this week. Today's topic: The perfect season.

HOUSTON -- Dallas Keuchel rebounds to win another American League Cy Young Award. Jose Altuve takes another step toward greatness and wins the AL Most Valuable Player Award, with teammate Carlos Correa in the hunt. Alex Bregman and George Springer make the first of what figures to be many All-Star Game appearances.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Berkman conquered Tal's Hill with a smile

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Berkman conquered Tal's Hill with a smile

Lance Berkman had many titles during his 15 years in MLB: Killer B. Big Puma. All-Star. Fat Elvis. With his 366 home runs and these sideburns, he earned them all.

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Following rebuild, Astros primed for success

Following rebuild, Astros primed for success

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Astros squad each day this week. Today's topic: What's the vision?

HOUSTON -- The Astros didn't get to the point they are at now by accident. They underwent a massive rebuilding effort that culminated with them losing 111 games in 2013 after trading away nearly all their veteran players in return for prospects.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Astros aren't shying away from lofty expectations

Houston should be class of American League West this season

Astros aren't shying away from lofty expectations

HOUSTON -- This is the season Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow envisioned almost from the moment he was hired six offseasons ago. Perfect team? Don't be silly. Very, very good? There's a chance.

"What has this offseason gotten us?" Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Tuesday. "It's gotten us an opportunity."

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Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Beltran, Altuve among 8 Astros in WBC '17

Beltran, Altuve among 8 Astros in WBC '17

HOUSTON -- Eight Astros players will represent six countries in this year's World Baseball Classic, led by All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve (Venezuela), designated hitter/outfielder Carlos Beltran (Puerto Rico) and relief pitcher Luke Gregerson (United States).

The other Astros appearing on World Baseball Classic rosters released Wednesday are shortstop Carlos Correa (Puerto Rico), outfielder Norichika Aoki  (Japan), third baseman Alex Bregman (Team USA), pitcher Kevin Chapman (Canada) and pitcher Dayan Diaz (Colombia), who is a non-roster invitee to camp.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tony Pena and the fake intentional walk strikeout

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Tony Pena and the fake intentional walk strikeout

When the game gets dicey, managers break out their deepest strategical decisions in hopes of maintaining the edge (or keeping the lead intact). One tactic employed often is the intentional walk, usually used to help a pitcher avoid having to deal with the marquee slugger or pesky leadoff guy on the other team in favor of facing somebody -- anybody -- else. 

The intentional walk frequently comes up when debating potential rule changes for baseball, which has been the case recently. How best to grant that imposing hitter four balls and a free pass to first base? 

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Altuve stands tall among Astros' stars

Altuve stands tall among Astros' stars

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Astros squad each day this week. Today's topic: How's your star?

HOUSTON -- He's 26 years old and has already made four All-Star teams -- once for the National League and three for the American League -- has led the AL in hits three years in a row, and has won two AL batting titles, a Gold Glove Award and three Silver Slugger Awards.

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Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.