Oberholtzer opens spring with two innings vs. Cards

Lefty gives up one unearned run, fans a pair

Oberholtzer opens spring with two innings vs. Cards

JUPITER, Fla. -- A four-run sixth keyed by Tommy Pham and Cody Stanley lifted the Cardinals to a 5-2 win over the Astros at Roger Dean Stadium on Friday.

All of the Cardinals' sixth-inning runs were scored off Houston righty Alex White, who retired just one of seven batters he faced. Pham, who finished with a four-hit game, drove home one with a single. Stanley followed with a two-run double, after which an RBI single by Greg Garcia pushed the Cardinals' lead to five.

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Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB and like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Hinch joins 'fraternity' of skippers, former catchers

Exclusive club also includes Cardinals' Matheny, Tigers' Ausmus

Hinch joins 'fraternity' of skippers, former catchers

JUPITER, Fla. -- Major League managers are a tight fraternity, and when you're in your 40s and were a former big league catcher, you're in an even more exclusive club.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch, a former catcher who played seven years in the big leagues, spent a few minutes in the outfield prior to Friday's game against the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium talking to St. Louis manager Matt Matheny, another former big league catcher.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Oberholtzer makes solid opening statement for starter spot

Left-hander throws two innings, pounds strike zone against Cardinals

Oberholtzer makes solid opening statement for starter spot

JUPITER, Fla. -- Unlike fellow pitchers Scott Feldman, Collin McHugh and Dallas Keuchel, Astros left-hander Brett Oberholtzer is going to have to pitch well this spring to keep his spot in the rotation. He's off to a good start, though.

Oberholtzer looked sharp in his Grapefruit League debut on Friday afternoon at Roger Dean Stadium, holding the Cardinals to four hits and no earned runs in two innings in a 5-2 loss. It wasn't flashy, but he threw strikes and kept the ball down.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Sclafani plays in front of home crowd vs. Cards

Infielder grew up nearby, spent time on back fields of Roger Dean Stadium

Sclafani plays in front of home crowd vs. Cards

JUPITER, Fla. -- Astros infielder Joe Sclafani played many games on the back fields at Roger Dean Stadium as a teenager while growing up in nearby Jensen Beach. On Friday, he finally got his chance to play a game on the stadium field with the Astros.

Sclafani, a switch-hitting infielder who projects as a utility player in the big leagues, was thrilled to make the two-hour-plus drive down the Florida Turnpike on Friday to face the Cardinals, who play at Roger Dean Stadium. Sclafani had lots of friends and family members in the stands.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tucker sees bright baseball future for younger brother

Outfield prospect could play on same team as Kyle if Astros draft him

Tucker sees bright baseball future for younger brother

JUPITER, Fla. -- Astros outfield prospect Preston Tucker could reach the Major Leagues soon considering his Minor League career is off to a promising start, but soon, he might not be the player with the highest ceiling in the organization.

Tucker's brother, Kyle Tucker, could be taken in the first round in June's First-Year Player Draft and has been scouted recently by the Astros, who pick second and fifth in the first round. Tucker is a senior outfielder at Plant High School in Tampa who has been committed to the University of Florida since the end of his freshman season.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Hawaii tops Baylor in first tilt of Houston College Classic

HOUSTON -- The tandem of Alex Sawelson and Alan Baldwin was effective for the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors on Friday afternoon. Sawelson singled in Baldwin in the second and fourth innings to lift Hawaii past Baylor, 2-1, in the first game of three-day Houston College Classic at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros.

Sawelson's three-hit game was one more hit than Baylor (6-6) collected. The Bears managed a third-inning single from Matt Menard and a sixth-inning double from Adam Toth off four Hawaii pitchers.

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

Astros face new restrictions scouting in Venezuela

JUPITER, Fla. -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Friday that the club is working with Major League Baseball about how to respond to the new visa restrictions for U.S. citizens traveling to Venezuela after the team had a scout turned away in the South American country earlier this week.

On Friday, Major League Baseball issued a memo informing all clubs of the new travel guidelines to Venezuela that now require U.S. citizens to apply for and obtain a visa to enter the country. As stated in the memo, the Venezuelan Embassy Web site advises that U.S. citizens traveling to Venezuela apply for a visa three months before travel. Previously, U.S. citizens were exempt from any visa requirement.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

McHugh sharp as Astros power up in spring opener

No longer battling for rotation spot, right-hander strikes out three

McHugh sharp as Astros power up in spring opener

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Because he was battling for a spot on the roster a year ago, right-hander Collin McHugh didn't even get a chance to start a game in the spring. He didn't make the club, but he was called up by the end of April and wound up making 25 starts and becoming a great story.

McHugh took the ball for the Astros' Spring Training opener Thursday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium in only the second start of his career in a Spring Training game. Instead of worrying about a spot on the club, McHugh can focus on getting in his work.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Springer singles in first game action since July

Springer singles in first game action since July

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- With his family watching in the stands, Astros right fielder George Springer went 1-for-3 with a single in a 6-3 win over the Phillies on Thursday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium.

The Connecticut native, who smashed 20 homers with 51 RBIs in 78 games in his first Major League season last year, started in right field Thursday and played five innings before being replaced by L.J. Hoes. Springer blooped a single down the right-field line in the first inning, grounded out to third in the third and struck out swinging in the fifth.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Appel notches win, makes most of first opportunity

Former No. 1 Draft pick aims to improve this spring, reach Houston in 2015

Appel notches win, makes most of first opportunity

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- It was only two innings during a Grapefruit League game in early March, but for Mark Appel, it was another step towards Houston.

Appel, the former No. 1 overall Draft pick who missed nearly all of last spring after undergoing an appendectomy, made his first Grapefruit League appearance on Thursday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium. He gave up one run on three hits and struck out two to get the 6-3 win over the Phillies.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Berkman aids Gregerson in approach to lefty hitters

Former Astros great lends reliever advice from batter's point of view

Berkman aids Gregerson in approach to lefty hitters

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros pitching coach Brent Strom set up a meeting between pitcher Luke Gregerson and former slugger Lance Berkman on Wednesday so Gregerson could get a better idea how left-handed hitters view sinkers.

The two talked for about 15 minutes on one of the back fields at Osceola County Stadium in a conversation that Gregerson said covered a variety of topics, including how Berkman liked hitting against pitchers similar to him based on past encounters.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Hall of Famer Ryan optimistic about Astros' young talent

Executive advisor speaks about strength of Minor League system

Hall of Famer Ryan optimistic about Astros' young talent

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The amount of promising talent in the Astros' farm system is music to the ears of Nolan Ryan, who was with the team when it had three underwhelming Drafts nearly a decade ago that sent the system spiraling towards the bottom of baseball.

Things are different now, with Houston having benefited from high Draft picks and a series of trades that netted prospects in exchange for veteran players. Ryan, an executive advisor, arrived at camp Thursday in time for the Astros' first Grapefruit League game against the Phillies and spoke about the quality of talent.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Conger expected to start for Astros on Saturday

Backup catcher held out of bullpen sessions in recovery from sore left wrist

Conger expected to start for Astros on Saturday

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros backup catcher Hank Conger is set to get the start Saturday after he was held out of some bullpen sessions in recent days as he recovers from what manager A.J. Hinch described as a sore left wrist.

"He hasn't been feeling particularly well," Hinch said. "I think we're going to get him into a game this weekend. He's not injured, but we're ... delaying this spring until most likely this weekend."

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Top talent to square off in Houston College Classic

HOUSTON -- It's an early-season college baseball tournament, but based on the caliber of this year's field, the Houston College Classic has the look of an NCAA regional.

Second-ranked LSU, eighth-ranked Houston and undefeated Texas A&M highlight the 15th annual event, which also features Baylor, Hawaii and Nebraska.

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

Veteran Hernandez reports to Astros camp

Veteran Hernandez reports to Astros camp

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Despite feeling under the weather, veteran right-hander Roberto Hernandez reported to Astros camp on Thursday morning and threw in the bullpen. Hernandez, who arrived two weeks late because of visa issues, flew from his native Dominican Republic on Wednesday night.

Hernandez, who signed a Minor League deal on Feb. 12, said he'll throw in the bullpen again on Saturday. He should then be ready to be inserted into Grapefruit League games, as he worked out in the Dominican while he waited for his paperwork to arrive.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Dominguez welcoming chance to evolve as ballplayer

Third baseman by trade set to make bid for utility role with veteran Valbuena on board

Dominguez welcoming chance to evolve as ballplayer

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The trade that brought veteran third baseman Luis Valbuena to the Astros forced incumbent Matt Dominguez to order a first baseman's mitt. The way Dominguez viewed things, it was a chance to add another apparatus to the toolbox.

The Astros acquired Valbuena, who came over in the Dexter Fowler trade with the Cubs, to start at third -- the position Dominguez has held the past couple of years. The club needed more offensive production from the hot corner, but it still likes the 25-year-old Dominguez enough to find out if he can help in other ways.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Berkman to be inducted into college Hall of Fame

Berkman to be inducted into college Hall of Fame

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Former Astros slugger Lance Berkman, who won the National Player of the Year Award at Rice University in Houston, was named to the 2015 National College Baseball Hall of Fame induction class on Wednesday.

Berkman will be inducted June 28-29 in Lubbock, Texas, along with former Major Leaguer Frank Viola, who led St. John's to the College World Series in 1980 prior to a 15-year Major League career.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Hinch planning to ease veterans into spring games

Hinch planning to ease veterans into spring games

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch said he's going to ease his veterans into action when Grapefruit League play begins. The Astros open their spring season against the Phillies on Thursday at Osceola County Stadium, but Hinch said American League batting champion Jose Altuve and shortstop Jed Lowrie won't play until Saturday.

Hinch didn't reveal his full lineup for the Phillies game on Wednesday, but catcher Jason Castro will be the designated hitter for the first couple of games.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Neshek boasts impressive cards, memorabilia collection

Astros reliever sends fans his autograph in exchange for others

Neshek boasts impressive cards, memorabilia collection

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- On any given morning at spring camp, Astros reliever Pat Neshek can be spotted at his locker signing dozens of baseball cards with a discarded stack of envelopes at his feet. He rips them open, scribbles his name on each card and sends them back to where they came from.

Neshek, the sidearm reliever in his first season with the Astros, is an avid sports memorabilia collector who appeases other collectors and fans interested in getting his signature by returning any cards they send him -- as long as they include a self-addressed stamped envelope for the return.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Astros including shift drills in team fundamentals

Altuve, others getting comfortable fielding, throwing from different areas

Astros including shift drills in team fundamentals

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros have incorporated the shift into team fundamentals this spring in an effort to make sure their fielders grow more comfortable fielding balls and throwing to bases from areas on the field that aren't typical of their position.

No team utilized the shift more last season than the Astros, who see themselves at the forefront of analytics. Simply put, the best defense is often positioning the infielders and outfielders where the hitter is most likely to hit the ball, tradition be darned.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Hinch lining up seven-man bullpen

Manager looking to add long reliever, lefty with five spots already secured

Hinch lining up seven-man bullpen

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Tuesday it's likely the club will open the season with a seven-man bullpen, which is not a surprise. It's possible they'll use one of those spots on a long reliever, which means Alex White, Samuel Deduno, Jake Buchanan, Dan Straily, Brad Peacock and Asher Wojciechowski will be considered for the bullpen as well as the fifth spot in the rotation. Whoever doesn't make the club could potentially be stretched out for the Triple-A rotation.

Five spots in the bullpen already appear to be locked up, with Chad Qualls, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek, Josh Fields and lefty Tony Sipp. If the Astros carry a second lefty -- Kevin Chapman, Darin Downs or Joe Thatcher -- they'll have one bullpen spot remaining.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

After winding road, Hoyt moving closer to Majors

Astros reliever spent time working on sailboats before joining Braves' organization

After winding road, Hoyt moving closer to Majors

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The two players the Astros received from the Braves in a January trade that sent three prospects to Atlanta have done some soul-searching away from the game -- slugger Evan Gattis working odd jobs that range from ski lift operator to janitor, and pitcher James Hoyt working on sailboats.

Both eventually got back to baseball, and Gattis established himself as a power threat by hitting 43 homers during the past two years with the Braves. Hoyt, a 28-year-old right-hander who stands at 6-foot-5, is still trying to reach the big leagues, but the fact that he's this close is a credit to his resolve.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Berkman first of former Astros to lend hand at camp

Hinch has Bagwell, Biggio scheduled to help young Houston team

Berkman first of former Astros to lend hand at camp

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros have a long line of former players coming into training camp this spring at the urging of new manager A.J. Hinch. And first up on Monday was first baseman Lance Berkman, who played the bulk of his 15 seasons in Houston.

"This is exciting. It's awesome being back down here," said Berkman, who played for the Astros from his rookie season of 1999 until he was traded to the Yankees on July 31, 2010. "It's good to be back in the Astros uniform."

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Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Hinch lines up starters for first 5 spring games

McHugh, Oberholtzer, Keuchel, Feldman and Straily set to start

Hinch lines up starters for first 5 spring games

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch set up his starting pitching for the upcoming week of Grapefruit League games, confirming that right-hander Collin McHugh will pitch the opener on Thursday against the Phillies at Osceola County Stadium.

McHugh will be followed by left-hander Brett Oberholtzer against the Cardinals at Jupiter, Fla., on Friday, and left-hander Dallas Keuchel is slated to go back at home against the Yankees on Saturday. In Sunday's split-squad, it's Scott Feldman at Osceola against the Braves and Dan Straily against the Tigers in Lakeland.

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Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

McHugh, Keuchel proving building blocks of success

McHugh, Keuchel proving building blocks of success

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Houston Astros say it started with the two pitchers, Collin McHugh and Dallas Keuchel. They're the ones who deserve the credit for their success, because they were the ones who embraced change and executed every single pitch.

But it was more than that. It was a confirmation of how the Astros are doing business these days. It was the power of analytics identifying two pitchers with special gifts, and then offering a blueprint for success. It was also the work of a couple of really smart and innovative pitching gurus.

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Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Astros keeping Gattis away from behind the plate

With Houston set at catcher, slugger focusing spring work on outfield, first base

Astros keeping Gattis away from behind the plate

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Evan Gattis has been sitting in on catchers meetings this spring, but don't expect to see the new Astros slugger behind the plate this season.

Gattis, acquired in a trade with the Braves on Jan. 14, has been working out exclusively in left field this spring, though he could wind up getting some reps at first base later. Gattis has ordered a first baseman's glove in preparation.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Pair of Matt Duffys creates double trouble

Fans, card makers among those to confuse Astros prospect with Giants infielder of same name

Pair of Matt Duffys creates double trouble

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- When Matt Duffy made his Major League debut for the Giants last Aug. 1, a certain Astros prospect started receiving congratulatory messages from a couple of his distant relatives. There was no confusion on his part, though. He knew exactly what was up.

Matthew Michael Duffy -- Matt Duffy -- was set to make his debut for the Giants, which meant Astros prospect Matthew Edward Duffy -- also known as Matt Duffy -- was hearing about it. It wasn't the first time the two baseball players had been confused, and it won't be the last.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Astros' prospects report for mini-camp duty

Astros' prospects report for mini-camp duty

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- About 30 of the Astros' most promising prospects, including several members of the 2014 Draft class, reported to the Minor League complex at Osceola County Stadium on Sunday morning in advance of a mini-camp that begins Monday.

The majority of the players are pitchers, which gives them a month to get innings under their belts before the start of the Minor League seasons. Pitchers who have been invited include right-handers Brock Dykxhorn, Adrian Houser, Lance McCullers and Daniel Mengden and left-handers Kent Emanuel, Josh Hader and Tommy Shirley. Other players invited are catcher Brian Holberton, infielders J.D. Davis and A.J. Reed and outfielder Derek Fisher.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Wojciechowski pumped up to be healthy, competing

After missing all of last year's camp, young hurler one of several Astros fifth-starter hopefuls

Wojciechowski pumped up to be healthy, competing

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Right-hander Asher Wojciechowski may have been one of the most excited players to hit Astros camp this year, for no other reason than he was finally healthy after missing all of last year's camp with a strained right lat muscle.

Wojciechowski, 26, suffered the injury throwing in the bullpen prior to Spring Training, and he wound up opening the season on the disabled list. He started for Triple-A Oklahoma City on May 21 and strained a forearm flexor and missed nearly a month.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Singleton confident despite last season's disappointment

Young slugger focused on consistent contact, slowing game down

Singleton confident despite last season's disappointment

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Each at-bat weighed heavily on his mind, and each failure only led to more disappointment and doubt. Nothing seemed to come easy last year for Jon Singleton, whose long-awaited Major League debut didn't come close to the big numbers he'd posted in the Minors.

The Astros thought enough of Singleton as a prospect to sign him to a five-year, $10 million deal before he even stepped foot on a Major League field, and then watched the first baseman hit .168 with 13 homers, 44 RBIs and 134 strikeouts in 310 at-bats in his first 95 games in 2014.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.