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Gattis behind plate for first time this spring

Astros vet shoring up catching skills, preparing to back up McCann
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- In his first start behind the plate this spring, Astros catcher Evan Gattis was hoping to be able to test out his arm. That would require some traffic on the bases, which starting pitcher Joe Musgrove and reliever Ashur Tolliver held down in the four innings Gattis played in Friday's 7-6 win over the Mets.

With Musgrove allowing just one hit and hitting a batter in three innings and Tolliver allowing a homer and a walk in one inning, Gattis' return to catching was uneventful, if not a sign the ailing shoulder that required him to get an anti-inflammatory shot early in camp has healed.

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- In his first start behind the plate this spring, Astros catcher Evan Gattis was hoping to be able to test out his arm. That would require some traffic on the bases, which starting pitcher Joe Musgrove and reliever Ashur Tolliver held down in the four innings Gattis played in Friday's 7-6 win over the Mets.

With Musgrove allowing just one hit and hitting a batter in three innings and Tolliver allowing a homer and a walk in one inning, Gattis' return to catching was uneventful, if not a sign the ailing shoulder that required him to get an anti-inflammatory shot early in camp has healed.

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Gattis, who had appeared in six games at designated hitter, should see more action at catcher as the spring progresses and get plenty of chances to throw to the bases.

"I think I just need the 'There he goes' factor," Gattis said pregame. "I can throw as hard as I can and I can warm it up and stuff like that and just regular throwing program, but seeing a runner go or something like that will be good. I feel like the adrenaline and game situation and speed of the game will speed it up."

Gattis didn't catch for the Astros in 2015, but made the move back behind the plate last year. He missed almost all of Spring Training following hernia surgery a year ago, and didn't get the reps behind the plate the team wanted. He made 49 starts at catcher in '16 following a crash course on a rehab assignment at Double-A Corpus Christi.

Veteran Brian McCann has replaced Jason Castro as the starting catcher, so Gattis will be the backup.

"Initially, I would say McCann will look like more of the everyday guy and Gattis will play maybe a touch more than a traditional backup, but will get plenty of time," manager A.J. Hinch said. "I think what can change that is how the DH plays. Obviously, the performances will play. McCann will catch a majority of the game. Gattis will catch the balance of them, and as the schedule permits and the health permits, we will adjust accordingly."

Gattis drew raves for his arm strength last year, throwing out 46.4 percent (13-of-28) of attempted basestealers. He admits he'd like to improve on blocking balls, and that's vital on a staff that has pitchers who rely on curves, including Lance McCullers Jr., Charlie Morton and Collin McHugh.

"I want to block better, block and receive," he said. "I think they'll kind of go hand in hand. Maybe they'll just help each other. If I can be better blocking, I think I'll be able to receive better instead of panicking for a ball and miss a call, getting a strike called a ball."

Hinch, a former big league catcher who works often with Gattis, said the 30-year-old expects perfection when he's behind the plate.

"His receiving is really good down and over the plate," Hinch said. "He's working on some of the perimeters of the plate. We're trying to work on a few things with his blocking. He threw exceptionally well last year, which coming into last season he was the least comfortable with. He's made great strides, and pitchers love throwing to him."

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

Houston Astros, Evan Gattis