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Astros express appreciation for Marwin

@alysonfooter
February 23, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- All speculation -- and hope, on behalf of Houston fans and a handful of players -- that the Astros would re-sign super-utility man Marwin Gonzalez disappeared Friday with the news that he reportedly signed a two-year deal with the Minnesota Twins. The news of Gonzalez's

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- All speculation -- and hope, on behalf of Houston fans and a handful of players -- that the Astros would re-sign super-utility man Marwin Gonzalez disappeared Friday with the news that he reportedly signed a two-year deal with the Minnesota Twins.

The news of Gonzalez's reported two-year, $21 million deal didn't come as a shock to second baseman Jose Altuve, who, as Gonzalez's best friend on the team, was privy to what was going on this offseason while the first-time free agent sought a long-term deal.

"We talked a lot even before that," Altuve said Saturday. "I was keeping up with him during the offseason. I kind of knew what was going on. I'm really happy for him. He's definitely going to make his team better."

Gonzalez, acquired by the Astros during the Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings in 2011 -- the first transaction made by newly hired general manager Jeff Luhnow -- played seven seasons for the Astros. He had several clutch hits along the way, and he cemented his place in Houston sports lore with a game-tying homer in the top of the ninth inning in Game 2 of the 2017 World Series.

Manager AJ Hinch had that in mind when he texted a congratulatory message to Gonzalez.

"We're forever linked at the most special time of my career," Hinch said. "We don't win the World Series without him, we don't have the same team without him during the stretch while he was here."

Hinch pointed to the outpouring of appreciation from Gonzalez's Astros teammates as proof how much he was loved in Houston.

"I'm very grateful to have been his manager," Hinch said. "You don't know in this game if you can ever overlap again but he knows how important he was to this franchise and how important this franchise was to him early in his career."

Said Altuve: "He was our savior many, many times when Carlos [Correa] or me or whoever wasn't able to play. He could cover that position, sometimes even better than me. He was really good."

Easing in the regulars

Saturday's Astros lineup for the Grapefruit League opener was essentially devoid of Astros regulars, by design. With split-squad games on the docket Sunday -- half the team will play the Braves at home, half will travel to Port St. Lucie to meet the Mets -- Hinch sees no logic in a heavy workload for regular starters this early in spring.

The Astros have 33 games scheduled between now and Opening Day, including two exhibition games at Minute Maid Park on March 25 and 26. Everyone will receive the necessary number of plate appearances to be ready for the season.

"It's probably the worst-possible scenario for the beginning of camp," Hinch said of Sunday's split-squad contests. "I don't love playing guys this early."

Hinch said everyone will play Sunday with the exception of Altuve, who's slated to DH during Monday's home game with the Mets, and Alex Bregman, who is progressing well after undergoing minor elbow surgery last month and will likely see his first game action next weekend.

Several Astros starters will see action at DH this spring, but not Bregman. When he's ready to play, Hinch said. he'll assume his position at third base.

Rodgers' spring debut

Brady Rodgers threw 37 pitches, including 24 strikes, in his Spring Training debut against the Nationals on Saturday. Of the two hits allowed, one was a leadoff single to Adam Eaton that Rodgers chalked up to normal jitters.

"It kind of hit me that it had been two years since I last pitched in a Spring Training game," he said. "I was definitely just anxious to get out there and I kind of settled down and felt like myself the second inning."

Rodgers, who had Tommy John surgery almost two years ago, was happy with his fastball location and the quality of his changeup and noted that he and catcher Max Stassi were in sync throughout the outing.

"Stassi did a phenomenal job back there giving me a good target to throw to as he always does," he said. "He called a bunch of pitches and I think I shook him off maybe once or twice."

Coming up

The Astros will host the Braves on Sunday at 12:05 p.m. CT at FITTEAM Park, with left-hander Framber Valdez, auditioning for the fifth starter spot, getting the start. The Braves will counter with right-hander Mike Foltynewicz.

Right-hander Rogelio Armenteros will start the 12:10 CT road game in Port St. Lucie. The Astros will face Mets ace right-hander Jacob deGrom.

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