KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Catcher Jason Castro and infielder Tommy Manzella -- both of whom were rookies last year -- will share the responsibilities as the Astros' co-representatives to the Major League Baseball Players Association this season.
"It just kind of fell onto us," said Castro, who attended Stanford. "We've been kind of splitting it 50-50. He was able to go to some meetings I wasn't able to go to. He thinks he has the leg up on me right now, but we'll see about that."
Castro and Manzella were co-alternates last year to player rep Tim Byrdak, who isn't on the club anymore. The two players toured the MLBPA offices in New York when the Astros played at the Mets last year, and they are taking their assignments seriously.
Manzella, a graduate of Tulane, attended MLBPA meetings at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in December.
"Jason was in school in the fall, so I was actually the one who was able to attend," Manzella said. "It was a really interesting couple of days for me, because I was able to learn a lot of things. It was one of those things where you kind of take everything in."
Figueroa to miss time after granddad's death
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros pitcher Nelson Figueroa expects to miss Friday's workout to fly to New York for the funeral of his grandfather, who passed away early Tuesday following an illness. Gregorio Figueroa was 84 years old.
"It's almost a relief," Figueroa said. "He passed in his sleep, and it kind of took the decision out of my family's hands about what to do, so nobody had to feel bad about that part of it. It's a sad time, but we're relieved he's not suffering anymore or in pain. It's time to go home and celebrate his life rather than mourn his death."
Figueroa, who's battling for a spot in the rotation, plans to leave following Thursday's workout and hopes to return to the club on Saturday, though the plans could change depending on when he has to pitch. He said his grandfather, known as "Welo," helped him develop a love of baseball.
"He instilled that hard-work mentality into my father and he instilled that into me, and dad still works as hard as ever," he said. "I go and play this game with a workman mentality and take nothing for granted, and realize I'm blessed to play this game. I've paid my dues time and time again, and will continue to do so in [his grandfather's] honor. We're a very close family, and this will make us even tighter."
Astros elect to keep Abad in bullpen
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros general manager Ed Wade said Tuesday that left-hander Fernando Abad isn't in the hunt for the final spot in the rotation. Not that Abad isn't impressive, but after talking with the staff, Wade said the decision was made to keep him in the bullpen for now.
"We think the role he's capable of playing in the bullpen as a key lefty for us probably takes precedent at this point in his career," Wade said. "It doesn't mean at some point he's not going to be a very successful starter, but for the time being, we're going to focus on him as a reliever."
Abad, who posted a 2.84 ERA in 22 games in relief in his Major League debut last year, started 10 games in the Dominican Winter League and was 3-1 with a 3.42 ERA. That forced the Astros to discuss putting him in the mix for a spot in the rotation.
With Abad out of the picture, those competing for the fifth spot in the rotation are Nelson Figueroa, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Jordan Lyles, Aneury Rodriguez and Lance Pendleton.
Astros meet with umpiring crew
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros met with representatives from Major League Baseball's on-field operations prior to Tuesday's workout to discuss some umpiring issues and go over a few minor rules changes for 2011.
"They just talked to us about different things going on, things they're going to emphasize, like pace of games and things of that nature," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "We talked about strike zones and things of that nature."
Mills said fielders will no longer be required to wear gloves that are white or gray, a rule that's already in place for pitchers.
"It's so they can see if balls are trapped or caught," Mills said.
Astros players will meet Wednesday afternoon with representatives from Major League Baseball Players Association.
The Astros announced left-hander Wandy Rodriguez will start the first Grapefruit League game of the season Monday at 12:05 p.m. CT against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Brett Myers will start the home opener at Osceola County Stadium the following day against the Braves at 12:05 p.m. ... Right-hander Alberto Arias didn't throw live batting practice with the rest of his pitching groups Tuesday while he nursed tightness in his throwing shoulder. ... Manager Brad Mills threw batting practice Tuesday for the first time this spring to hitters Chris Johnson, Brett Wallace and Tommy Manzella. "I tried to hold a little back," he said. ... Second baseman Bill Hall is expected to report to camp Wednesday. He has been with his fiancé following the birth of their child.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.