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Long and short of it: Astros adjust to new league

Harrell, Norris, Blackley and Barnes discuss change in visit to Fan Cave

NEW YORK -- The morning after beating the Yankees on Monday night, Astros right-hander Lucas Harrell showed up at the MLB Fan Cave along with teammates Bud Norris, Travis Blackley and Brandon Barnes. Each player was asked by what he has noticed most so far about life in the American League.

"The games are longer," Harrell replied matter-of-factly. "That's the main thing I noticed. You've got guys taking more pitches, hitter-wise, as well."

That turns out to be more than a pitcher's intuition. The Astros' first 26 games in their final National League season averaged exactly three hours, and their first 26 games in the AL averaged 3:23.

In 2012, the Astros played 12 of their first 26 games in under three hours. In 2013, they have only played eight such games. Over a stretch of 13 games from April 9-23, every game went over three hours, with the exception of Harrell's first win, a 3-2 victory over the Indians that took 2:58.

Long games are traditionally par for the course at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium, home to a couple of clubs that tend to work long counts over recent years. There was a 3:49 game at Boston followed by a 3:40 game there. Without Yankee veterans like Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira around for now, though, it's anyone's guess whether this weekend's games will be quicker than usual.

Harrell has started half of those sub-three-hour games so far this season, including his last three outings. In the latest, he outpitched Andy Pettitte in a 9-1 victory on Monday and helped Houston get the series off to a positive start. Harrell reiterated his praise for the defense behind him.

"That's the way I like it -- the guys on the team work hard every day. To put up nine runs against a guy like that and a team like the Yankees, that's huge," Harrell said. "We come off a few games where we struggled a little bit. Now we've got a big win in New York under our belt, maybe we can keep it rolling from here."

Monday was Harrell's first appearance at Yankee Stadium.

"As a kid, you grow up watching baseball and you see the Yankees and the Red Sox on TV, so it's definitely a big stage," Harrell said. "The media is really big here. Also, you've got two historic teams, so it's always good to come in here and play a team like this. It's a measuring stick to kind of see where you're at."

The four visitors taped segments for an upcoming video, and in a quiet moment back in The Vault area, they each talked about AL life and evaluated the Astros' performance nearly one month in.

"It's definitely a cut-throat league," Barnes said of the AL. "Everyone is out there to win and to play hard. It's a tough division."

Blackley, who has appeared in five games out of the Astros' bullpen, spent most of last season with Oakland, his second stint with the A's. So coming to Houston oddly meant staying in the AL.

"I played in this league last year, so it's not really new to me," Blackley said. "But it's been known as very much a hitter's league. There is some strong pitching, but it's really known for the hitters."

"It's an adjustment for us, all new ballparks in the American League for us in traveling, so that's been kind of fun," said Norris, who pitched Opening Night and recorded the club's first AL win. "The baseball is definitely above par and you've got to go out and give your best stuff every night."

Norris, who visited the Fan Cave in 2012 along with Harrell and second baseman Jose Altuve, said he sees the Astros "coming together, day in and day out as a unit, playing as a 25-man roster."

"I think the guys are getting along in the clubhouse and having a lot of fun with each other," Norris said. "I think the coaching staff has really been supportive as well, because we know we're going to go through some tough times. We go out there and everybody's really been positive the next day. Whatever happened the last game, we leave it there, we learn from it. I'm enjoying it, I know we're playing the game hard, we're playing the game the right way, so we hope the wins keep coming."

That sentiment was echoed by the others in his crew, who headed from the Fan Cave back to the team hotel for a bite, then to the team bus heading up into the Bronx.

"I know it's obviously a pretty young team. It's not often I'm one of the older guys," said Blakely, 30. "It's definitely some growing pains we've been going through right now, but the talent is definitely there, and we've shown that in a few games this year. We've just got to get that high level of play a little more consistent more often and I think we'll be fine."

"It's definitely a team that's not going to give up," Barnes said. "Whether we're down 10 or up 10, we're going to try to keep going and keep grinding every single day. We'll work hard and just keep battling."

And they'll keep playing a lot more games into the fourth hour. They have spent 5,036 minutes in the AL, compared to 4,691 minutes through the same number of dates last season in the NL. Harrell misses the quicker pace, but said that isn't all bad, as long as you are going through long games together.

"I think it's a thing where this year the chemistry in the clubhouse is different," Harrell said. "There's not little groups. Everybody kind of comes together. I think as the season grinds on, I think we'll get better and better and we'll win more games."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Read and join other baseball fans on his community blog.

Houston Astros, Brandon Barnes, Travis Blackley, Lucas Harrell, Bud Norris