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Changeup key as Martes develops as starter

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros plan to continue to develop right-hander Francis Martes as a starter, which is why the evolution of his changeup remains key. Martes threw 2 2/3 innings Saturday against the Nationals and will make his next start on Thursday against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Martes' changeup will be an important third pitch for him to offset his power fastball and breaking ball. Hinch was encouraged that Martes was able to take the work he was doing in the bullpen with the changeup into Saturday's game, even though he got burned on the pitch.

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros plan to continue to develop right-hander Francis Martes as a starter, which is why the evolution of his changeup remains key. Martes threw 2 2/3 innings Saturday against the Nationals and will make his next start on Thursday against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Martes' changeup will be an important third pitch for him to offset his power fastball and breaking ball. Hinch was encouraged that Martes was able to take the work he was doing in the bullpen with the changeup into Saturday's game, even though he got burned on the pitch.

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"It's a sign of maturity and a sign of an understanding it's going to be an important pitch," Hinch said. "Especially in the spring, if you don't dedicate some of your time in the game doing it you'll never get the proper reps. He's been better. That would be a huge development for him if we can incorporate the changeup."

When Martes got to camp, the Astros encouraged him to keep developing his weapons.

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"Long term, we feel he's a starter and he needs to continue to incorporate [the changeup] to be his best," Hinch said.

Martes will likely begin the year in the Triple-A rotation with Rogelio Armenteros, Trent Thornton and David Paulino, though he figures to be one of the first pitchers called up if Houston needs relief help.

Garner, Hall of Famers to visit camp
Former Astros manager, coach and player Phil Garner, who guided Houston to the World Series in 2005, will be in camp for three days as a special instructor beginning Monday.

Garner lives in the Houston suburb of The Woodlands, near Hinch, and the two have become close friends. Garner is the latest high-profile spring guest. Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell left camp Saturday but will return later in the month as a special advisor. Also coming to camp are Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan (March 17-20) and Craig Biggio, and seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens.

"With Nolan, across the board -- young, old, Latin, American -- everyone knows [that] you don't find that kind of presence very often," Hinch said. "We utilize it. [Ryan] can capture the room talking pitching and is a great storyteller, obviously. He's the definition of a living legend."

Meanwhile, Hinch said former Astros first base coach Rich Dauer, who nearly died from a brain aneurysm in the days following the Astros' World Series triumph, will come to camp as a guest instructor Friday through Sunday and will travel with the club to the White House on March 12.

Former Astros players Luke Gregerson (Cardinals) and Joe Musgrove (Pirates) will travel on the team's charter to Washington as well.

Astros taking it slow with Rondon
Veteran relief pitcher Hector Rondon, who's appeared in only one Grapefruit League game this spring, will get back on the mound later this week, Hinch said Sunday. Rondon hasn't pitched since giving up four runs and four hits in two-thirds of an inning on Monday against the Mets.

Hinch said Rondon is healthy and is being brought along at a slower pace this spring, which is something the Astros are doing with Dallas Keuchel (he'll make his first start Monday) and veteran reliever Joe Smith, who made his second appearance on Sunday.

"We're taking it slow with [Rondon] as well," Hinch said. "The normal hiccups of the spring, and just kind of being very cautious with guys we already know who are on our team. We're kind of individualizing it, as we said. He should be back on the mound later this week."

Camp battle
The Astros are expected to make their first roster cuts later this week. Considering the 25-man roster is basically set -- except for finding a first baseman to replace Yuli Gurriel to start the season -- the first few rounds of cuts won't impact the big league club. The Astros have split-squad games on Tuesday, which is when Minor League camp starts.

Injury update
Gurriel (left hand surgery) is expected back in camp this week to start light workouts. He's expected to be out until mid-April.

Up next
Keuchel will make his first Grapefruit League start when the Astros face the Marlins at 12:05 p.m. CT on Monday at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, live on MLB.TV. Keuchel, who will make only five starts this spring, will be followed by Lance McCullers Jr., who threw two scoreless innings in his first start of spring.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

Houston Astros, Francis Martes