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Rodgers to start Grapefruit League opener

@alysonfooter
February 20, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Teammates applauded Brady Rodgers during the Astros' team meeting Wednesday morning, following manager AJ Hinch's announcement that the right-hander will start the club's Grapefruit League opener Saturday against the Nationals. There is symbolism to this decision -- Hinch purposely gave Rodgers the start as a

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Teammates applauded Brady Rodgers during the Astros' team meeting Wednesday morning, following manager AJ Hinch's announcement that the right-hander will start the club's Grapefruit League opener Saturday against the Nationals.

There is symbolism to this decision -- Hinch purposely gave Rodgers the start as a tip of the cap to the hard work he put in throughout the rehabilitation process after undergoing Tommy John surgery in May 2017.

"When you get into camp, you feel out of sight, out of mind when you're hurt," Hinch said. "We wanted to reward his work and his rehab and getting back to camp healthy and feeling good."

Rodgers was moved by his teammates' response to Hinch's announcement.

"That's special," Rodgers said. "It shows what kind of camaraderie we have in this clubhouse. Just to have the support of my teammates -- even throughout the rehab process, I would get texts the entire time just checking in on me, how I'm doing. Stuff like that really goes a long way and kept pushing me to come back healthy."

Rodgers, 28, was the Astros' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2016 and made his big league debut that September. He finished 12-4 that season with a 2.86 ERA, 23 walks, 116 strikeouts, two complete games and one shutout in 22 starts for Triple-A Fresno. He made three starts in '17 before his surgery.

This Spring Training represents a renewed outlook for the former third-round Draft pick and Houston native. Getting the Grapefruit League opener would seem to be a good place to start.

"To be rewarded with that is awesome," Rodgers said. "[I'll] just try to take advantage of this opportunity and showcase what I've got."

Team party

At his annual Spring Training party Tuesday night at his Floridian golf course, owner Jim Crane reminded Astros players and coaches that it will take most of them to accomplish their goals for 2019, even those who do not crack the Opening Day roster when camp breaks in a little more than a month.

"We've got a deep team, and it's a long season, and all the guys in the room, we might need every single one of them," Crane said. "Just stay focused and if you don't make the team, you know that doesn't mean you won't play."

Crane has held a team party as his golf course since the Astros relocated to West Palm Beach from Kissimmee two years ago.

"It was a good turnout," Crane said. "Guys had fun. We got them in there and out pretty quick. We talked about the team and what we want to do, and everyone's on board. We're ready to go."

Swing away

It's much too early in Spring Training to gauge a pitcher's effectiveness while facing teammates during batting practice, mainly because a hitter's timing doesn't just magically appear after a long hiatus -- it takes a while to get it back.

From that perspective, few who were involved in Forrest Whitley's BP session -- including Whitley himself -- read too much into his time on the mound toward the end of Wednesday's workout.

But it's fair to say the session, consisting largely of swings and misses and weak contact, went well.

"He obviously throws hard, and he has a lot of pitches for a guy that throws hard," said George Springer, one of Whitley's BP opponents. "It was good to [face] him, especially early in camp. I like that. I think he's going to be good."

Said Whitley: "I felt like all of the pitches were working. I was able to locate a little over half of those cutters/changeups, two pitches that are difficult to locate this time of year. I was able to do that. But it's hard to read live results. I came here ready; these guys are still adjusting to live pitching."

This was Whitley's first batting practice session of the spring. Veterans Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander also threw BP, each for the second time.

Quotable

"I think they'll stick to baseball for the most part. I saw some pretty ugly golf swings. And a couple good ones." -- Hinch, on the attendees of Crane's team party

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.