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Astros announce callups, add six to roster

Hoes, Stassi, Villar recalled among series of moves before Lawless' debut

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Astros interim manager Tom Lawless will have an extra-long bench to work with in his debut on Tuesday, as Houston announced a series of September callups in advance of its game against the Angels.

The club added six players to the active Major League roster, and right-hander Samuel Deduno -- acquired off waivers on Saturday -- will also be in uniform and available.

Houston recalled outfielder L.J. Hoes, catcher Max Stassi (the club's 19th-ranked prospect) and infielder Jonathan Villar, and it selected right-handers Jorge De Leon and Nick Tropeano (No. 13 prospect) to the Major League roster, while lefty Darin Downs was activated from the 15-day disabled list.

To make room for De Leon and Tropeano on the 40-man roster, the Astros designated right-handers Paul Clemens and David Martinez for assignment.

Tuesday will be the first game for Lawless -- Bo Porter was dismissed from managerial duties on Monday -- and new bench coach Adam Everett. Houston's 40-man roster is full, and the Astros have 32 players on their active roster.

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Astros dismiss skipper Porter

Lawless named interim manager; Everett added to coaching staff

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HOUSTON -- The Astros dismissed manager Bo Porter on Monday afternoon, and when general manager Jeff Luhnow met with the media a few hours later he made it clear that he thinks a new direction is needed.

Calling the relationship between any manager and general manager a "complicated" one, Luhnow addressed reporters for nearly 30 minutes at Minute Maid Park hours after informing Porter and bench coach Dave Trembley they were being let go.

"This was a challenging day, a difficult thing to do," Luhnow said.

Porter, a Houston resident, had been the Astros' manager since the start of the 2013 season after serving as third-base coach of the Nationals. He went 110-190 in nearly two seasons on the job.

Tom Lawless was named interim manager through the remainder of the 2014 season. Adam Everett will join the Astros' coaching staff, replacing Trembley as bench coach. The remaining coaches will continue in their current roles.

Luhnow didn't get into any specifics about why he dismissed Porter.

"At the end of the day, it came down to me feeling like at this point going forward, a different leader in the clubhouse was in the best interest of the Astros," he said.

Luhnow did say the decision to dismiss Porter didn't have anything to do with the team's win-loss record. The Astros, after losing a club-record 111 games last year, are on target to be one of baseball's most improved teams at 59-79 entering Tuesday and are five games clear of the Rangers out of last place in the American League West. That's already their most wins since 2010.

"It was a difficult decision and one I didn't come to lightly," Luhnow said. "This is not regarding wins and losses at the big-league level. I take responsibility for the roster, I take responsibility for our baseball operations, which includes the staff and the clubhouse.

"I felt strongly that we need a new direction for the next phase of where we are for the Houston Astros. I do believe we've made a lot of progress in the last couple of years and we're moving towards our goal of being consistently competitive. As I honestly evaluated our goals going forward, we needed a change in leadership in the clubhouse."

Owner Jim Crane said in a statement: "This was not an easy decision to make. We wish Bo nothing but the best in the future. Jeff has my full support moving forward. Our goal to bring a championship to Houston remains."

The managerial search process, which will include executive advisor Nolan Ryan and special assistant to the general manager Craig Biggio, will begin immediately. Luhnow said he had been considering replace Porter for a few weeks and made the decision Sunday prior to informing him Monday.

In a statement to select members of the media, Porter wrote, in part: "I want to thank the Astros organization for giving me my first opportunity to manage Major League Baseball. During my time in Houston I dedicated myself to do everything I could to help this organization win, in the short-term and for the long-term.

"I am proud of what we were able to accomplish in Houston with an organization in transition. I'm gratified we were able to bring some excitement to this city as a result of our improvement from 2013 to 2014. I am enthusiastic about what the future will bring for me and my family. I look forward to my next opportunity in Major League Baseball. The valuable experience I gained with the Astros will be extremely beneficial in all my future endeavors."

The timing of the announcement will allow the Astros the month of September to conduct a managerial search as they did two years ago when Brad Mills was let go in August 2012. Luhnow didn't rule out interviewing some of those considered for the job two years ago, a list that includes Rays bench coach Dave Martinez and former Padres/Phillies manager Larry Bowa. Biggio could also get consideration.

"As we get to the next phase, we're looking for a collaborative environment, a unified environment across all aspects, not just in baseball operations but across the organization," Luhnow said. "We want that spirit of working together towards a common goal and the culture that's built around that to be as effective as it can be, and that's really the goal."

Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reported Friday there was tension between Luhnow and Porter, citing sources that said Luhnow second-guessed Porter's in-game management. Porter didn't deny the report, except to say Friday he hadn't talked with Crane about his relationship with Luhnow as the story claimed.

Luhnow said Monday the report had "numerous inaccuracies."

"I don't tinker with lineups, and I don't tell people when to hit and run," he said. "That's not my job. That's the manager's job. There are times where I'm going to ask questions about it. That's natural, that's communication, and make sure we're all aligned and things are being done for the right reasons."

This season saw the Astros make strides on the field with the influx of veterans like pitchers Scott Feldman and Chad Qualls and outfielder Dexter Fowler, the arrival of top prospect George Springer and the emergence of pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh. All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve could win a batting title.

"It's definitely surprising," Keuchel said. "I know there was some stuff that came out earlier this week about the rift between the front office and Bo. Some of the guys have said it's none of our business and we're paid to play, and that's what we're going to do. We know it's a business and we hate it any time anybody is relieved of their duties."

Porter was unhappy when Mark Appel, the team's No. 1 Draft pick last year, came to Minute Maid Park earlier this year for an early morning bullpen session with pitching coach Brent Strom, but the players were indifferent despite reports to the contrary.

"I think it was blown out of proportion," Keuchel said.

Porter certainly had a unique style of leadership and wasn't afraid to let his passion show. He filled the walls of the clubhouse with motivational reminders and tried to create team-bonding exercises during Spring Training through games and players-only meetings he called a synergistic chemistry lab.

"We all know if you look up and down our roster and compared it to the A's or the Angels or something like that, Bo did a pretty good job with the cards he was dealt," Feldman said. "He had a really tough job, just with our low payroll [of $45 million] compared to other teams and, honestly, the talent level. We're building more for the future."

Lawless, who has close to 35 years of experience in baseball as a Major League player, Minor League manager and coach, had served as the manager for Triple-A Oklahoma City earlier this season while Tony DeFrancesco was on medical leave before returning to his role as a roving infield instructor.

Everett, who spent parts of 11 seasons in the Majors as a shortstop, including seven with the Astros (2001-07), rejoined the Astros organization as a Minor League infield instructor in 2013.

Lawless and Everett will address the media Tuesday prior to a game against the first-place Angels.

"We've got an environment with a lot of young players who are continuing to finish their development at the big leagues, and it's important to have a certain type of environment for those players to succeed," Luhnow said. "The clubhouse chemistry environment is a complicated formula and there's no one thing that you can look at and say, 'That's what you need,' but you need to have a feeling that we're all aligned, that the leadership is all aligned and working towards the same goal."

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Astros proceed with unified voice

Strained relations between front office and Porter lead to skipper's dismissal

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HOUSTON -- Two springs ago, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow gathered his players to introduce his new manager, Bo Porter.

That very day, some players foresaw trouble.

"It was extremely uncomfortable being in that room," one remembered.

Players and coaches remember a weird dynamic between the two men.

"Bo kept interrupting Jeff," one player said. "He seemed to think he was the boss. If you'd been there, you would have known it wasn't going to work."

It really never did.

That Porter held the job for 300 games -- he was dismissed on Monday -- reflects the fact that Luhnow simply had other priorities.

Luhnow was rebuilding the Astros from top to bottom and treating the big league roster as sort of a tryout camp as he searched for players who might be able to stick around once the organization turned a corner.

Still, there seemed to be little question that a reckoning day was coming. Once Luhnow believed the Astros were on the verge of respectability, there was almost certainly going to be a new manager.

That decision figured to come after this season as the Astros move forward with an influx of young talent. But Porter may have forced the decision himself in recent days with what Luhnow probably viewed as insubordination. So on Monday, Luhnow made a change.

Luhnow named Tom Lawless, a Minor League hitting instructor and fill-in Minor League manager, to be the interim manager. In a sharply worded statement, Luhnow made it clear that he was looking for a new direction and a new voice.

"I made this decision because I believe we need a new direction in our clubhouse," Luhnow said. "What we will seek going forward is a consistent and united message throughout the entire organization."

Luhnow said the team's won-loss record -- 110-190 under Porter -- was his responsibility, which is damning to Porter on several levels. In other words, he didn't dismiss Porter for losing too many baseball games. Luhnow dismissed Porter because he no longer respected his leadership skills and his ability to be a team player in the organization.

From the beginning, there was a disconnect. In that first Spring Training, Porter did things that struck the front office as silly.

For instance, Porter had the walls papered with motivational sayings and placed mirrors in each locker to remind players to look at themselves first before blaming a teammate. He had players turn their chairs away from their lockers, his way of telling them to look forward.

If Porter had been managing a Little League team, that stuff might have played well. Adults? Not so much. When one coach left the big league staff, he went directly to Luhnow and said, "You had better get that guy away from your young players."

Similar things have been said by other former players and coaches, but it was impossible to know which of the comments were valid and which were from people bitter at how things worked out.

Luhnow clearly believed some of the things he was hearing, and although he never criticized Porter, he was clearly displeased with the team's preparation and execution, and especially by how Porter was perceived in the clubhouse.

Luhnow may have second-guessed Porter's in-game decisions, but that kind of thing probably happens with half the teams in baseball. Tension between the manager and GM has been going on for years in baseball. Some of it is healthy because it can lead to an open discussion of every decision.

What Luhnow -- and Astros owner Jim Crane -- had to decide was whether Porter was the right guy to lead the Astros going forward. They decided he was not.

Managing has changed dramatically in the last decade. On many teams, including the Astros, the front office has a significant voice in lineups, defensive alignments and bullpen matchups.

This is a byproduct of reams of data that most teams' analytics departments generate. On some teams, the manager still has the final say, but the front offices would prefer that everyone be on the same page.

Baseball is still in the midst of a cultural war as a segment of coaches, executives, scouts, etc., believe analytics is voodoo. Others, though -- the smart ones; the ones with the ability to adapt and change -- know that it's simply a better way to evaluate players and prepare clubs for games.

No team has been all in with analytics the way the Astros have been. Thus, there's a segment of the game -- let's call that segment "the old school" -- who pray that they fail because things have been done a certain way for a century. Change is scary.

Luhnow is determined to show the world that his analysts know the game better than the old-schoolers. Stay tuned.

Porter seemed fine with input from the front office, but he apparently bristled that he had so little input in some decisions.

Perhaps the breaking point came a few weeks ago when Luhnow had right-hander Mark Appel, the No. 1 pick of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, come to Minute Maid Park for an early morning bullpen session.

Luhnow perhaps should have personally informed Porter that Appel, who'd struggled terribly at Class A Advanced, would be at the park. His thinking seemed to be that Appel would come and go before Porter and his coaches showed up for work.

Luhnow thought the throwing session was important because he wanted the big league pitching coach, Brent Strom -- the organization's mechanics guru -- to get a firsthand look at Appel.

Porter apparently felt he'd been put in a bad position and forced to answer questions about something he had no role in. His bench coach, Dave Trembley -- also dismissed on Monday -- was also upset.

OK, so Luhnow should have told Porter about Appel's throwing session. That it became a flash point in the Luhnow-Porter relationship tells you how much their bond had already deteriorated.

Then last week, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports wrote of ongoing tension between the two men. At that point, Luhnow knew someone in the organization had leaked information that seemed designed to force a decision.

Thus, he made one on Monday.

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Search for new skipper begins in Houston

MLB.com's McTaggart breaks down five potential candidates

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Search for new skipper begins in Houston play video for Search for new skipper begins in Houston

HOUSTON -- The next manager hired by Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow figures to be the one who will be at the helm if and when the club gets back into contention in the American League West, which some team officials believe could happen by 2016.

Needless to say, Luhnow's next hiring figures to be a key one for the future of the organization. After dismissing manager Bo Porter and bench coach Dave Trembley on Monday, Luhnow said the search for a new manager will begin immediately.

The Astros, as they did after dismissing Brad Mills in August 2012, will have to get permission to interview anyone who's currently employed by another club. Porter was the third-base coach for the Nationals and was hired before the end of the regular season, even though the Nats made the playoffs. He didn't take over the Astros until Washington was eliminated.

"Once we identify our short-list of candidates, if they're on competitive playoff-caliber teams, it's going to be difficult to request permission," Luhnow said. "We want to move quickly, but at the end of the day, we want to get it right."

Among those who will be on Luhnow's searching committee are executive advisor Nolan Ryan and special assistant to the general manager Craig Biggio. Luhnow says he is again willing to hire a candidate with no previous managing experience and is willing to give another look at some of the candidates who interviewed for the position two years ago.

Here's a look of five potential candidates:

• Tim Bogar, bench coach, Rangers: Bogar, a former player and Minor League manager with the Astros, interviewed for the Astros' managerial job prior to the 2010 and 2013 seasons. He agreed to become bench coach in 2013 season, but had a change of heart when his contract wouldn't allow him to interview for managerial positions. Bogar, 47, has been named manager of the year in the Minor Leagues with three different teams.

• Dave Martinez, bench coach, Rays: Martinez, 49, was a strong candidate for the job before it went to Porter and had interviewed with the Astros two years ago. He's been the right-hand man of Joe Maddon in the rough-and-tumble AL East and has playoff experience, as well as an understanding of the Astros' focus on analytics. Like Luhnow, he's bilingual, which is always a bonus.

• Dave Clark, third-base coach, Tigers: Clark, 51, is a strong leader who has tons of Minor League managerial experience and worked in the Astros organization for years, including a stint at interim manager at the end of the 2009 season. He spent six seasons as a manager (2003-08) in the Astros system and spent five seasons on the Astros' Major League staff, including four as third-base coach prior to Porter's arrival. He interviewed for the job prior to the 2010 season.

• Joe McEwing, third-base coach, White Sox: A former super-utility player who finished his Major League career with the Astros, McEwing, 41, started his coaching career in 2008 and has held various roles, including manager of the Double-A club for the White Sox in 2009 and their Triple-A affiliate in 2011. He's been considered an up-and-coming Major League managerial prospect.

• Biggio, assistant to the general manager, Astros: Biggio has stayed involved with the Astros since his retirement following the 2007 season and last year stepped down as head baseball coach at St. Thomas High School in Houston after his sons graduated. He's a trusted advisor to Luhnow and last week was spotted frequently at Minute Maid Park talking with the GM. The question is -- does the 48-year-old want to manage? If he does, it would be a popular hire among Astros fans.

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Altuve's four-hit game helps Astros rally past Rangers

AL hit leader delivers go-ahead RBI single in eighth for series win

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Altuve's four-hit game helps Astros rally past Rangers play video for Altuve's four-hit game helps Astros rally past Rangers

HOUSTON -- Astros second baseman Jose Altuve was asked about his approach when he came to the plate in the eighth inning Sunday afternoon with the tying run at third base and two outs.

"Hit the ball," he said without hesitating.

Altuve is pretty good at that, moving a step closer to becoming the first Astros player in club history to win a batting title by going 4-for-5 and singling in the winning run in the Astros' 3-2 win over the Rangers at Minute Maid Park.

"That there is some kind of game he put together today," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "Obviously the last one was the big one, but what you appreciate about the big guy is that this guy comes to play every day. He doesn't give any at-bats away, and it's great to see him having the type of season in which he's having."

Altuve's four hits tied his career high for the eighth time, including four times this season. He has 21 games of at least three hits this year, which is the most since Craig Biggio (23) and Derek Bell (21) in 1998. Altuve's 189 hits this year are tied with Jose Cruz (1983) for eighth all-time on the Astros' single-season charts.

"He hits everything," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "You throw him a breaking ball and he stays inside and pulls it. Throw a fastball away and he goes away. He moves the ball around the ballpark. He doesn't try to do anything extra. He tries to make good contact and use the whole field. He's a pretty good hitter. That's why he leads the league."

The Astros finished August with a 15-14 record, giving them their second winning month this season (15-14 in May). The schedule stiffens in September, though, beginning with 11 consecutive games against teams in the playoff hunt, including nine on the road.

"It's a huge credit to our ballclub and you know us as a staff, and that's what we appreciate about the group that we have," Porter said. "These guys, they come to the park every day and they're prepared to play. They enjoy playing the game together and that's a great accomplishment, this time of year, to be able to finish the month of August with a winning month."

The Astros were trailing, 2-1, entering the eighth when Matt Dominguez tied the game with a one-out homer, his 15th of the season. Dominguez drove in the Astros' first run in the second inning for his first RBI in two weeks.

"He's been in a funk and he's been working hard and he got a pitch that he can handle and he put a really good swing on that ball there," Porter said of the homer.

Jake Marisnick followed Dominguez in the eighth and was hit by a pitch. He stole second base and advanced to third on a Gregorio Petit grounder. Rangers reliever Neftali Feliz entered the game and walked Robbie Grossman before Altuve lined the first pitch he saw into center field to score Marisnick and make it 3-2.

"If you're a baseball player and you don't like those situations, you're in the wrong sport," said Altuve, who's hitting .336. "You like to go up like that with men up there with the winning run and try to put the bat on the ball and hit it into center field. I gotta give all the credit to Dallas [Keuchel]. He kept the game right there. He threw another really good game. He's amazing."

Washington lamented the walk to Grossman by Feliz.

"It shouldn't have been [Altuve]," he said. "It should have been Grossman. If you're going to get beat, get beat by Grossman, not Altuve."

Keuchel gave the Astros another quality start without getting a win. He went seven innings and allowed two runs and five hits in seven innings, lowering his ERA to 3.03 ERA. In six starts in August, he went 0-2 despite a 3.21 ERA because the Astros averaged 1.71 runs of support in his outings.

"My only concern when I go out there and pitch is limit the other team to less runs than we score," he said. "In the month of August, I didn't really do my job, and I'm just thankful we got out of there with a win today."

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Lawless to manage first game for Astros

Lawless takes helm for first time as interim manager for Astros

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There is perhaps no team in baseball as hot as the Angels right now. They are coming off a four-game series sweep of the A's, opening up a nice five-game lead in the American League West.

The Angels will have a chance to add to that advantage when they play two against the Astros starting Tuesday in Houston. Six straight wins have Los Angeles a season-high 30 games above .500.

The Astros are slated to begin September with 11 straight games against teams with playoff hopes. They will do it with a new skipper as Tom Lawless takes over on an interim basis after the club dismissed manager Bo Porter on Monday.

Like Houston, Los Angeles also enjoyed a day off Monday, its last until September 25.

C.J. Wilson will need to limit the walks that have crept into his outings lately if the Angels are to extend their winning streak. He's issued 11 free passes in his last 17 1/3 innings.

Though he's allowed three runs or fewer in his last four starts, these Astros touched him up for three homers when he faced them July 4.

For the Astros, it'll be Brad Peacock on the mound. The right-hander hasn't won since July 8, and he's 0-3 with an ERA of 7.53 since then.

Peacock has shown considerable improvement in his last few starts, though. In three of his last four outings, he's allowed one earned run.

The first inning continues to be where he runs into the most trouble. Opponents are batting .308 off him in the game's opening frame.

"To tell you the truth, don't know what it is in the first," he said. "Just trying to calm down out there and attack guys."

Angels: Rasmus sent down -- for now
Sunday, Los Angeles activated Grant Green from the disabled list and optioned reliever Cory Rasmus to Triple-A Salt Lake City.

Rasmus' absence from the big league club should be a short one, though. As rosters expand with September callups, and Salt Lake City's season comes to an end, Rasmus should be back by Tuesday.

Astros: Downs, Hoes to get September taps
Houston's first wave of September callups will join the club Tuesday, in time for the opener against Los Angeles.

Assuming left-hander Darin Downs' Minor League rehab assignment went well Sunday, he'll be among the Tuesday callups, as will right-hander Sam Deduno.

Among the other players expected to get called up are relief pitcher Paul Clemens, outfielder L.J. Hoes, catcher Max Stassi and shortstop Jonathan Villar.

Worth noting
• Los Angeles' four-game sweep of Oakland is its first since July 1997.

• The Angels are beginning a 10-game, four-city road trip that also goes through Minnesota, Cleveland and Texas.

• Erick Aybar is riding a career-high 16-game hitting streak.

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Altuve positions himself for Ichiro-like season

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HOUSTON -- Astros second baseman Jose Altuve enters the final month of the season leading the American League in hits, batting average and stolen bases, giving him a chance to become the first player to lead his league in those three categories since Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.

He went 4-for-5 with two doubles in Sunday's 3-2 win over the Rangers and drove in the game-winning run with an eighth-inning single, giving him a Major League-leading 189 hits. He's hitting .336 as he vies to become the first Astros player to win a batting title.

If he can win a batting title, he would join Joe Mauer (2006) and Alex Rodriguez (1996) as the only AL players 24 or younger to win a batting title in the last 20 seasons. He's the first AL player with at least 185 hits and 49 steals in a season since Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury in 2009.

Jeff Bagwell set a club record in his Most Valuable Player season of 1994 when he batted .368, but he still finished a distant second to the Padres' Tony Gwynn (.394) in the National League batting race that season.

Altuve needs just 11 hits to become the second Astros player to reach 200 in a season, joining Craig Biggio. He had a club-record 210 hits in 1998, hitting .325 that season. Biggio had 178 hits through 137 games, so Altuve is seven ahead of that pace.

Altuve ranks eighth on the club's single-season charts in hits, one behind Carlos Lee (190 in 2007).

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Downs, Hoes to be among September callups

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HOUSTON -- Reinforcements are on the way.

The Astros can expand their roster beginning Monday, and manager Bo Porter said the club's initial wave of September callups will join the team Tuesday (the Astros are off Monday). Left-hander Darin Downs, who's on a Minor League rehab assignment, will join the club Tuesday as long as his outing Sunday goes well.

Right-hander Sam Deduno, who was picked up off waivers, will also join the team Tuesday, giving the Astros' bullpen some much-needed help. Astros relievers had thrown the fourth-fewest innings among AL relief corps entering Sunday, but several arms are in uncharted territory as far as innings worked.

"Extra arms will definitely help this time of year because the guys we have down there who have been mainstays throughout the course of the year, they've been asked to pick up a lot of innings," Porter said. "Any chance you have to give those guys a blow will be good."

When the majority of callups arrive in Houston depends on whether Triple-A Oklahoma City makes the playoffs. The RedHawks entered the penultimate day of the regulars season Sunday one-half game behind first-place Omaha in the American North Division of the Pacific Coast League.

Among the other players expected to get called up are relief pitcher Paul Clemens, outfielder L.J. Hoes, catcher Max Stassi and shortstop Jonathan Villar.

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Springer's progress: Not much has changed

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Springer's progress: Not much has changed play video for Springer's progress: Not much has changed

HOUSTON -- George Springer, the Astros' standout rookie right fielder, spoke to the media before Saturday night's game for the first time in two weeks.

Springer was placed on the disabled list July 23 with a quad injury and still doesn't know when he will return to the lineup. He has been frustrated by how long it has taken him to get back on the field.

In short, the progress report on Springer is: no progress.

"I'm rehabbing, taking BP, not much has changed," Springer said. "I'm not to the point [where I can run 100 percent]. I'm just doing what I've got to do."

It's been difficult to judge if Springer is getting any better.

What's next?

"I'm sticking to the plan and doing whatever they have me do," Springer said. "As of now, not much has changed."

Springer had been Astros' most promising prospect for several years and he was finally promoted to Houston April 15. He hit .231 with 20 homers and 51 RBIs in 78 games before being injured.

"It's always hard to sit around," he said. "I want to be out there and play. You've got to trust [the medical staff]. We're doing everything we can. It's not fun. I want to be out there to help the team and compete. It's tough.

"You have to get healthy as fast as you can. But you can't rush an injury like this. You have to stick to [the rehab] and go slow. I don't think it's smart to play on an injury. You have a tendency to hurt it more. It takes time."

Houston manager Bo Porter knew he has to be patient with Springer.

"He's just not ready to move forward with explosive activities," Porter said. "He's not ready to take it to that next level. We're just not going to push him at this time. There is no timeline. We've tried to put a time line to it, and each time we do it doesn't come to fruition. Now we just go day to day and see how he progresses."

Is it possible that Springer could be done for the season?

"I think with a month to go in the season it would be premature to make that prediction today," Porter said. "We have a month, we'll continue to work with the trainer and if we can get over that hump, we'd love to have him back."

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Injured Presley takes batting practice

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Injured Presley takes batting practice play video for Injured Presley takes batting practice

HOUSTON -- Injured Astros outfielder Alex Presley, on the disabled list since July 8 with a strained oblique, took batting practice for the first time Friday night.

"After yesterday I was pleased," Presley said. "You get a little more adrenaline going on the field [than in the batting cage], especially when you haven't been out there for a while. I was happy with it."

Long periods on the disabled list can weigh on a player, especially when you're trying to prove yourself in a new organization. The Astros acquired Presley in a trade with the Pirates last Aug. 31.

"It feels like an eternity," he said of his time on the DL. "I can't remember how it feels to play a game almost. Taking BP was a major treat for me. I felt like a regular player. I had a lot of time where I wasn't allowed to do anything. When I get back to doing normal stuff, it's a big deal."

Presley, 29, has hit .252 in 70 games for the Astros this season and played well in the outfield, mostly in left.

"I'm doing the same today and we'll see how that goes," Presley said of his BP schedule for Saturday. "[Sunday] I won't be on the field, but I'll still do stuff [in the batting cages]. We'll evaluate after that. Ultimately, it's not my decision."

The Astros are off Monday, which Presley said should be helpful.

"Presley's looking good," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "Hopefully we'll get him out [on a rehab assignment] to play some place next week with the thought of him rejoining the club after he gets healthy."

Of course, the Astros must find a Minor League affiliate that is still playing next week with the regular season ending Monday. Triple-A Oklahoma City should make the playoffs, but Double-A Corpus Christi is out.

"I want to get back, get in some games and finish out the year," Presley said. "That's my goal. You want to be on the field at all times, especially at the end of the year. It's important to be healthy at the end of the season.

"You want to get back, but you don't want to get back too early and re-injure yourself or not perform to the level you should be playing. I saw that [the first time] I went to rehab. It's going to set you back further."

Presley realized being activated in September doesn't mean getting in the lineup, when the rosters are expanded.

It has been a tough year for Houston outfielders with Presley, Dexter Fowler and George Springer all on the DL at the same time for a while.

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Rios' homer drought confirmed after replay review

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Rios' homer drought confirmed after replay review play video for Rios' homer drought confirmed after replay review

HOUSTON -- Alex Rios, playing despite a badly bruised right thumb, hasn't hit a home run since July 6. He just missed ending that streak in the first inning on Sunday against the Astros, and couldn't get any help from a replay review either.

Rios, batting against Dallas Keuchel with nobody on and two outs in the first, hit a line drive that hit off the top of the left-field wall and caromed back to the field. Rios ended up at second base with a double.

Manager Ron Washington requested and was granted a crew-chief review. But the review showed the ball landing on the padding above the scoreboard fixed to the wall and just short of the yellow line that marks a home run.

Rios stayed at second and, after Adrian Beltre walked, he scored on a single by Ryan Rua to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.

Also, a crew-chief challenge in the eighth inning to determine whether Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos violated Rule 7.13 was upheld.

Astros designed hitter Chris Carter singled in the eighth inning, and Robbie Grossman was thrown out at home plate to end the inning. Astros manager Bo Porter talked to the umpires, who agreed to review the play and see if Chirinos gave Grossman a path to the plate before tagging him out.

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Feldman blanks Rangers as Astros take Silver Boot

Righty gives up three singles to old team for second complete game

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Feldman blanks Rangers as Astros take Silver Boot play video for Feldman blanks Rangers as Astros take Silver Boot

HOUSTON -- Astros starter Scott Feldman learned an important lesson Saturday night. Your catcher knows best.

Feldman said he felt terrible warming up in the bullpen before the game against the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park. "I didn't know where the ball was going," he said.

Carlos Corporan, Houston's veteran catcher, did.

"He didn't know," joked Corporan. "I'm the catcher. He was really good [in the bullpen]. Sometimes we have a really good BP [bullpen] and he doesn't throw good. That's the way it works."

"I was talking to Corp and he told me I was looking pretty good in the bullpen," Feldman said. "I felt terrible warming up down there. Goes to show how you feel out there isn't always what you bring into the game."

Feldman walked out of the bullpen to the mound and threw a three-hitter to beat the Rangers 2-0, striking out five and walking one. He threw 115 pitches, two short of his season high.

With the win, Houston clinched the Silver Boot vs. Texas for the first time since 2006, widening their lead in the season series to 10-5. The Astros were 2-17 against the Rangers last season.

"Once I got in the game, I felt better," Feldman said. "I was trying to mix it up like usual. I had pretty good command of all [my pitches]. That's what helped, being able to mix it up."

"He was throwing his first pitch for strikes," Corporan said. "He was using his curveball, his changeup. His cutter was really good. Whatever I would call, he would throw for strikes. He had big strikeouts. He was tremendous."

Feldman, the Astros' key free-agent acquisition in the offseason, was so dominating that he no-hit the Rangers for 4 1/3 innings. All three hits he gave up were singles. No Ranger even reached third base.

"He was at his best tonight," Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "He was painting the corners with his sinker every time he wanted to. When he does that, he's effective for sure. He was aggressive, he never let us feel comfortable."

Feldman wrapped it all up in a tidy, crowd-pleasing two hours and 25 minutes.

Of course there were some good defensive plays. Astros left fielder Robbie Grossman, back in the lineup after missing the last two games with a twisted ankle, made a diving catch on Alex Rios to end the first inning. Corporan threw out Rougned Odor trying to steal second after Odor had opened the sixth inning with a single.

Feldman's pitching was even better. He threw his second complete game of the season and first shutout since beating the Chicago White Sox last Sept. 6 when he pitched for Baltimore.

"Scott Feldman was unbelievable," Houston manager Bo Porter said. "He had it all working today. He was able to locate both sides of the plate. When you look at some of the swings they were taking, not only out of the zone but in the strike zone, you could tell how much the ball was moving."

Feldman improved to 8-10 and lowered his ERA to 4.09.

"I'm feeling better and better as the season's gone on," he said. "I hope to keep that going the rest of the year."

The Astros were no-hit themselves for the first five innings by left hander Robbie Ross Jr., who was called up to make a spot start.

But Ross had thrown 42 pitches in relief Thursday night in Triple-A and Texas manager Ron Washington pulled him after 70 pitches Saturday night.

"I was just glad they took him out of the game," Porter said. "He was doing a tremendous job."

"He got me out with two fastballs down the middle," Corporan said of Ross. "He threw everything for strikes. We got our momentum when they switched pitchers."

Washington called on reliever Phil Klein. Jose Altuve, the American League's leading hitter and second batter to face Klein, doubled in the sixth, but never made it past there.

The Astros finally broke through for two runs in the seventh. Jesus Guzman led off with a walk and moved to third on a bloop double by Corporan. Jake Marisnick hit a high hopper toward the mound. Klein decided he had no chance to get Guzman at home, but threw wildly to first, allowing Corporan to score Houston's second run.

"It's definitely a step in the right direction," Porter said. "When you look at how these guys pretty much dominated us last year. We played some of our best baseball against these guys this year."

"You could definitely feel the crowd is into it," added Marisnick. "The Silver Boot is pretty cool."

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Gonzalez scratched from lineup with tight hamstring

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Gonzalez scratched from lineup with tight hamstring play video for Gonzalez scratched from lineup with tight hamstring

HOUSTON -- With Astros leadoff hitter Robbie Grossman sidelined the past two games with a twisted left ankle, manager Bo Porter moved shortstop Marwin Gonzalez into the No. 1 spot in the batting order.

Gonzalez, batting leadoff for the first time this season, responded by going 4-for-8 in the two games with a pair of doubles, a walk and two RBIs.

Grossman, recovered from the ankle injury, returned to the top of the order for Saturday night's game against the Texas Rangers. But Gonzalez, who was scheduled to bat seventh, had to be pulled from the lineup because of a tight hamstring.

"I think it's just a one-day thing," Porter said of Gonzalez. "It's just a little bit tight. He's been playing really well and we don't want to risk anything moving forward. We'll give him the day, let him get treatment and hopefully [Sunday] he will be ready to go."

Gregorio Petit replaced Gonzalez in the starting lineup Saturday night. Gonzalez is 8-for-17 on the Houston homestand and has raised his average to .272.

"I've been feeling good when I play," Gonzalez said. "I'm being more selective, trying to be more patient at the plate. I've been seeing a lot of pitches, five or six pitches an at-bat."

"He's been swinging the bat well from both sides of the plate," Porter said of Gonzalez. "Putting him in [the leadoff] spot he was finding the holes and played well. Marwin's done a great job."

Gonzalez said he had batted leadoff in the Minors and also for a short time with the Astros in 2012.

"It's normal," he said. "I'll bat any place. I just want to be in the lineup. It doesn't matter if you're hitting ninth, eighth or leadoff."

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Deduno headed from Twins to Astros on waiver claim

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Deduno headed from Twins to Astros on waiver claim play video for Deduno headed from Twins to Astros on waiver claim

BALTIMORE -- Right-hander Samuel Deduno was claimed by the Astros from the Twins on outright waivers on Saturday, both clubs announced. The Twins will select the contract of left-hander Aaron Thompson from Triple-A Rochester on Sunday to take Deduno's spot on the roster.

Deduno, 31, pitched mostly in long relief for the Twins this season, making eight starts and 22 relief appearances. The right-hander posted a 4.60 ERA with 74 strikeouts, 41 walks and nine homers allowed in 92 innings. He's fared better as a reliever this season with a 3.21 ERA in 53 1/3 innings compared to a 6.52 ERA in 38 2/3 innings as a starter.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Deduno was informed of the move at the team hotel before Saturday's game against the Orioles.

"He's a classy kid," Gardenhire said. "I just explained to him that if you get picked up on waivers it means somebody wants you. But as he relayed to us, he liked it here and was sad to move on."

Deduno previously served as a starter for the Twins in 2012 and '13, making 15 starts in '12 and 18 last season. His best season came last year, when he went 8-8 with a 3.83 ERA.

He's suffered from control problems throughout his career, but he has cut down his walk rate in recent years. He walked six batters per nine innings in 2012, but he reduced that to 3.4 per nine in '13 and four per nine this year.

Deduno, a native of the Dominican Republic, originally joined the Twins as a Minor League free agent before the 2011 season. He has a career 4.24 ERA with 205 strikeouts, 139 walks and 27 homers in 284 2/3 innings with the Rockies, Padres and Twins. Deduno, who is out of Minor League options, will be eligible for arbitration after next season.

Thompson, meanwhile, had a 3.98 ERA in 46 appearances with Rochester. The left-hander struck out 51 and walked 26 in 52 innings. The Twins now have 38 players on the 40-man roster with his addition.

"We talked about a lefty who could get lefties out," Gardenhire said. "He had a pretty good year down there. He can spin the ball so I think that outweighed the other stuff against other pitchers. Our lefties have had some troubles."

To make room for Deduno, the Astros moved reliever Josh Zeid to the 60-day disabled list.

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On hold: Astros have to wait on Silver Boot

Oberholtzer struggles as Houston still needs win to clinch season series

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On hold: Astros have to wait on Silver Boot play video for On hold: Astros have to wait on Silver Boot

HOUSTON -- The Astros will have to wait at least another day to capture the Silver Boot, awarded annually to the winner of the Lone Star Series between Houston and Texas.

Houston starter Brett Oberholtzer struggled throughout, and the Rangers took advantage, pounding the Astros 13-6 on Friday night at Minute Maid Park, before a crowd of 18,931.

Down by as many as 12 runs through 6 1/2 innings, the Astros scored the final five runs in falling to 57-79 on the season, but they're still three games ahead of the Rangers in the AL West.

"I love the way these guys battled," said Astros manager Bo Porter. "It's been our motto all year. Every at-bat counts. To put up those runs in the last few frames, those guys showed tremendous effort in the last three innings."

Jason Castro hit his 14th home run, and in consecutive games for the first time all season. But his seventh-inning homer just cut the Rangers' lead to 13-2.

Batting leadoff for the injured Robbie Grossman, Marwin Gonzalez had three of Houston's 13 hits. Jose Altuve, the league leader in hits, added two to give him 184 on the season. Dexter Fowler, who left the game for a pinch hitter in the seventh inning because of a nose injury incurred in the field, added two hits, as did Jake Marisnick, who made two outstanding defensive plays in the first inning.

Castro's homer chased Texas starter Scott Baker, who was impressive in his 6 1/3 innings.

Oberholtzer (4-10) wasn't nearly as effective as Baker (3-3), who allowed only two runs and six hits. Oberholtzer allowed seven runs and nine hits, two to No. 9 hitter Michael Choice, whose three-run home run in the fourth inning gave the Rangers a 6-1 lead. Choice, who came into the game batting .168, had hits in his first three at-bats. Choice was recalled from Triple-A Round Rock on Monday.

"I'm just going to forget about it," said Oberholtzer. "Put that start behind me. I wasn't hitting my spots, but they were putting pretty good swings on the ball.

"I walked the first batter of the game and it was downhill from there."

Daniel Robertson walked to open the game and the center fielder reached base three times. The Rangers totaled 16 hits, with Houston reliever Jake Buchanan allowing six runs (five earned) and six hits in 2 2/3 innings.

Rangers shortstop Adam Rosales had three hits and two RBIs. Choice and Rougned Odor had three RBIs each.

"You look at it as a night where we didn't pitch too well and they jumped out to a big lead," said Porter. "Put it behind you and come back tomorrow and go get them."

In addition to Choice's ninth home run, Oberholtzer gave up four doubles, including two-baggers to his final two batters. Adrian Beltre's ground-rule double that scored Alex Rios from second gave the Rangers a 7-1 lead, and chased Oberholtzer from the game with one out in the fifth inning.

"It was a night Obie didn't have it early and they jumped on him," said Porter. "You're hoping he can find it. It was just one of those nights. A bump in the road."

Oberholtzer was roughed up pretty good. The second inning was the only inning he retired the side in order. The left-hander struck out two and walked one. In four career starts against Texas, Oberholtzer is still looking for his first win against them. He came into Friday 0-2 lifetime versus the Rangers.

The Astros tied the game at 1 on Fowler's two-out single up the middle that scored Gonzalez, who led off the first inning with a single.

But it was all Texas, which had all nine starters record a hit. First baseman Ryan Rua, making his Major League debut, had his first Major League hit in a five-run seventh inning that included a three-run homer by Odor. Rua singled off Buchanan.

The Astros entered Friday with a 9-4 season series lead over the Rangers, having won eight of the previous nine games between the teams. The Astros won the first game of the four-game series, 4-2 on Thursday.

Trailing 2-1 in the fourth, Gonzalez was caught attempting to steal third base for the second out with the league's leading hitter Altuve at the plate. Gonzalez had reached second on a one-out double.

In right field, Marisnick made two gems in the first inning. One on a throw, the second on a catch to end the inning after a long run. Marisnick doubled up Elvis Andrus on a two-hop, throw on the money to third baseman Gregorio Petit, who applied the tag.

One batter later, Marisnick tracked down a ball hit by Beltre to right-center. In making the catch, Marisnick made contact on the bridge of Fowler's nose, right in front of the Houston bullpen. Jesus Guzman pinch hit for Fowler leading off the seventh.

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Porter not discussing relationship with Luhnow

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HOUSTON -- Astros manager Bo Porter wouldn't discuss his personal relationship with Jeff Luhnow prior to Friday's home game with the Rangers, other than to say he was hired to manage the club and Luhnow is the general manager.

FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal reported that there has been tension between the Astros skipper and Luhnow.

"The one thing that I would like to clear up with the story is that at no point in this season have I sat down and talked to [Astros owner] Jim Crane about my relationship with Jeff," said Porter. "That is not true. Jim Crane and I have not sat down and talked about any relationship at this point in the season and throughout the course of the season.

"My focus has always been on managing the ballclub to the best of my ability and put us in the best position to win games. Jeff was hired by Jim Crane to do a job, which is to put a 25-man roster together. I was hired by Jim Crane to manage that 25-man roster. And I'm going to focus on doing my job."

Porter said he has not had any discussions with either Crane or Luhnow on Friday.

Porter is in his second year as manager of the Astros, who lost a franchise-record 111 games in 2013, including the final 15 games. This year the Astros have improved and entered Friday's game against the Rangers at 57-78, four games ahead of the Rangers.

Porter indicated he has no issue on how Luhnow is running the club.

"I'm committed to the organization and I'm going to show up to work each and every day committed to do the job that I've always been committed to do," said Porter. "We function for the overall good of the Houston Astros organization, which is to put the best product on the field and win baseball games."

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Grossman still out with injured ankle

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Grossman still out with injured ankle play video for Grossman still out with injured ankle

HOUSTON -- Robbie Grossman was out of the Houston lineup on Friday for a second straight game, mending a rolled ankle suffered on Wednesday.

Grossman hit inside in the cage on Friday and the outfielder remains day to day. Grossman did not hit in the cage on Thursday.

"I'm trying to get the soreness out," said Grossman. "I'm ready to go when they tell me to."

Grossman twisted his left ankle rounding first base following a single on Wednesday against Oakland, on a 2-for-4 night. The injury is not considered serious.

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Pleskoff: Foltynewicz has impressive size, demeanor

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Pleskoff: Foltynewicz has impressive size, demeanor play video for Pleskoff: Foltynewicz has impressive size, demeanor

Last spring, I arrived at the Houston Astros' training camp in Kissimmee, Fla., like a kid entering a candy store. Because I write about prospects, I couldn't wait to see the progress of position players like Carlos Correa, George Springer, Jon Singleton and Domingo Santana. Then I got an unexpected treat. I saw right-hander Mike Foltynewicz pitch. Believe me, that was a treat. I sat up in my chair and knew I was seeing someone very special. Special he is. When I returned home, I had to learn how to pronounce Foltynewicz's name properly on every radio segment I did for the next month. I was raving about him to anyone that would listen.

Foltynewicz was born and raised in Illinois and graduated from Minooka High School. Not only was he a high 90s velocity pitcher, he was the team's best hitter. Foltynewicz finished his senior season with a 9-1 record and a 0.58 ERA, including a sectional final game. He hit .393 with eight home runs and 40 RBIs.

Foltynewicz had a potential plan of attending the University of Texas. However, with tremendously supportive parents who threw batting practice to him from the time he was young, he instead saw his life-long dream of becoming a baseball player come true. The Astros selected Foltynewicz in the first round as the 19th player chosen overall in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.

Foltynewicz will be 23 in October. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds with broad shoulders and a thick lower body, he has the frame of a classic power pitcher. Foltynewicz's advanced mound demeanor has helped him fly through Houston's system with a good ceiling and projectable success. However, the Astros may have a decision to make defining his role. Foltynewicz has enough of a pitching repertoire to be an impactful starter and enough velocity and swing and miss pitches to close games. What a terrific dilemma to resolve. First, he must better manage his command and control. Too many walks have been an issue.

Foltynewicz spent parts of five seasons in the Minor Leagues before the Astros promoted him to the big league team, where he made his debut Aug. 2. He is pitching exclusively in relief for the parent club.

In his 562 2/3 innings of Minor League pitching, Foltynewicz started 104 of the 116 games in which he appeared. He has a record of 32-28 with a 3.98 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. Foltynewicz has struck out 478 batters for an average of 7.6 per nine innings. He has walked an average of 3.9 per nine innings. In 2012, Foltynewicz was Houston's Minor League Pitcher Of The Year.

Foltynewicz is No. 4 on the Astros' Top 20 Prospect list. He has to work on throwing strike one, getting ahead in counts and throwing more strikes in general. Particularly with his secondary pitches.

Foltynewicz relies heavily upon a dynamic 96-98 mph fastball that explodes on the hitter. It's very tough to catch up with that pitch. However, if he doesn't keep the pitch down in the zone, he can be hit pretty hard. Foltynewicz also throws a sinker with a bit less velocity. The Astros have controlled that pitch more, fearing wear and tear on his arm. But the sinker induces more ground balls and is an effective pitch for Foltynewicz. I doubt it will be eliminated from his repertoire, but it may be a more selective offering. Especially when Foltynewicz is pitching from the bullpen.

I like Foltynewicz's most dominant secondary pitch, a combination of a slider/curve. The slurve-type pitch has good movement and good depth, and it serves as an alternative to change the eye level and balance of the hitter. He also has a changeup that I haven't seen him use much.

Foltynewicz is still feeling for the "put away" pitch to finish off a hitter. Once his secondary pitches are more refined and he can totally control that wicked fastball, he will likely realize more consistent success. That one dominant pitch remains a bit elusive. Foltynewicz's huge frame should allow him to eat innings. Stamina and good mechanics should also help him pitch himself out of trouble.

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Singleton spends extra time on picks

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Singleton spends extra time on picks play video for Singleton spends extra time on picks

HOUSTON -- Third-base coach Pat Listach, who also handles the infielders, had rookie first baseman Jon Singleton on the field prior to batting practice on Thursday to work on scooping balls out of the dirt on throws, which is something Singleton has struggled with this season.

Listach threw balls from several angles, bouncing them just shy of the base, and instructed Singleton to catch them backhanded instead of forehanded.

"He's working to get his hands a little softer on the picks," Listach said. "When the ball comes and it's in the dirt, he's been picking and been going hard after balls, and I'm trying to get him to go a little softer. Make sure you see it and be soft with it and make those plays instead of being so hard."

Singleton understands he needs to clean up his defense when it came to picking balls out of the dirt. If a first baseman can't routinely make clean picks, the infielders have more pressure to make accurate throws.

"It's more about feeling than anything," Singleton said. "If you have a good feeling about it and you're seeing the ball, most likely, things are going to end up well. It's kind of a coin flip when the ball's in the dirt. The more you work at it, the better you get defensively."

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Castro's second career slam carries Astros

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Castro's second career slam carries Astros play video for Castro's second career slam carries Astros

HOUSTON -- If anyone needed this kind of pick-me-up, it was catcher Jason Castro.

Castro, an All-Star a year ago who's struggled at the plate for much of this season, snapped out of an 0-for-20 funk by going 2-for-3, including a grand slam in the fifth inning that sent the Astros to a 4-2 win over the Rangers on Thursday night at Minute Maid Park.

The grand slam was the second of Castro's career and the Astros' fifth of the season, but their first at home.

"I've been feeling pretty good and hitting the ball, just not getting any luck, so this one was nice to have, especially at this point in the year," Castro said. "I feel like I'm right where I want to be and feel good, but the results haven't been there. I've been trying to do the same stuff, and the results will eventually come."

The Astros improved to 9-4 this season against the Rangers, meaning they need to win just once more time in the final six games of the Lone Star Series to win the Silver Boot for the first time since 2006. The Rangers were 17-2 against the Astros last season.

The win was the 57th for the Astros, their most in a season since 2010.

"The Texas Rangers handed it to us last year, and a man to a man, we all came out with the thought process this year that we want to reverse our fortunes against them, and we've played some of our best baseball against them this year," manager Bo Porter said.

Starter Collin McHugh (7-9) pitched well, holding the Rangers to eight hits, two runs and no walks in seven innings to win his third consecutive decision. He's 3-0 with a 1.91 ERA in six August starts, allowing only eight earned runs in 37 2/3 innings.

"It was one of those nights [when] I feel like I could have gone either way the whole night, any inning," McHugh said. "It's a credit to Castro for getting a good game plan in place and easing me through those first three or four innings. I feel like we were finally starting to find a groove a little bit in the fifth, sixth, seventh, and so it made it a little bit easier."

Trailing, 2-0, in the fifth, the Astros rallied when Jose Altuve singled with one out against Rangers starter Nick Tepesch (4-9), who was pulled after walking Chris Carter. Dexter Fowler beat out an infield single to load the bases for Castro, who sent a 2-0 fastball over the right-field wall.

"Just trying to be as short as I can and trying to put the ball in play," Castro said. "I was really just looking to get something I could drive in the air so that worst-case scenario, we had a sac fly, and luckily enough I got the barrel on it and I was able to put a short swing on it, and it was able to go out."

McHugh allowed six hits and two runs through three innings, but fate wasn't on his side. He gave up a couple of weak hits to start the game, then gave up a run when Mike Carp hit into a double play. Three consecutive singles to start the third, including a bunt hit by Elvis Andrus, loaded the bases with no outs.

Carp hit a sacrifice fly to left field to put the Rangers ahead, 2-0, before McHugh came back to struck out Adrian Beltre and Jim Adduci. He went on to retire 15 of the final 18 batters he faced.

"We had some situations, but [McHugh] made some good pitches," Andrus said. "When you face a guy for the first time, sometimes you have the advantage, and sometimes you don't. He just made good pitches. The next time we'll know him better."

Andrus shouldn't feel too badly. McHugh has taken just about everybody by surprise this season, lowering his ERA to 2.99 in 21 starts.

"He did a tremendous job," Porter said. "Those two strikeouts there, when they had the major threat, those were huge to get out of that situation. You look at the body of work for those seven innings, and I felt he did a really good job with his slider and his curveball. He was able to throw it ahead in the count, behind in the count, throw it to chase -- just did a tremendous job all the way around."

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Grossman day to day after twisting ankle

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HOUSTON -- Outfielder and leadoff hitter Robbie Grossman sat out on Thursday against the Rangers after he twisted his left ankle turning around first base following his single in the seventh inning of Wednesday's loss to the A's. Manager Bo Porter said that Grossman is day to day.

"Because [Oakland] made a pitching change, he [had time] to come in and get his ankle taped, and a lot of the time, the adrenaline helps you get through the rest of the game, but he woke up this morning and it was pretty sore," Porter said.

Meanwhile, injured outfielders Alex Presley (strained oblique) and George Springer (strained left quad) are getting closer to being activated. Presley, who's been out since July 8, hopes to take batting practice on the field on Friday. Springer, out since July 20, has been doing that for several days.

"That's the next big step," Presley said.

Both Presley and Springer went on Minor League rehab assignments earlier this month and had setbacks. Since the regular season ends for Triple-A Oklahoma City on Monday, it's unclear whether they would do more rehab if the RedHawks make the playoffs.

"We haven't talked about that yet," Porter said. "I know Presley and Springer are getting close. Are they close enough to where they can go play? We don't know that yet, but I think the more activity they're able to do and the more we're able to intensify it, that decision can be made after that."

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Workload of Keuchel, others being monitored

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Workload of Keuchel, others being monitored play video for Workload of Keuchel, others being monitored

HOUSTON -- Manager Bo Porter said that as the calendar flips to September, the club plans to monitor the workload of some of its pitchers, including ace lefty Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel has pitched 171 1/3 innings this season, which is just shy of the career-high 177 2/3 he threw combined in 2012 between the Major Leagues and Triple-A Oklahoma City.

"You look at his workload and the number of innings he's thrown this year, and it's something we definitely need to keep an eye on," Porter said.

The team has several starters at Oklahoma City who could come up to take some innings, a group that includes Nick Tropeano, Rudy Owens, Asher Wojciechowski and Alex White. Wojciechowski and White are coming off injuries, so that could affect whether the club sees them as viable promotion candidates.

"There are some numbers ... we're going to play close attention to, but at the same time, you watch the players, and your eyes let you know what it is you may need to do one way or another," Porter said. "We'll take all the information we have and make the best decision for each player. We'll take it case by case for each guy."

Brett Oberholtzer has also handled a larger workload this season, throwing a combined 147 2/3 innings between Triple-A and the Majors. Rookie Mike Foltynewicz has thrown only 112 1/3 innings combined, but he's being used in relief, so his workload will be easier to monitor.

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Porter saves a run with successful challenge

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Porter saves a run with successful challenge play video for Porter saves a run with successful challenge

HOUSTON -- After coming up on the short end of a pair of replay reviews in the ninth inning on Wednesday, Astros manager Bo Porter successfully challenged a call at first base in the sixth inning on Thursday, saving a run.

With the Astros leading, 4-2, the Rangers had a runner at second base and two outs when Rougned Odor hit a roller on the right side of the infield. Astros starter Collin McHugh fielded the ball right on the line and touched the bag at nearly the same time as Odor, who was called safe, and Daniel Robertson scored.

Porter challenged and got the call overturned when the replay showed that McHugh's right foot touched the base just before Odor's right foot. That was the third out of the inning, and the run was erased.

The Astros have been successful in 17 of their 28 challenges this season.

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Altuve's efforts not enough after Qualls struggles

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HOUSTON -- The fact that 11 of the 18 earned runs he's given up this season have come against the A's has closer Chad Qualls searching for any kind of common thread.

"I really just can't put my finger on it," Qualls said.

Qualls certainly isn't alone when it comes to dealing with late-game misery against the never-say-die A's, who scored three times in the ninth inning -- a rally capped by a two-run homer by Sam Fuld -- to beat the Astros, 5-4, on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park.

The A's have a Major League-best 12 wins this season when trailing after seven innings and seven wins when behind after eight. Wednesday also marked their 21st final-at-bat win, which is tied for the most in the Majors.

Qualls has seen a few of those this season, suffering his fourth blown save -- and third against the A's -- by allowing three runs and four hits in two-thirds of an inning. In four innings against Oakland this season, he's allowed 11 earned runs and 14 hits.

"I don't think I've ever had an opponent as rough as the A's," he said. "I think I've given up 11 runs to them all season. I feel like I've been throwing the ball well all year, and it seems like whenever the A's come to town, they either have my number or something. You look back on it, and I thought I threw the ball pretty well, and the scoreboard doesn't dictate that at all."

He has a point. With the Astros holding a one-run lead starting the ninth, he gave up a jam-shot single to Jonny Gomes and watched pinch-runner Craig Gentry steal second base in a play that was so close that manager Bo Porter challenged the call.

Eric Sogard hit a bloop single to left one out later to tie the score, and Fuld hit a fly ball with two outs that barely cleared the right-field fence to score Coco Crisp for a two-run homer.

"I gave up two pretty weak hits that end up tying the game, and Fuld hits one in the second row," Qualls said. "So it's just … I don't know."

The A's have scored 55 runs in 10 games in Houston this season, with 25 of those runs coming in the ninth inning.

"I was actually trying to be aggressive and drive a ball, stray a little bit from my normal approach just knowing that, with Coco's speed, I felt confident a ball in the gap could score him, or even just a ball down the line," Fuld said. "Any extra-base hit would score him, so I thought I'd be aggressive and felt comfortable early in the count, having seen Qualls last night."

The Astros scored twice in the seventh to take a one-run lead, with Robbie Grossman and Jose Altuve coming through with clutch two-out singles on 3-2 pitches. Grossman's bloop hit to right off Fernando Abad scored Matt Dominguez, and Altuve shot a single up the middle to score Carlos Corporan and put the Astros ahead.

Abad had stranded all 26 runners he had inherited this season prior to Grossman's hit.

Those were the only clutch hits of the game for the Astros, who went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. They stranded the bases loaded with one out in the eighth.

"Obviously, some tack-on runs would have been really good there," Porter said. "It would have given Chad a little bit more cushion. We were not able to come through in that situation."

Grossman led off the bottom of the ninth with a single and was promptly erased on a double play off the bat of Altuve, who nearly beat the play at first. Porter, who lost his right to challenge on the Gentry stolen base earlier in the inning, asked the umpires to review it, and a crew review upheld the call.

"They turned it quick," said Altuve, who now has 181 hits and 49 steals after swiping two bases.

Chris Carter followed with a homer to right field to cut the lead to one run, but Dexter Fowler lined out to end the game.

Carter tied a franchise record with his 12th homer in the month of August, giving him 33 for the season. He has homered five times in his last six games against his former club after coming to the Astros in a February 2013 trade that included pitcher Brad Peacock.

Peacock survived a 30-pitch first inning in which he gave up a hit and a walk, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch by getting Derek Norris to strike out swinging to strand the bases loaded. He got in a groove, though, striking out five of six batters he faced in the third and fourth.

"I think it's more like settling the nerves," said Peacock, who showed no signs of the forearm discomfort that prematurely ended his start on Friday in Cleveland. "I don't know what it is. For the most part, I got through it, and I felt good."

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Qualls to finish the season with Astros

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HOUSTON -- As expected, veteran reliever Chad Qualls will remain with the Astros for the rest of the season. The Tigers placed a waiver claim on him earlier this week, but Qualls was still with the Astros when the deadline for the teams to work out a trade passed on Wednesday.

That means Qualls can't be traded for the remainder of the season, which is a relief to him.

"I know about as much as I knew two days ago, that I got claimed by the Tigers and nothing happened," Qualls said.

Qualls loosely kept up with the situation through the media, saying that no one on the team had contacted him. That's pretty standard, considering the waiver process is considered to be confidential, though names -- like Qualls' -- are sometimes leaked.

"Back in the day, you didn't even know you were on waivers, but with technology, people allegedly learn these things or it gets leaked or whatever," he said. "More information is out there for the public. It's not a big deal. It's part of the game, and you just go with it."

Qualls, who turned down a two-year deal with the Tigers last winter to remain closer to his home in Austin, is a valuable part of the Astros' bullpen and has another year remaining on his contract. He signed a two-year, $5.95 million deal with a $3.5 million club option for 2016 and has said repeatedly that he wants to end his career in Houston.

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Astros extend deal with Class A Lancaster

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Astros extend deal with Class A Lancaster

HOUSTON -- The Astros extended their player development contract with Class A Lancaster of the California League on Thursday, meaning their affiliation with the JetHawks will continue through the 2016 season. The partnership between the Astros and Lancaster began in 2009. 

"We have a wonderful partnership with the JetHawks and are very excited to extend our player development contract," Astros directory of player development Quinton McCracken said. "We look forward to fielding exciting championship players and teams in Lancaster in the upcoming years."

Lancaster has been the winningest organization in the California League for the past three seasons, posting a 233-182 (.561) combined record since 2012. The California League, specifically Lancaster, hasn't always been an easy stop for young pitchers. Mark Appel, the top pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, struggled this year at Lancaster and was moved to Double-A Corpus Christi, where he has pitched better.

Earlier this week, the Astros extended their PDC at Class A Quad Cities of the Midwest League, though it appears they will have to find a new home for their Triple-A club. It was reported last week that a group affiliated with the Dodgers was going to purchase the Oklahoma City franchise and move the club's Triple-A operations there.

The JetHawks have gone 77-58 (.570) this season, and they have already qualified for a playoff spot by winning their first-half division title. Last year, the club went 82-58 and won both the first- and second-half division titles. In 2012, the JetHawks won their first California League championship.

"Coming on the heels of another season of on-field success featuring high-profile prospects, we are excited to continue our partnership with Houston," JetHawks vice president Brad Seymour said. "The Astros continue to place a lot of focus on their Minor League system, and we are thrilled that the fans in the Antelope Valley will continue to have the opportunity to enjoy watching the talent from one of the highest-rated farm systems in baseball develop on their way to the Major League level."

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Petit plans to make good impression

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HOUSTON -- In the lineup on Wednesday for the second game in a row and third time in five games, Gregorio Petit appreciates every opportunity he gets, especially since he hopes to make a good impression heading into the offseason.

Petit wants to remain with the organization next year and beyond, which would allow him to live at home, as he bought a house in the Houston area last offseason. Entering Wednesday, Petit had hit safely in eight of his 12 starts since being called up in July after a solid showing for much of the season at Triple-A.

"This has been a great experience," Petit said. "It's been a great opportunity for me. I appreciate it more than anybody can think, anybody can imagine. Of course, I'll be more than glad to be part of the Astros for the next year and for a long time.

"Even just by living here, it makes it way easier for me to be close to my kids and family and be able to be part of a Major League team. I'll be more than happy to be an Astro for a long time."

September figures to be a big month in which Petit can show what he can do, but he says it's really no different from any other time he takes the field.

"I'm trying to be the guy they need," he said. "Coming into September, I'm going to take any opportunity the manager gives me to be out there any time during the game."

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Signing Nix still a possibility for Astros

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HOUSTON -- Right-hander Jacob Nix, taken by the Astros in the fifth round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, could still wind up with the organization as the result of a grievance filed recently by the Major League Baseball Players Association against the Astros on his behalf, according to a baseball source.

Nix, drafted out of Los Alamitos (Calif.) High, had agreed to a $1.5 million signing bonus two weeks prior to the Draft, but his deal was put on hold and ultimately rescinded when the Astros couldn't sign No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken. Because they did not sign Aiken, the Astros lost a chunk of their Draft pool allotment set aside for Nix.

The grievance won't be heard before the end of the regular season, the source said.

Both Aiken and Nix are committed to UCLA. If they join the Bruins, they won't be Draft-eligible again until 2017, but they could attend junior college and re-enter the Draft next year.

The Astros didn't sign Aiken, a left-handed high school pitcher from the San Diego area, because of concerns about his elbow.

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Two reviews benefit A's, go against Astros

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HOUSTON -- A pair of key reviews in the ninth inning on Wednesday night, both of which went against the Astros, loomed large in their 5-4 loss to the A's.

With the Astros holding a one-run lead, closer Chad Qualls gave up a jam-shot single to Jonny Gomes. Pinch-runner Craig Gentry stole second with a head-first slide and touched the base just as shortstop Marwin Gonzalez applied the tag.

Manager Bo Porter challenged the safe call, which was confirmed. Gentry wound up scoring the tying run on an Eric Sogard single.

"Once I took a look at it, you look at the leverage of the play, if he is out, obviously, it clears the bases," Porter said. "If not, the tying run is now on second base. So we felt like it was a good challenge."

In the bottom of the ninth, with the Astros trailing, 5-3, Jose Altuve hit into a double play but nearly beat the throw at first base. Porter, who couldn't challenge the call following the Gentry play, asked for a review; an umpires review confirmed the call.

Chris Carter followed with a solo homer to cut the lead to one run before Dexter Fowler lined out to end the game.

"Obviously, my eyes are not too good," Porter said. "I thought Altuve beat that play, but replays showed that he didn't. It's tough, but C.C. continues to swing a hot bat."

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Carter's clutch homer helps Astros sink A's

Slugger belts towering three-run shot in eighth to down former team

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HOUSTON -- Chris Carter squared the ball up about as perfectly as one anyone could and would have literally sent the pitch from Oakland reliever Luke Gregerson out of sight had the retractable roof at Minute Maid Park not been closed on a steamy hot day.

Carter, who typically plays without showing any emotion, knew it was gone, too, taking a brief moment to admire his mammoth three-run blast in the eighth inning Tuesday night before circling the bases and eventually celebrating a 4-2 win over the A's.

"I was kind of joking with him," starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel said. "I said, 'Dang, you really watched that one.' It reminded me of Manny Ramirez with the Red Sox back in the day."

Carter is putting on the kind of power display that would make Ramirez take note. His go-ahead homer in the eighth inning against his former team was his 32nd of the season, giving him 19 home runs and 47 RBIs since July 1. It was also his second game-winning homer in a week, joining his three-run, tiebreaking homer in the ninth inning against the Yankees a week earlier.

Carter's five long balls off the A's are his most against any team.

"It's nice to come in clutch late in the games right there, down a couple runs or whatever," said Carter, whose homer traveled 439 feet over the railroad tracks above left field.

The homer quickly turned the emotions for the Astros, who had been shut down through seven innings by A's starter Jason Hammel. He held the Astros to one run and three hits before turning the ball over to Gregerson in the eighth.

The eighth-inning rally didn't even begin with a hit. Robbie Grossman hustled down the line and wound up being safe on an error when Stephen Vogt dropped a ball at first. Jose Altuve was hit by a pitch to put runners for first and second for Carter.

"That situation was created because Robbie Grossman busted down the line," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "They made the error, we were able to capitalize. But Chris Carter, I'll tell you what, he's putting together some kind of season. And the home runs are getting bigger and bigger."

Gregerson tried to throw a sinker down and away, but it came back across the plate into Carter's "happy zone," as Porter likes to call it.

"Not necessarily a bad location for a lot of guys, just not for him," Gregerson said. "One pitch can change the entire dynamic of the game."

And the mood of a team.

"Thankfully, Carter continued his power surge or we'd be kind of moping in here," Keuchel said. "It was nice of Carter to do that."

Keuchel, who lost a complete game Thursday when Brandon McCarthy threw a shutout for the Yankees, held the A's to two runs (one earned) and five hits in seven innings and was in line for a loss before Carter's heroics.

"He was vintage Dallas Keuchel," Porter said. "Seven strong innings, quality start, have us right there in position to win the ballgame and he continues to put together a great season."

Josh Fields (4-6) pitched a scoreless eighth for the win, and Chad Qualls worked the ninth for his 15th save.

"Obviously, I've had my trials and tribulations with Oakland this year, so it's nice to go out there and lock this one down for us," he said. "It was a big-time home run. Down one run and they've got Luke on the mound and I know he's been solid his whole career. Big-time home run for Chris and big win for the team all around."

The A's scored an unearned run in the first when Keuchel was charged with an error trying to field a bunt off the bat of Craig Gentry, who eventually scored on a Jonny Gomes single. They took a 2-0 lead in the fourth on an RBI double by Nate Freiman that scored Gomes.

The only run the Astros managed off Hammel came in the fourth inning when Dexter Fowler led off with his eighth homer of the season to cut the lead to 2-1. The 146 homers by the Astros are two shy of their total from last year.

"What I love right now is that we're pitching well and we're in each and every ballgame," Porter said. "As long as we continue to pitch, continue to play defense, when the offense does click, we have an opportunity to go on a really good run."

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