PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Astros prospect Jeremy Peña had yet to check his phone by the time he spoke with reporters following the Astros’ 8-3 loss to the Mets on Tuesday afternoon at Clover Park, but he likely had a slew of messages from friends and family members after he took two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom deep.
Peña, the Astros’ No. 4-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline, started at shortstop Tuesday and walloped a homer off deGrom in the third inning. Peña turned on a 98.4 mph four-seam fastball and got just enough of it that it hit the top of the wall before bouncing over. Statcast had it at 376 feet and 103.5 mph off the bat.
“You have to be on top of the fastball when he’s throwing that hard,” Peña said. “You can’t really think about any other pitch. If not, you’re already beat. That’s pretty much what I did, get ready for the fastball and put a good swing on it.”
The Astros have faced deGrom three times already this spring, in addition to taking on Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals (twice) and hard-throwing Sixto Sánchez of the Marlins.
“You want to face those guys,” Peña said. “Those are the guys that dominate the league. You want to see where you stack up in that competition. You want to see what the best looks like and it’s an eye-opener. You see that you’re able to compete with those guys, and it’s a good feeling.”
With his homer, Peña is 2-for-15 this spring and said he can’t ask for more than getting the number of at-bats he’s had so far.
“I’ve had some struggles, but we’ve stuck to the process in the cage and been working and we’re going to keep working and go out and compete,” he said.
Castro plays for first time in two weeks
Veteran catcher Jason Castro returned to the lineup for the first time in two weeks Tuesday and went 1-for-3 with a single. Castro said he felt some minor soreness in his right oblique swinging the bat March 2 against the Mets and didn’t want it to snowball into a more serious injury, so he took some time off from swinging the bat.
“I was being pretty conservative with the amount of time we have left,” he said. “I’ve been happy with the progression and I felt great today.”
Like teammate Alex Bregman, who made his Grapefruit League debut Tuesday after dealing with a sore hamstring, Castro was thrown back into the fire against deGrom. Not an easy assignment.
“It’s something you can’t really replicate off the field, regardless of what you turn a pitching machine up to,” Castro said. “Getting in there, first game back in a little bit, and facing a guy like him is actually a good thing. It speeds up the process a little bit and you see where you’re at. I surprisingly felt pretty good today from a timing standpoint.”
• Castro was thoroughly impressed with Astros starting pitcher Peter Solomon, the club’s No. 15 prospect, who struck out four batters and allowed two runs, two hits and two walks in 2 1/3 innings against the Mets’ best lineup.
“That was the first time I had seen him today and I was very impressed,” he said. “There were some mechanical things here and there that popped up throughout his outing. From a pure stuff standpoint, I caught him in the bullpen and I actually made some remarks from the guys coming in that the guy we had starting for us today was pretty darn good. [It's] exciting to see this kid. I had heard a little bit about his history coming back [from Tommy John surgery]. He should be a good arm for this organization moving forward.”
• In his second game of the spring, designated hitter Yordan Alvarez went 0-for-3, but that included a 109-mph lineout against deGrom in the fourth inning that was his best swing of the spring. Alvarez, who had both knees operated on in August, played in his first spring game Sunday.
“Alvarez hit two balls well -- one to left field and one to right field,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “It really helped getting Alvarez out here for three at-bats. [Alvarez and Bregman], they’re on an accelerated course but you can’t push them too much because you don’t want them to go backwards and have any setbacks.”