JUPITER, Fla. -- The Astros are holding a healthy competition for spots in their starting rotation this spring, and that's just fine with manager Bo Porter. Even though only five pitchers can win those jobs out of camp, he knows more will be needed over the course of the season.
"I'm a firm believer, especially when it comes to the pitching, if we have nine starters competing for five spots, I pray for all nine of them to go out and just absolutely deal, because nine in March is just right in August," Porter said. "You find someplace for good pitchers to pitch. That's a good problem to have."
Teams across the Majors have seen that point driven home yet again in recent days, as the injury bug has struck in both Florida and Arizona. The Braves, for example, have lost Kris Medlen to Tommy John surgery, and Brandon Beachy could be facing the same fate, pending a second opinion on his right elbow. The procedure also is in the cards for the Athletics' Jarrod Parker, while teammate A.J. Griffin (muscle strain) will miss at least the first month of the season.
Porter pointed out the rarity of a team making it through a season with only five starters. No club did so in 2013, although the Tigers needed just six. The Astros used 10 last season, and they haven't deployed fewer than nine since '05, when they made the World Series.
"You never know," Porter said. "Pitching is one of those things where you can never have too much. You can start the season and go, 'We have 12 guys,' and before you know it, an ankle [injury] there, an elbow here, a stiff neck there, and you look and you're like, 'Hold up, time out. We had a good surplus here just two weeks ago.'"
Astros begrudgingly send first pitcher to plate
JUPITER, Fla. -- For the first time this spring, an Astros pitcher found himself in the batting lineup on Tuesday, when the club traveled to Roger Dean Stadium to take on the Marlins. Left-hander Dallas Keuchel got the honor, occupying the No. 9 spot against Miami's Jacob Turner.
"Our offense will probably get going because Keuchel may go deep, so we're really looking forward to having him hit," Astros manager Bo Porter deadpanned. "To get that bat in the lineup, for a struggling lineup, Keuchel is definitely the guy we need to have going tonight."
Keuchel is a career .100 hitter (2-for-20), with most of those chances coming in 2012, Houston's last season in the National League. Astros pitchers combined for only 25 plate appearances in the club's first American League season, going 2-for-20 with 11 strikeouts, two walks and three sacrifices.
When the Astros play in an NL team's park during Spring Training, they call ahead and find out whether the opponent wants to have the pitchers hit or use a designated hitter. Now that the regular season is drawing close, Porter expects most of them to select the first option the rest of the way.
However, there is no sense of urgency for the Astros to get their pitchers ready to take swings. Their first of 10 road Interleague contests won't arrive until June 9, when they face the D-backs in Phoenix.
"At this stage, one, I don't even want them swinging, and two, I don't really want them on the bases either," Porter said. "This time of year, the last thing you want to do is just to lose someone doing something other than pitching."
Therefore, Porter gave Keuchel some strict instructions.
"Bunt him over, or take four balls or three strikes, whichever comes first."
Sure enough, in the third inning, Keuchel took three straight strikes without swinging the bat.
Patience the key to heating up at the plate
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Astros endured plenty of difficult stretches at the plate last season, en route to finishing last in the American League in on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
They've been going through another one recently in Grapefruit League play. During the club's five-game losing streak, extended with an 8-1 defeat to the Marlins on Tuesday, the Astros have scored a total of 11 runs.
Four Marlins pitchers, beginning with starter Jacob Turner, shut down the Houston offense, which managed just three singles. The Astros managed to push across one run in the first inning on a walk, an error, a single and a sacrifice fly.
Over the course of the losing streak, Houston hitters have gone 28-for-149 (.188) with 11 walks and 43 strikeouts. On the positive side, five of those free passes came on Tuesday.
"I felt like the at-bats were good at times," manager Bo Porter said. "There were some at-bats where we really expanded the zone, and others where it seemed like we just weren't patient enough to get a good pitch to hit, given the situation."