Astros head into Spring with confidence

Astros+head+into+Spring+with+confidence

Bryan Levine

Astros manager Brad Mills talks to his pitching staff on the first day of Spring Training. Also pictured is J.A. Happ and Sergio Escalona.

Plenty of new faces reported to the facilities at Osceola County Stadium as the Houston Astros kicked off their 2012 Spring Training Monday morning.

While most teams are only worried about learning the names of a few new players, the Astros, on the other hand, have a new owner, new general manager, new coaches and an almost completely revamped roster.

“I’ve never been here before. I’m still feeling my way around,” said team owner Jim Crane. “But everyone is settled in and ready to go to work.

Coming off a disappointing season in which they finished worst in the league with a record of 56-106, the Astros enter this spring with a new outlook.

“Dawning of a new era is a good way to put it,” said manager Brad Mills. “There’s a lot of new faces here, not only in the front office, but players as well.”

One of the biggest bright spots for the Astros, is the return of their young catcher Jason Castro, who missed the entire 2011 season due to a torn ACL.

“I’m happy with the way things have progressed on the rehab side,” said Castro. “I’m just focusing on getting back to the things I know I can do and staying healthy.”

According to Mills, virtually every position on the 2012 opening day roster will have steep competition, but as far as catcher goes it’s Castro’s job to lose.

“We all saw how this ball club played when [Castro] came up two years ago. He took charge of the pitching staff, and played pretty well behind the dish,” said Mills. “It was just such a crushing blow last year when we weren’t able to get a game out of him.”

Despite being one of the worst teams in the National League Central for the last few seasons, there is nothing but high hopes for this 2012 club. General Manger Jeff Luhnow, who was hired during the off-season, doesn’t expect his new team to continue to slump this season.

“We’re not going to be predicted to win the division this year, and we’re not going to be expected to compete,” said Luhnow, “but I don’t believe it. I think we have the players and staff to come out of the gates strong. If we stay healthy, I really think we have the talent to be competitive this year.”

Figuring out the condition of their pitching staff will be an important task for the Astros this Spring. They’re coming off a season in which their pitchers ranked last in wins and saves, second worst in walks and third worst in team ERA.

To address these issues, the Astros have brought in some veteran arms in Livan Hernandez and Zack Duke. They’re also highly anticipating the return of closer Brandon Lyon.

Lyon missed most of 2011 with tendinitis in his shoulder and a partially torn rotator cuff.

“I feel like all of the rehab and off-season work really paid off,” said Lyon. “Its not up to me if I’m going to be closing this year, but I just want to go out there and help this ball club win games.”

The Astros will continue to evaluate their pitching staff all week, as position players don’t report to Kissimmee until Sunday.