HOUSTON -- Astros manager Brad Mills is pleased to be able to carry a third catcher for the month of September, a luxury that's hard to manage the rest of the regular season. J.R. Towles was recalled when rosters were expanded to join Humberto Quintero and Carlos Corporan behind the plate.
"Any time you have a third catcher, it helps you sometimes if you need to pinch-run or pinch-hit in the ballgame to be able to put yourself in position to score a run and win a game," Mills said.
It's rare these days for teams to carry three catchers prior to rosters expanding because it leaves them short-handed either at the infield and outfield positions or, most likely, means they can only carry 11 pitchers. Mills said finding a third catcher who can also play first base and the outfield is the key.
"I know in Spring Training we had Towles take some ground balls at third and ground balls at first and he even had an outfield glove as well," Mills said. "Having that type of individual that's able to do that as a third catcher is really big, but you have to find the right guy."
Astros add seven players as rosters expand
HOUSTON -- The Astros added seven players to their roster Thursday, recalling right-handed pitchers Lucas Harrell and Jordan Lyles, infielders Chris Johnson and Brett Wallace, outfielder J.B. Shuck and catcher J.R. Towles from Triple-A Oklahoma City. Right-hander Enerio Del Rosario was activated from the disabled list.
Astros general manager Ed Wade said the moves made Thursday were the extent of the Astros' callups in September. All seven players were in uniform for Friday's game against the Brewers, with Harrell making his first start for Houston.
Wade had previously said Harrell, Lyles and Shuck would return in September. Johnson and Wallace were Opening Day starters at third base and first base, respectively, but were sent down July 31. Towles opened the season with Houston before being sent down July 6.
Del Rosario had been on the disabled list since Aug. 6 with a right shoulder strain. He was 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA in 44 relief appearances for Houston this season and made four relief appearances at Oklahoma City while on Minor League rehab.
Shuck played most of August in an Astros uniform and hit .250 with a .340 on-base percentage in 16 games before being optioned back to Oklahoma City on Aug. 24. Towles hit .276 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 35 games for Oklahoma City after being optioned to Triple-A.
Johnson, Wallace thrilled to return to Houston
HOUSTON -- Chris Johnson and Brett Wallace were thrilled to be back with the Astros after being recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City on Thursday night when roster were expanded. After beginning the season as Opening Day starters, they were sent down July 31.
Astros manager Brad Mills said both Johnson and Wallace will get some playing time, but the starting jobs at first base and third base remain with Carlos Lee and Jimmy Paredes, respectively.
"Those guys have been playing pretty well, and I think they deserve to get the bulk of the time," Mills said. "That's not saying C.J. and Wallace aren't going to play, but at the same time these guys have been doing a real good job."
Wallace appeared in 28 games at Oklahoma City and hit .356 with a .437 on-base percentage, 10 doubles, one home run and 28 RBIs. He was batting .268 with four homers and 26 RBIs for the Astros before getting sent down.
"This is where I want to be," Wallace said. "I got a chance to go down there and had some at-bats and found that rhythm and comfort level and I'm feeling good at the plate again. The games aren't as fast down there, and you can work on some things. I can repeat my swing a little bit more, and now that I found it I'm hitting the ball better and staying on pitches longer."
Johnson struggled early at Oklahoma City before coming on strong. He batted .272 with seven doubles, four home runs and 15 RBIs at Triple-A and says he's coming back in a better frame of mind.
"Mentally, I feel good and I feel like I went down and got all that stuff out of my head," he said. "It was good to do that in a non-stress environment, and I think it really helped my game."
Lyles rejoins Astros, will pitch out of 'pen
HOUSTON -- As expected, 20-year-old right-hander Jordan Lyles rejoined the team Friday after being called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City. Lyles made 15 starts for the Astros before he was sent down on Aug. 21 to work out of the bullpen in an effort to limit his innings.
He admitted the idea of working in the bullpen was strange, but it's not one he'll need to warm up to too much. He'll be back in the rotation next year.
"It was a little weird," he said. "I was just trying to get adjusted to that routine. But once you get out there, it's still pitching. It wasn't too difficult once I got on the mound. The biggest thing was just to get out there."
Lyles was rocked in his first outing at Oklahoma City on Aug. 25, allowing five hits and four runs in 1 1/3 innings. He bounced back Monday and pitched two scoreless innings, allowing two hits.
"I just didn't make my pitches that first outing, and when I did they just found holes," he said. "Not much I can do after it leaves my hand. The second outing, I was ready to go in there and was able to get some outs. I just want to stay healthy and put up zeroes and get some outs for the team to help us win."
Left-hander Sergio Escalona, who's been on the disabled list since Aug. 22 with left elbow tendinitis, is scheduled to throw in the bullpen on Saturday. If all goes well, he'll throw in a game during a rehab stint at Triple-A Oklahoma City on Monday and be activated Tuesday.
Ty Van Burkleo, the Astros roving hitting instructor in the Minor Leagues, will be with the team for the next week. In addition to calling up players, teams are permitted to bring up a Minor League coach to assist with the extra bodies at batting practice.