Notes: Class in session for catchers

Notes: Class in session for catchers

MILWAUKEE -- When catcher J.R. Towles arrived to the visiting clubhouse at Miller Park on Tuesday, manager Cecil Cooper pointed to Brad Ausmus and said to the 23-year-old prospect, "Be his shadow. Watch him, whatever he does."

Cooper hopes Ausmus and first-base coach Mark Bailey, who until last week had spent six years with the catchers as the bullpen coach, will use the remaining weeks of the season to offer guidance to all of the catchers -- Towles, Eric Munson and Humberto Quintero. Towles and Quintero joined the team on Tuesday.

"I talked to Brad about this, [for] he and I and Bailey and the kids -- Q, Munson, J.R. -- all get together and somewhat go to class," Cooper said. "Brad's been doing this 15 years. He knows. Sit down with him and try to pick his brain. That's why he's here -- he knows."

Ausmus, who always has been generous with his time with young catchers during Spring Training, expressed a willingness to help out now as well.

"Coop has asked if I would have a problem talking to the catchers, and I certainly wouldn't," Ausmus said. "I've been here for nine years and will always consider myself an Astro when my career is over. I want the Astros to continue to do well, and if there's some tidbit of information I can give Munson or Towles or Quintero, I'll do it. I'll be glad to help."

Towles, the Astros' 20th-round pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, is viewed as a potential front-line catcher. He began the season at Class A Salem, hitting .200, but he thrived after he was promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi in May, hitting .324 with 11 home runs and 49 RBIs. He then was bumped up to Triple-A Round Rock, where he hit .279.

"When he was promoted to Corpus, he took the attitude there that he took when he went to Salem -- 'I got here and I'm not going back,'" assistant general manager Dave Gottfried said. "At the end of the year, to give him a taste of Triple-A, we got him up to Round Rock, and clearly he was one of the youngest guys on the team, let alone the league. He carries himself very well with the older guys."

Playing time: Cooper said he was "intrigued" by Cody Ransom and will try to work the 31-year-old infielder into the lineup in the near future. Ransom, Quintero and Jason Lane all have big league experience, so Cooper won't be as conservative with them when dolling out playing time.

"I saw [Ransom] a little bit before," Cooper said. "I saw him in Spring Training. He's an offensive player. You need all the offensive players you can get. I'll try to get him in there pretty quick."

Fantasy draft: Following their game at Miller Park on Monday afternoon, the majority of the Astros players gathered in a meeting room at the team hotel to partake in their annual fantasy football draft.

Commissioner Brad Lidge oversaw the event, with Lance Berkman serving as the emcee/enforcer. Mark McLemore, according to Lidge, had an "impressive showing as the guy who puts all the names on the draft board."

Lidge, a football fanatic, confirmed there was plenty of trash talking going on during the draft -- an unforgiving environment for those less informed.

"If you don't know your stuff when you walk in there, you're going to get mocked, a lot," Lidge said. "There's a lot of guys that drafted players that had already been picked. That translates to a big no-no."

On the knee: Lidge, who felt a twinge in his right knee during Monday's game, said he felt much better Tuesday and was confident he could pitch that night if needed.

Lidge planned to test it during batting practice, but he did not expect any issues.

"We need to be smart this time of year," he said. "No reason to push it now. It feels fine today, or just about fine."

Scheduling change: Craig Biggio originally was slated to start Tuesday's game against the Brewers, but a slightly sore shoulder kept him out of the lineup. Biggio is scheduled to start Wednesday instead.

The Brewers saluted Biggio before the game and presented him with a gas grill and 144 links of sausage and 144 bottles of Pepsi products, recognizing the 144 hits he had in Milwaukee.

Odds and ends: Cooper flipped Woody Williams and Roy Oswalt this weekend, to give Oswalt an extra day of rest after throwing 113 pitches on Monday against the Brewers. Williams will pitch Saturday in New York, with Oswalt pitching the finale at Shea Stadium on Sunday. ... To make room for all of the callups on the 40-man roster, the Astros outrighted infielder Brooks Conrad to Triple-A Round Rock. Late last week, Jason Jennings was transferred to the 60-day disabled list. ... During the Mets series, Quintero will catch Wandy Rodriguez, while Munson will pair with Williams and Ausmus will catch Oswalt.

Coming up: The Astros and Brewers will wrap up their series on Wednesday, beginning at 7:05 p.m. CT at Miller Park. Right-hander Matt Albers (4-6, 5.36 ERA) will face Milwaukee righty Yovani Gallardo (6-4, 4.66).

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