KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- A lot has been made this spring about the Astros' improved power -- they lead the Grapefruit League with 39 home runs -- and improved rotation depth, but another area of strength has clearly emerged: catching.
The performances of starter Jason Castro and backup Carlos Corporan have the Astros feeling good about where they stand behind the plate entering the 2013 season. It's one of the few areas that hasn't caused the club any hand-wringing this spring.
As the Astros finish preparing for life in the American League this season, they could have their most stable catching situation since Gold Glove winner Brad Ausmus left after the 2008 season.
Castro, who appears completely healthy after missing all of the 2011 season following major knee surgery, is hitting .406 with five homers -- which leads the team -- and 11 RBIs in 32 at-bats. He could be poised for a breakout season. Corporan, a switch-hitter, has a.370 (10-for-27) batting average and hit his first two homers of spring on Thursday against the Tigers.
"Our catchers have done a great job," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "I'm going to get away from the hitting for a second. They've done a great job calling games, blocking balls, working with the staff. They've done a great job all around, and on top of that they both have swung the bat tremendous this spring."
Castro, a 2008 first-round pick, was limited to only 87 games last year, hitting .257 with six homers and 29 RBIs, as he tried to work his back from a lost '11. He didn't yet have the strength in his legs he has today, and it's shown on both sides of the ball. He's not putting too much emphasis on his spring numbers to date.
"I've been happy with the changes, and I feel like I'm pretty ready for the season to start up as far as the comfort level and the changes I've made," he said. "Hopefully, I can keep that going and keep doing the same things I've been doing to get into that groove, and we'll let things take care of themselves."
Corporan caught 27 games for the Astros in '12, starting 24, and made such a good impression that he came to camp all but locked in as Castro's backup. He batted .269 with four homers and 13 RBIs last season and has repeatedly drawn praise from the pitching staff for his solid work behind the dish.
Porter won't put a firm number on how many games Castro will catch this year, but it's safe to assume that it will probably be four out of every five games if he's healthy. Of course, which player starts at catcher could have a lot to do with who's on the mound for the opposition.
"You will never get me to lock into a number figure on anything," Porter said. "The player will tell you. If we look up in September and Jason Castro is still moving strong, and there's no ill effect and he doesn't look tired, I'll let my eyes make the decision at the time."
Right-hander Bud Norris, who's going to start Opening Day on March 31 against the Rangers, says he's been really confident with Castro catching him. He says Castro has "absolutely taken over" this year when it comes to handling the pitching staff.
"For any staff, having a staple behind the plate all across the board is huge," Norris said. "The good ole years with the Astros and Brad Ausmus speak volumes when it comes to that. He's been great. What really hurt us is when he went down a couple of years ago with the knee injury. We haven't seen him as much as we wanted, but he picked it up last year, and I think he's going to have a great year this year, too."
Norris has been caught by eight different catchers in his career, including 26 games with Castro, and they've combined for a 4.12 ERA as a tandem. Norris says he's comfortable with both Castro and Corporan behind the plate, but pointed out the success Lucas Harrell had last year when Chris Snyder was his regular catcher.
"It gives you that extra ounce of confidence to compete knowing that guy back there is giving you everything," he said. "It's that camaraderie. It's like a quarterback and center, and you're just getting comfortable with each other."
That being said, Porter doesn't believe in specialty catchers, and with a dependable backup like Corporan in the fold, he has the luxury of being flexible.