Battery-powered: Hinch encouraging familiarity

Verlander fans 5 in 3 scoreless; Astros enjoy being lone West team in Grapefruit League

March 3rd, 2018

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros pitcher didn't throw a pitch to any catcher other than last season after coming to Houston. McCann caught all five of Verlander's September starts and every postseason game for the Astros, except one.

In his first two starts of the spring, Verlander has seen -- likely a third catcher on the roster to start the regular season -- behind the plate, including in Saturday's 8-1 loss to the Nationals at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Astros manager A.J. Hinch wants his pitchers to feel comfortable throwing to any catcher, so it's likely that Verlander throws to McCann, Stassi and Evan Gattis this year.

"I'm really interested in catchers having familiarity with the pitchers, but I'm also interested in the pitchers having comfortability with the catchers, so when they walk on the field that day, no matter who's catching, they know the guy's going to be prepared to handle their stuff and they trust them," Hinch said.

Verlander, who allowed two hits and struck out five in three sharp innings Saturday, says he's comfortable throwing to anyone, and he raved about Stassi behind the plate and the conversations between innings.

"I've kind of always left [who catches] to my manager, whoever it is," Verlander said. "Any new catchers that come in usually try to catch me on the side or during Spring Training like Stassi is doing."

Hinch said it's hard to pair up a pitcher to a certain catcher in the regular season due to how opposing-pitching matchups affect the Astros' lineup, health and ensuring the optimal lineup.

"I want all my options," Hinch said.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

A league of their own

The Astros are the only team in the American League West or National League West to have Spring Training in Florida, and they're the only AL team training in South Florida. They share a facility with the Nationals, plus the Marlins and Cardinals are in nearby Jupiter and the Mets are in Port St. Lucie.

Hinch said he likes being the only AL team in the area, and he appreciates how the NL managers will allow him to use the designated hitter throughout the spring, even in games in NL parks.

"On the flip side of it, we don't get a look or a glimpse of some of the new names or new faces that are in our division, but there's something pretty unique about the privacy that we have here," Hinch said. "They always have scouts in the stands, so I'm not doing anything crazy."

Camp battle

's first Grapefruit League game didn't go so well. Gose, the former big league outfielder whom the Astros took from the Rangers in the Rule 5 Draft as a pitcher, made his Spring Training debut Saturday against the Nationals, and he walked all three batters he faced in the fifth inning. All three scored.

The lefty hit 98 mph with his first pitch of the game, but he sat mostly around 96-97 and struggled to throw strikes. Gose was a long shot to make the club already, and being a Rule 5 pick, results matter more than others who can be sent to the Minor Leagues.

"We know he has arm strength," Hinch said. "He was throwing hard, even harder than he was in the bullpen [sessions] and in his live BP. But I think we saw the raw part of him transitioning to pitching. It's tough. I mean, he has a great arm and flashes some pretty good stuff, but obviously struggled with command today."

Injury update 

• First baseman Yuli Gurriel, who underwent surgery Wednesday in Houston to remove the hook of the hamate bone in his left hand, is expected to return to Florida on Sunday night and meet with team trainers on Monday.

• Infielder left Friday's game because of an issue with a fingernail and is expected to play Sunday.

Up next

Right-hander Brad Peacock makes his second start of the spring when the Astros make the short trip to Jupiter, Fla., to face the Cardinals at 12:05 p.m. CT Sunday on MLB.TV and MLB Network. Peacock, who will be in the bullpen to start the regular season, threw two scoreless innings against the Mets on Tuesday, walking two and striking out three.