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 the Astros' 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.

Berkman to work with Astros as guest instructor

Former All-Star invested in team after 12 seasons in Houston

Berkman to work with Astros as guest instructor

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Former Astros slugger Lance Berkman will be a guest instructor in camp for three days beginning Monday, manager A.J. Hinch said Saturday.

Berkman, a six-time All-Star who most recently has been a student assistant coach at his alma mater, Rice University, will be at Osceola County Stadium beginning Monday through Wednesday, Hinch said. He's one of several Astros legacy players who will come to Spring Training this year.

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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.

Chapman learning to use changeup effectively

Astros lefty utilizing third pitch to fool hitters

Chapman learning to use changeup effectively

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Lefty Kevin Chapman understands the importance of having a third pitch, which is why he plans to incorporate his changeup more this year. He started throwing the pitch when he was called back to the big leagues last year and saw good results.

Chapman, a fastball-slider pitcher, pitched in 21 games over three stints in Houston last year, posting a 2.30 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP in his final 15 2/3 innings following his Aug. 15 callup to the Majors. In 5 2/3 innings with the Astros over his first two stints, he had an 11.12 ERA.

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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.

Prospects appreciate opportunity to join big league camp

Young talent taking advantage of experience

Prospects appreciate opportunity to join big league camp

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Andrew Aplin dresses at a locker inside the clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium that's nearly in the shower. Joe Sclafani's locker is in a corner right next to fellow prospect Matt Duffy, making it hard for either player to get comfortable.

Despite the less-than-favorable locker assignments, none of the prospects who are in Major League camp for the first time are complaining. They're keeping their heads down, staying quiet and watching and learning as much as they can without getting in the way.

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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.

Rain dampens Astros' workout

Hitters forced inside; Hinch instructs on signs

Rain dampens Astros' workout

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Steady morning rains soaked the back fields at Osceola County Stadium on Saturday and forced the Astros to work inside the batting cages.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch said the rain day wasn't necessarily a bad thing, considering no pitchers were scheduled to throw live batting practice. The hitters were able to take swings in the cage, and the pitchers were able to play catch under a roof as well.

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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.

Pettis teaching young Astros basics of baserunning, outfield

Pettis teaching young Astros basics of baserunning, outfield

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch has made it a point to focus on the team's coach-to-player ratio during drills this Spring Training, trying to establish the norm of one coach to two players at a time.

Third-base coach Gary Pettis has been one of the leading teachers on the staff, spending time with both the outfielders and on baserunning drills.

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Jamal Collier is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Hernandez's delay in reporting may leave him behind

Astros unsure when Dominican rotation candidate will be in camp

Hernandez's delay in reporting may leave him behind

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Two large brown boxes sit on the chair in front of Roberto Hernandez's locker. Three envelopes have been placed on top of the boxes, along with a memo to the players from Thursday morning.

A bag of golf clubs sits in front of two jerseys and four pairs of pants -- two gray, two white -- still neatly draped from a hanger -- and all appear to be untouched. Another day at Astros camp passed and Hernandez, delayed because of issues acquiring a work visa, still has not reported to camp.

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Jamal Collier is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Hinch planning for Astros' three spring off-days

Hinch planning for Astros' three spring off-days

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Once the Astros start playing Spring Training games on March 5, they have three off-days built into their schedule.

It is a bit unusual to have so much time off, but manager A.J. Hinch is already thinking about how to utilize those dates.

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Jamal Collier is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Astros want more than power from lineup

Hinch expects complete offense not reliant on home runs

Astros want more than power from lineup

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- With the additions of Evan Gattis, Colby Rasmus, Jed Lowrie and Luis Valbuena, the Astros appear poised to have their deepest lineup in years with nine bats that are capable of driving in at least 50 runs, including several with legit power potential.

One thing manager A.J. Hinch doesn't want, however, is a team that relies too much on the long ball, which has been the case in the last few years. Home runs are nice, but sustaining rallies and moving runners are important as well.

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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.

Huge snake pays visit to Astros clubhouse

Not everyone happy to see Sunshine, 11-foot Burmese python

Huge snake pays visit to Astros clubhouse

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros welcomed a guest into the clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium on Thursday morning that more than a few players hoped would have just stayed away.

Before taking the field for the morning work, some players posed for photos with Sunshine, an 11-foot albino Burmese python from nearby attraction Gatorland. Dallas Keuchel, Chad Qualls and Jed Lowrie were among those to pose with the reptile

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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.

Back to school: Appel tasked with teammate report

Prospect doing interviews, taking notes for presentation

Back to school: Appel tasked with teammate report

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Despite being a No. 1 overall pick, right-hander Mark Appel is participating in the same rituals the Astros' other young players are doing this spring. Young players are getting singled out each morning so the veterans can find out more about them.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch has given Appel the assignment of making a presentation about every player on the team, which means Appel has spent the past few mornings interviewing his teammates and taking notes in a small notebook.

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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 hitters get first look at live pitching

Astros hitters get first look at live pitching

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- One of the most challenging days of Spring Training for the hitters is when they step into the box for the first time against the pitchers, who have been in camp for nearly a week and had thrown two bullpen sessions prior to Thursday.

Some Astros hitters used the chance to face live pitching for the first time to simply track the pitches and not swing, while others couldn't wait to take some cuts. The first and second throwing groups threw live batting practice Thursday.

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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 name architect for new Spring Training home

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe said Thursday the team, the Nationals and Palm Beach County have selected HKS Architect, led by Mo Stein, to design the new two-team Spring Training facility they hope to open in 2017.

HKS designed two of the premier facilities in the Cactus League -- Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz., which is home to the D-backs and Rockies, and Camelback Ranch in Glendale, shared by the Dodgers and White Sox.

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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 emphasize plan before springing into action

Front office, players start camp on same page

Astros emphasize plan before springing into action

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros finally hit the field for the first full-squad workout of Spring Training when the position players joined the pitchers and catchers Wednesday morning, but not before hearing from owner Jim Crane, general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch.

All three addressed the players, the field staff and some members of the front office prior to the start of workouts at Osceola County Stadium, laying out the expectations for the season while going over some details of how camp is going to be run.

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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' Crane: Goal is to make playoffs this season

Owner reiterates expectations of Luhnow, Hinch after winter overhaul

Astros' Crane: Goal is to make playoffs this season

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch has said expectations are high this year, and general manager Jeff Luhnow is on the record as saying his team could finish 2015 with its first winning record since 2008.

Owner Jim Crane believes the roster additions made by Luhnow and his staff this winter have put the club in position to possibly make the playoffs for the first time since it reached the World Series a decade ago and for the first time in the American League.

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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.

Altuve on documentary: 'I feel like Brad Pitt'

Altuve on documentary: 'I feel like Brad Pitt'

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- A crew from MLB Productions has been following Astros All-Star second baseman and 2014 American League batting champion Jose Altuve around for the last few months to gather footage for a documentary about him.

The movie was the idea of club owner Jim Crane, who wanted Altuve to get some publicity following a season in which he set a club record with 225 hits and led the AL with a .341 batting average and 56 stolen bases.

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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.

Head start: Correa's spring focus is baserunning

Astros' top prospect aims to regain confidence after sliding feet first led to injury

Head start: Correa's spring focus is baserunning

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- One of the things top prospect Carlos Correa wants to work on this spring is sliding into bases, which he hasn't done since he broke his right ankle sliding into third while playing for Class A Advanced Lancaster last summer. It was an injury that ended his season.

"I want to work on everything, especially with my baserunning," Correa said. "Since I got hurt, I haven't run the bases. I want to work on that and get my confidence back. You want to hit here. It's the big leagues and you're facing the best pitchers in the game, and you want to go out there and get ready for the 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.

Springer has named his new mohawk Joe Ventura

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Springer has named his new mohawk Joe Ventura

Astros phenom George Springer began growing a mohawk last season and showed up at camp this year proud of his look.

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Astros taking health of their players to another level

Houston Methodist has developed a new program to help prevent injuries, speed recovery times

Astros taking health of their players to another level

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Before the Astros take the mound for their first bullpen sessions of the spring or step onto the field to run the bases for the first time, the club puts the players through a comprehensive medical evaluation to make sure they're in the best position to compete.

In addition to the routine medical physicals each player undergoes each spring, the Astros and Houston Methodist Hospital, their long-time health care provider, this year are introducing a new sports medicine assessment designed to help prevent injuries and speed up recovery time when players are banged up.

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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 doesn't see added pressure for Altuve

Astros skipper could have All-Star lead off more often

Hinch doesn't see added pressure for Altuve

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch is in the envious position of inheriting the Major League batting champion in Jose Altuve, who last year led the big leagues and set a club record with 225 hits while batting .341 to become the first Houston player to win a batting title.

Hinch said Tuesday there's no pressure on Altuve to repeat.

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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.

Bonding exercises helping Astros come together

Bonding exercises helping Astros come together

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch has been picking out a younger player to get up before the team in the clubhouse each morning to have him say some things about his background. Hinch also asks him some questions, some of which are designed to make him a tad uneasy.

It's all done with the idea of building team chemistry, something that's even more essential this year with so many new faces in camp. The player on center stage Tuesday morning was catcher Roberto Pena, whom Hinch lauded for earning a Minor League Baseball Rawlings Gold Glove Award.

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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.

Hamstring 'fine,' Fields tosses bullpen session

Hamstring 'fine,' Fields tosses bullpen session

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros right-hander Josh Fields threw in the bullpen Tuesday morning without any issues, he said.

Fields had his second bullpen of the spring pushed back a day because tightness in his left hamstring that appears to have cleared up.

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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.

Straily healthy, confident in bounceback season

Righty expects to be top option for No. 5 spot

Straily healthy, confident in bounceback season

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- You know you've made it to the big leagues when you see your name scroll across the bottom of a monitor in the back seat of a taxicab. Or at least, that's what Pat Neshek quipped to fellow pitcher Dan Straily a couple of years ago while they were sharing a ride.

About a month after Straily made his Major League debut for A's on Aug. 3, 2012 -- the same day the A's traded for Neshek -- the two were riding in a cab in New York City with Adam Rosales when a sports update on the monitor displayed Straily's name on the crawl at the bottom. Straily was dressed in wrestling gear as part of a rookie hazing ritual, so naturally Neshek took a photo and later posted it on Twitter.

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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.