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Crain throws for first time since October

HOUSTON -- Right-hander Jesse Crain, one of the Astros' key winter acquisitions, made a stride forward in his recovery from an injury on Monday when he threw a baseball for the first time since undergoing surgery for biceps tendinitis in October.

Crain will play catch off flat ground again on Wednesday and Friday, and he plans to ramp up his throwing and eventually get on a mound. When Astros pitchers and catchers report to Kissimmee, Fla., for Spring Training next week, Crain will be behind his teammates.

"I'm throwing, which is a step forward," Crain said. "It's not a shocker that I'm going to be able to throw. I shouldn't feel anything, which I didn't. Yeah, I guess it's a positive [that] nothing was bothering me. I'm still a long ways away. I need to be able to throw for a long time and then throw off the mound."

Crain doesn't want to put a timetable on when he could possibly be ready for game action, but it certainly appears questionable that he'll be ready for Opening Day.

"It's going to take time to get my arm strength back to where it needs [to be in order] to be able to get back on the mound," he said. "We haven't gone through the whole [rehab] program, but we'll increase it every week how much we throw, and hopefully the sooner the better, if my arm gets stronger.

"It feels good, and I'm headed in the right direction."

Crain, who signed for $3.25 million in January, was an All-Star in 2013, a season in which he posted a 0.74 ERA in 38 games with the White Sox, striking out 46 and walking only 11 in 36 2/3 innings, including a 29-inning scoreless streak. He didn't pitch after being traded to the Rays on July 29 because of the injury.

Crain, 32, will join Chad Qualls, Matt Albers, Anthony Bass, Darin Downs and Raul Valdes as newcomers to a relief corps that has been revamped this winter. In 2013 the Astros ranked last in the Majors with a 4.92 bullpen ERA, and their 29 blown saves tied for the most.

In 10 Major League seasons with the Twins (2004-10) and White Sox (2011-13), Crain has a 45-30 record and four saves in 532 appearances (all in relief), with a 3.05 ERA and .229 opponents' average. His 45 wins in relief since his debut in 2004 are tied with Qualls for tops in the Majors in that span.

Valdes, claimed off waivers from the Phillies in October, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee at the end of January and will be out four to six weeks.

Brian McTaggart is reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

Houston Astros, Jesse Crain