Notes: Jennings building up strength

Notes: Jennings building up strength

VIERA, Fla. -- After a "pretty ugly warmup session," Astros right-hander Jason Jennings had a mediocre outing against the Washington Nationals on Thursday, allowing three runs on four hits over three innings.

Jennings allowed all three runs in the first frame and admitted later that he felt stronger as the outing continued, noting that his slider was a lot better than it was during his last outing.

"The first inning, I had to labor a little bit," he said. "I left a couple balls up, but overall, I really felt like I threw the ball pretty well. That's why we're down here -- to kind of work through some sequences. A couple pitches, I may have changed looking back, but that's why we're down here."

"I don't think his sinker was sinking as much as he would like it to, and he was missing with it," manager Phil Garner said. "He did throw some good sliders. I would think he did not think it was a very good day."

Jennings felt that he could have thrown more than the 48 pitches he totaled on Thursday, and he looks forward to increasing the length of his starts each spring outing leading up to the opening week of the regular season.

"It'll be nice when we can start stretching it out to five or six innings, like an actual ballgame," said Jennings, who pitched two innings in his first spring outing last week at Disney. "I feel like a closer out there in some of these games. You really can't get into a rhythm."

You again? Garner chooses to stay completely even-keeled when discussing Hunter Pence, whose long shot to make the team out of Spring Training seemingly shortens each time he walks to the plate.

Pence is likely ticketed for Triple-A Round Rock come Opening Day, but the Astros may at least want to consider booking a refundable one-way trip to Round Rock on April 2.

Pence had one at-bat on Thursday in Viera. Of course, that one at-bat resulted in a home run that traveled around 340 feet over the right-field wall, raising his spring batting average to an unthinkable .769 (10-for-13).

"He's certainly turning heads," Garner said. "He's already making news. It's good. He's absolutely hammering the ball. He hasn't hit for a couple of days, gets in there today and just absolutely hammers it. You can't hit it any better than that."

But Garner will not tip his hand when pressed about Pence's chances to make the club when camp breaks in three weeks. It appears that the young outfielder is still considered to be on the outside looking in, at least for start the season.

"Let him play for a while, and let's see where those things are later," Garner said. "I am not saying anything. It's nice when a guy plays well. I don't want to discount that he's playing well. That's good. You don't want to discourage him. Let him enjoy it. But the team will not be made today."

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Security: Lance Berkman's left wrist was wrapped with tape prior to Thursday's game in Viera, but he was quick to offer reassurance that he was not injured.

"It's almost like a security blanket," Berkman said. "Sometimes, when you take a lot of swings, your wrist gets sore and you need some extra support. It's like a woobie."

No looking back: Adam Everett's past lower back issues forced him to have a couple of cortisone shots last season, but he hopes that painful part of his career is behind him for good.

Everett hasn't had a shot since June and doesn't anticipate a need for another one. To ensure he stays healthy, Everett slightly altered his workout regimen during the offseason.

"It was mainly for my abs," Everett said. "I did some different exercises, nothing major, just to keep away from straining it while strengthening it. I just didn't do some certain movements, that's all. It's worked out so far."

On the mend: Six days after needing 12 stitches in his left hand, infielder Brooks Conrad was encouraged by how good he felt after playing catch for the first time.

"I could actually catch it myself for the first time today," Conrad said. "It felt good catching the ball, but the bat may take longer."

Conrad, who has traveled with the Astros on every road trip despite not being able to play, will stay in Kissimmee while the team plays in Dunedin on Friday, in order to test his hand while taking some swings.

"Swinging the bat is what's going to take a couple more days," he said.

Conrad suffered the injury while trying to break up a double play. His hand sliced against Tigers second baseman Kevin Hooper's cleat as he slid into second.

Alyson Footer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.