WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Knowing that Spring Training was likely to be abbreviated this year, Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel gave up pizza, soda and other unhealthy habits to make sure he didn’t have to worry about getting in shape in March. He dropped 15 pounds, and if his first two games of the spring are any indication, it’s paid off.
Gurriel slugged a fifth-inning grand slam off reliever Sean Doolittle in Thursday’s 10-8 win over against the Nationals at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches -- his second home run in as many games, after mashing a two-run blast against the Cardinals in his first game of the spring Wednesday.
“I feel great,” he said. “I knew it was a shortened Spring Training this year and I came in in better shape just to take advantage of it.”
Gurriel also worked out in the offseason with his brother, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. of the Blue Jays. The family patriarch, Cuban baseball legend Lourdes Gurriel Sr., was in the stands on Thursday.
“Working with my brother in the offseason, I tried to make it as close as possible to a game so when I came here, I was better prepared,” Yuli said. “If I don’t play well, then I won’t be able to sleep at night.”
Gurriel, 37, found the fountain of youth last season, winning his first career batting title by hitting .319 -- and also earning his first career Gold Glove for his defense at first base. Gurriel, a free agent at season’s end, said he would like another extension to return to Houston.
“I know it’s my last year here, and for older players I know it’s harder to get deals and I came in better shape than I was before to be ready,” he said. “I take care of myself and take care of my body and my family. I eat really healthy. I live for baseball, so I do my best to be able to play as long as possible."
Pitchers getting in backfield work
Astros manager Dusty Baker has compared the shortened Spring Training to cramming for a final in college, which means Astros pitchers have been cramming in work in Minor League games on the backfields at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
Starting pitchers José Urquidy, Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier have yet to pitch in a Grapefruit League game, but all three have put in work on the backfields.
“They look pretty good,” Baker said. “Anywhere you can throw is better than not throwing at all. … It’s hard throwing those games against the Minor Leaguers. They’re just swinging, and you don’t know them and it’s hard to set them up. … The main thing is getting the work in.”
Valdez threw two scoreless innings a Minor League game on Wednesday, Urquidy threw two innings (30 pitches) in a Minor League game against the Nationals on Thursday and Javier threw a simulated game Thursday morning. Urquidy was originally scheduled to start Thursday’s Grapefruit League game, but concerns about a possible rainout (that wound up a 35-minute rain delay) changed the Astros' plans.
Urquidy, who was on the injured list twice last year with shoulder issues, says he’s fine physically.
“I was throwing all my stuff through the zone and attacking, and had a pretty good outing,” he said.
Baker said starter Luis Garcia will make his Grapefruit League debut Sunday against the Marlins, in a game that will be started by Jake Odorizzi.