WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The reality is setting in for Astros star second baseman José Altuve, who's shared a clubhouse with close friend Marwin Gonzalez for the previous seven springs. They became confidants on and off the field, which is what makes this spring so strange.
Gonzalez, whose locker has typically been next to Altuve's during the spring and regular season, remains an unsigned free agent, along with pitcher Dallas Keuchel, another longtime teammate. That leaves Altuve and Brad Peacock as the only remaining members of the Astros' 111-loss season of 2013.
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Houston has 60 players in camp but hasn't issued jersey Nos. 9 (Gonzalez) or 60 (Keuchel) -- at least this year. Still, the reality has sunk for Altuve that he's living in a post-Marwin world.
"This is a little bit different," Altuve said. "Dallas and Marwin are still in free agency. We don't know what's going to happen with them. I'm pretty sure they're going to make their team better wherever they play."
Although it's a long shot, Altuve said he's holding out hope Gonzalez can return to the Astros.
"The first time I tried to talk to him about this free-agent stuff, he cut me off right away," Altuve said. "He said, 'I don't want to talk about it.' I was like, 'Yeah, whatever.'"
Peacock borrows change from Hall of Famer
Peacock, who was used primarily as a reliever last year for the first time in his career after bouncing between the bullpen and rotation during his breakout season in 2017, has started throwing a changeup. And not just any changeup.
The veteran right-hander discovered the changeup grip of Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman on the Twitter account @PitchingNinja and started toying with it. When you have a high-spin fastball that's up in the zone, a changeup can be an effective weapon.
"It showed the grip of him teaching kids how to use the grip," said Peacock, who will be stretched out this spring to battle for the fifth spot in the rotation. "It feels great."
Peacock throws primarily fastball and slider and struggled with his slider last year toward the end of the season. According to Statcast™, 40.2 percent of the pitches he threw last year were sliders, and Peacock says he became too reliant on them.
Peacock lives in West Palm Beach and has been working out at the team's facility since Jan. 10. He's thrown six bullpen sessions already while mixing in the changeup and has been working with bullpen coach Josh Miller on the new pitch.
The Astros are relatively healthy as they start camp, and that includes Altuve (right knee surgery) and Alex Bregman (right elbow surgery). Altuve arrived at camp Tuesday and said Wednesday he's not limited in baseball activities, though manager AJ Hinch will bring him and Bregman along slowly.
"You get knee surgery and sometimes you don't feel really comfortable about the future, but I really like where I'm at this upcoming season," said Altuve, who underwent surgery Oct. 19 to repair a patella avulsion fracture. "It's a great opportunity for us to win another World Series, and we're going to do everything we can to make it happen."
Bregman had surgery Jan. 11 to remove bone chips in his elbow, reported to camp and is working out.
Right-hander Francis Martes is throwing a baseball 90 feet after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August and will rehab much of the season.
Meanwhile, Lance McCullers Jr., who had Tommy John surgery following the season, and pitcher Joe Smith, who ruptured his left Achilles in December and will be out for the first half of the season, are both expected to report on time and be involved as much as they can, Hinch said.
Chirinos learning lay of the land
Veteran catcher Robinson Chirinos, who signed with the Astros in December after six seasons with the Rangers, arrived four or five days early to camp and has been getting up to speed on his new pitchers. He caught Justin Verlander's bullpen Tuesday for the first time.
"I'm trying to learn all the guys and ask questions and see what they look like, how they feel and what they want from me," Chirinos said. "We're here together for one reason, and it's to get back to the championship again. That's why we're here."
Chirinos said the most important thing for catchers is to have good relationships with their pitchers. Chirinos and Max Stassi are expected to be the two big league catchers this year. Minor Leaguers Garrett Stubbs, Lorenzo Quintana and Chuckie Robinson are also in camp.
"My relationship is going to make a difference for myself and the whole club," Chirinos said.