Whitley pounds zone; Astros reassign Wagner

March 11th, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A third consecutive outing in which he pounded the strike zone has , the Astros' No. 21 ranked prospect, feeling more encouraged about this year’s camp than any of his previous Spring Trainings.

Whitley threw 38 of his 57 pitches for strikes in 2 2/3 innings in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over the Cardinals at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. The right-handed prospect allowed four hits, two runs and struck out two batters. Whitley said the fact that he’s been around the strike zone has been the most encouraging part of his camp so far.

“My goal this camp was to come and fill it up,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to be extremely sharp. The first five, six weeks of camp you’re trying to get all your off-speed stuff in, your changeup in. You’re trying to get all the movement profiles back to normal. Just being able to fill it up at this point is awesome.”

Whitley said at previous camps that he’s been a part of, things would go awry on the mound and he would “lose himself.” He’s dealt with that quite a bit in his career but said Saturday he fought through some adversity on the mound. He’s dealing with a hangnail on his index finger that’s making it difficult to throw his breaking pitches for strikes.

“I could have commanded it a little bit better, get it in the zone a little bit more,” he said.

Whitley was hitting 95-96 mph consistently with his fastball, which was another reason for encouragement.

“This is the best velocity I’ve brought into camp in my career, and I’m fired up about that,” he said.

Wagner looks to build on solid camp

Among the Major League camp reassignments the Astros made on Saturday was infielder , the son of former Astros closer Billy Wagner. Wagner went 4-for-10 for the Astros with two doubles and three RBIs in his first big league camp, where his locker was between Alex Bregman and World Series MVP Jeremy Peña.

So what was his biggest takeaway?

“Honestly, I was just learning from the big leaguers the whole time,” he said. “It was just cool to have that experience to be up here. Those guys are champions for a reason, so you want to watch every step. That was my main focus, just learning.”

Wagner paid attention to how Bregman, Peña and Jose Altuve went about their routine, in terms of keeping their bodies healthy and how they approached practice. Astros manager Dusty Baker said he liked Wagner’s aggressiveness at the plate.

“He’s an aggressive hitter on that fastball and he has a good future,” Baker said. “This guy goes up there to hit. There are some things he has to work on defensively, but he’s working on them and getting better.”

Wagner, taken in the 18th round of the 2021 MLB Draft out of Liberty University, admitted he was a bit nervous in his first Grapefruit League game, but a pair of base hits in that game calmed the nerves.

“I felt after that first game, ‘OK, I’m here now,’” he said. “I showed well and feel comfortable now.”

Maton makes spring debut

Veteran Astros reliever made his Grapefruit League debut on Saturday, after having his throwing program pushed back in the winter. Maton broke his hand at the end of the regular season when he punched a locker following an at-bat against his brother Nick, who was with the Phillies and got a hit off Maton.

Maton broke the fifth metacarpal in his right (throwing) hand, had season-ending surgery and missed the playoffs. On Saturday, Maton needed only eight pitches to retire three batters, including one by strikeout. He hopes to get into five or six more games and be ready for the regular season opener.

“With the hand injury, I wasn’t able to start throwing until after the new year, once I was cleared by the doctor,” he said. “Typically, in a normal offseason, I’m usually ahead of schedule. I’m usually off the mound in December, so it kind of pushed me back a few weeks. Honestly, it’s adjusting the throwing progression so I’m not off the mound quite as much. I might go into the season with a little bit fresher arm.”