WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch lined up his starting rotation prior to Sunday's game with the Braves. He said that the rotation is essentially set for the beginning of the 2018 regular season.
"If the season started today," Hinch said, the rotation would be Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton. "I think we could go any order and have an argument. Really from the beginning of the rotation, that's a tribute to the pitching staff that [general manager Jeff Luhnow] built to give us a deep rotation."
Cole turned in a sub-par performance in Sunday's 6-3 loss to the Braves, yielding seven hits and three runs (two earned) over five innings. He walked one and struck out three in his fifth Grapefruit League start, his longest outing of the spring.
Over four previous starts, the right-hander had given up just two runs on 10 hits combined while striking out 15 and walking five.
"The pitch count is up, I feel strong. It's probably my best spring performance as a whole in my career," Cole said. "I feel really confident."
Hinch said he wants Morton to pitch the home opener, an April 2 matchup with Baltimore.
"I think that's something special that he's earned," Hinch said. "We're going to come home and we're going to hang a flag, and there's going to be a lot of memories and videos and some tributes to the World Series team. [Morton] got the last out of the World Series; it'll be nice to have him on the mound in front of the home crowd for the first home game."
That means that Collin McHugh is most likely headed for the bullpen if things stay the same, according to Hinch.
"We want to continue to lengthen him out," Hinch said. "He's going to pitch a little more regularly as if we're planning for the bullpen."
McHugh made his fifth appearance this spring on Sunday, working the eighth inning. The right-hander struck out the first two batters he faced before yielding two hits, a walk, and two runs. He escaped further damage with another strikeout to end the inning.
Linares in camp
Julio Linares, a member of the Astros' organization since 1973 and current advisor to Houston's Latin American operations since 2013, is in camp.
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Linares served as a Minor League manager in the organization for 18 years, and he was the Astros' bench coach from 1994-96 after playing 15 seasons in the Minors.
"We want to honor him while he's in camp and have him over on the Major League side," Hinch said. "He means a lot to the organization. I saw a picture of him holding the World Series trophy, and it's a good reminder of how many people were touched by our accomplishment last year and how much he's given to the Astros."
He is the father of Rodney Linares, who was recently named manager of the Astros' Triple-A affiliate in Fresno.
Gurriel rehab updates on social media
First baseman Yuli Gurriel has been open about his rehab process on social media.
"He shows [his rehab progress] on social media all the time," Hinch said on Sunday morning. "In fact, I told him today his assignment: I want his defensive rehab today to be put on Instagram. That's part of Yuli's job today.
"We might as well go full, from surgery to first Major League game back. We will chronicle that."
Hinch said Gurriel is doing well rehabbing his injured left hand.
"It's going great, he's hitting off the tee a little bit and taking ground balls," Hinch said. "He's progressing quite nicely so far."
Sierra soaks it up
After hitting a ninth-inning grand slam to tie Saturday's game with the Marlins in Jupiter, Anibal Sierra took time to soak it all in. After the game, he sat quietly by himself on a couch in the clubhouse, according to Hinch.
"One of our Minor League instructors walks over to him and asks him, 'Hey, what are you doing?' And [Sierra] said, 'I'm just soaking up the big leagues,'" Hinch said. "That shows you what it means to these kids to come over and just be in the presence of our Major League team and get to experience a game or two."
The Astros host the Mets at 12:05 p.m. CT on Monday, live on MLB.TV. Right-hander Justin Verlander gets the start for Houston. It will be the fifth appearance this spring for the team's Opening Day starter, who is 0-1 with a 2.40 ERA in Grapefruit League play.