This was day two of full squad workouts for the Astros and it was the first day for live batting practice.
In live batting practice, position players don t just hit against coaches throwing up one fastball after another. In live batting practice, an Astros pitcher throws against an Astros position player and the pitcher is trying to get the batter to miss while the batter is trying to figure out what the pitcher is going to throw next.
It s the first game-like drill in camp and each year it s the same result: the pitchers always hold the upper hand.
I don t know how many bats we broke, but as expected the pitchers were ahead of the hitters. They ve been here four days longer, plus some of them have thrown more over the winter. So the hitters are going to have to catch up, said Astros manager Brad Mills.
One of the pitchers who Mills singled out for praise was young lefty starter J.A. Happ, who was acquired via a trade last season and is slated to be one of two left-handed starters in the Astros starting rotation in 2011.
I saw Happ throw his BP session off the mound and he really had starting outfielders Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee and Jason Michaels off balance at times, which left them shaking their heads.
Other observations on this day:
Manager Brad Mills is moving around well in spite of having knee replacement surgery performed during the off-season.
Chris Johnson is really looking good fielding his position at 3rd base. You can tell he has really worked hard on his fielding skills during the off-season.
Brett Myers has taken the reins as the leader of the pitching staff. Every drill the pitchers run Myers jumps to the front of the line and sets the example.
Pitcher Nelson Figueroa is going through drills with a heavy heart. Nelson s grandfather is gravely ill in a hospital in New Jersey. Figueroa visited him over the weekend.
Last year s starting shortstop, Tommy Manzella, stayed late to take extra ground balls at shortstop. Manzella is trying to make the team as a utility infielder after losing his starting shortstop job during the season last year.
Hunter Pence is developing into a tremendous leader. He continues to outwork most of the players here, like trying to win every wind sprint.
Pence has already put the younger players on notice that when they get into games this spring in the late innings, it s important for them to try to win the game.
Many times players in late inning situations are just trying to impress the coaching staff, but Hunter has already put the young guys on notice that this team wants to win every game this spring in hopes the attitude will carry over into the regular season.
Historically the Astros are slow starters, but they are hoping to change that this season. It won t be easy, though, as they begin the regular season with two series on the road, at Philadelphia and at Cincinnati.