KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros' move to the American League could bring a different wrinkle to the leadoff spot this year. No longer will the top hitter in the order be following the pitcher in the lineup, so there figures to be more opportunities to drive in runs.
Astros manager Bo Porter said Wednesday he prefers All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve to bat in the No. 2 spot in the order, where he batted a team-high 48 times last year. Altuve also hit leadoff in 84 games, which also led the team.
At this point, it appears likely the leadoff spot could be occupied by Tyler Greene or Marwin Gonzalez, depending on which player wins the shortstop battle. Neither will be a catalyst like Michael Bourn, but none of the Astros' outfield candidates nor corner infielders suit the position, outside of Brandon Barnes.
"When you talk about a leadoff hitter, it has to be a guy that's not afraid to hit with two strikes," Porter said. "He's willing to take pitches, but at the same time he's aggressive. I'd like to have a guy at the top of the lineup that can do some damage. He's going to get more fastballs, putting him in position to really ignite the team and get rallies started.
"When you have a guy like Altuve hitting behind you – a guy that's an established Major League player – there are many times the guy hitting in front of him should see better pitches to hit."
The Astros had nine different players hit leadoff last year, with Altuve getting the bulk of the action when Jordan Schafer fizzled and couldn't stay healthy. Greene hit in the top spot in the order six times, and Gonzalez once.
Effective leadership expected from experienced Astros
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros manager Bo Porter met with a group of players prior to Wednesday morning's workout that he wants to take a leadership role on the club this spring. The meeting, which Porter dubbed "Astros Talk," included Jason Castro, Carlos Corporan, Jason Jaramillo, Erik Bedard, Bud Norris, Philip Humber, Lucas Harrell, Wesley Wright, Jose Veras and Edgar Gonzalez.
"We talked about leadership, and there's a reason why I picked those guys," he said. "Some of those guys have been on other teams where obviously it hasn't been the situation we have here where we have a lot of young guys, and a lot of times, these guys have been on teams and they have been the young guys.
"They now find themselves in a situation they become the older spokesmen. Like I said to them, I want to make sure we're all on one sheet of music and we understand what leadership is all about and how you can effectively lead. If they had any questions, I wanted to be available for them to answer those questions to make sure we're on one accord."
Most baseball teams don't have a captain as in some other sports. The Yankees are one team that has traditionally identified a singular captain. Porter doesn't plan to do that in Houston. Instead, he's giving the responsibility of leading the younger players to those with the most service time.
"I explained to them, 'We're not looking for one leader,'" Porter said. "We're looking for a group of leaders, because I'm a firm believer that leaders have to exist in every area, every level of the organization if you want the organization to continue to grow and continue to thrive. And the leaders have to develop the next wave of leaders. We're not looking for one; we're looking for a group."
Astros take caution with Stassi's strained oblique
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The first injury of camp was reported Wednesday morning, when catcher Max Stassi, acquired in last week's trade with Oakland, was diagnosed with a strained oblique. He was held out of drills Wednesday.
"We want to be more careful than anything," manager Bo Porter said. "If we had to push him, he could absolutely be pushed at this time, but we're going to take all precautions to make sure that he's ready to go full bore when he steps back out here."
The injury comes as Stassi was getting used to his new surroundings. He was in San Francisco visiting his girlfriend last week when he got a phone call telling him he had been traded in a five-player deal that netted the A's Jed Lowrie. Stassi, a California native who had been working out in Arizona, was suddenly bound for Houston.
"I had a busy couple of days," he said. "I flew over here, so it's finally nice to be able to settle in and get to know some of the guys around here. It's totally different than what I'm used to, but I'm starting to get back into my routine and feel at home back on the field."
Stassi, 22, hit .268 with a career-high 15 homers and 45 RBIs in 84 games last year at Class A Stockton. He's been hampered by various injuries the last couple of years, including shoulder and ankle ailments. He doesn't expect the latest setback to slow him down.
"I'm just going to go out and work hard every day," he said. "I'm going to put my head down and work my tail off and go out and control what I can control and mainly have fun. It's still a kid's game. Just keep it at that. Just go out and play hard every day. That's about it."
Big step for Escalona with first bullpen session
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- When left-handed reliever Sergio Escalona finished throwing his first bullpen session of the spring Wednesday, he flashed a huge smile and received handshakes and hugs from the staff and some players.
It was a huge step in Escalona's recovery from Tommy John surgery, which cost him the entire 2012 season.
"That is one step right now to just keep going to the goal," he said. "I say, 'Thank God.' That's everything I have to say. I was patient, I was working for this day and, like I said, it's one step at a time. I can't get overexcited and just try to do everything to my best. I'm excited and really happy for today and just need to prepare for the second one."
Escalona, who was 2-1 with a 2.93 ERA in 49 appearances in 2011, tore his ulnar collateral ligament last spring and underwent surgery in March. He was also dealing with a left hamstring strain suffered running on the field last Friday.
"My hamstring was OK today," Escalona said. "I didn't feel anything at all. I'll try to push it in the second bullpen harder and get prepared for the first game."