Most Pitchers, Catchers Report
Promising News On James, Abreu

James: Hoping for May return
(c) Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle
With much of Texas suffering bitter cold, including power and water outages for some, motivation shouldn't be needed for Astros pitchers and catchers to report to their South Florida training camp on time. The doors opened Thursday for the 2021 season, one in which Houston hopes to regain their AL West championship.

Being the ace of the staff has its privileges and, for veteran Zack Greinke, that includes working out near his Orlando home which he will do until the mandatory report date of February 27th, one day before the Grapefruit League opener on the 28th against the Nationals.

Manager Dusty Baker reports Greinke did the same thing last spring and is unconcerned, knowing how hard Greinke works to stay in shape.

It's not uncommon for a few players to show up late, typically some of the Latinos who experience visa issues returning to the States. It's a typical spring non-story since the players are almost always able to answer the bell when the games begin.

Pitcher Josh James is reportedly responding well to last year's hip surgery and is now projected to return to action some time in May. That leaves Justin Verlander as the only pitcher who is expected to be sent to the 60-day injured list as soon as the Astros need to make an addition to their 40-man roster.

Pitcher Austin Pruitt is not expected to be ready for the April 1st season opener but is a candidate for the 10-day injured list, not the 60-day list.

With the catchers and pitchers mostly in camp, here's a rundown of what to expect from both positions:

The catching duties will likely be shared by veterans Martin Maldonado and Jason Castro. Castro's lefty bat is likely to face mostly righthanders while Maldonado will face pitchers from both sides. Historically, he does better at the plate against lefties. Garrett Stubbs waits in the wings as the third catcher. Former first-rounder Korey Lee gets to resume his progress in the minors.

The starting five are slated to be Greinke, Lance McCullers, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy - all righthanders except Valdez. Urquidy has never thrown more than 125 innings in one season as a professional (and that was in 2016), so it's likely he'll be shut down around 150 innings even if he stays healthy. In fact, everyone but Greinke are candidates for early shutdown so some additional arms will be needed over the course of the 162-game season.

Pruitt could be asked to step into a replacement role, as could Brandon Bielak, Luis Garcia and top prospect Forrest Whitley.

The bullpen is more of a jumble where a good spring may be the ticket to making the 26-man Opening Day roster. Ryan Pressly will likely get the closer role while veterans Joe Smith, Pedro Baez and non-roster invitee Steve Cishek vie for set-up roles with youngsters Enoli Paredes and Andre Scrubb. Returnees Blake Taylor and Brooks Raley will handle the lefthander spots in the pen. Free agent Ryne Stanek, along with returnees Bryan Abreu and Nivaldo Rodriguez, have outside shots of cracking the roster.

Abreu was limited last season after a promising end to 2019 because, according to Baker, he was overweight and out-of-shape when he showed up for camp and was ineffective. Now slimmed down and in condition at the start of camp, Abreu is hoping to regain management's favor with a sparkling spring in West Palm.

The regular non-battery players are due to report early next week.

>- Bob Hulsey