KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- There are few relationships more important on the field than the synergy between shortstop and second base, which is why Jed Lowrie and Jose Altuve spent some time last week talking about where they like the ball to be fed during forceouts at second base. This is the first year the two have worked together.
"I think it's really important to have that chemistry," Lowrie said. "I think it starts now. As long as you keep those lines of communication open and are honest with each other, it will work out really well."
Altuve said the two have been on the same page so far, and they both benefitted from coming to camp well ahead of the mandatory reporting date.
"We've talked a little bit the last couple of days," Altuve said. "We talked where he wants the ball for the double play, where I want the ball for the double play. I think it's something important because it's going to help us make it a lot easier to make plays."
Lowrie has been thoroughly impressed with the 5-foot-5 Altuve.
"A lot of guys told me I was too small to play," Lowrie said. "I know it gives you a chip on your shoulder, and you want to go prove everybody wrong. It's something that probably motivates him because he seems like he's a really good player."
Latin Astros being afforded English education
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- With more than two dozen players on the Astros' Spring Training roster hailing from Latin America, veterans Livan Hernandez and Carlos Lee led a meeting on Monday with all the Latin players to stress the importance of learning the English language.
The Astros have a dedicated English teacher on site in Spring Training who works with the Minor League players and has begun to work with more Major League players, in either a classroom setting or one-on-one sessions. Players in the organization have an English teacher available at every stop in the Minor Leagues.
"You look at how many players we have on our Major League roster and in camp that are first-language Spanish, and a lot of them have raced through the Minor Leagues and have gotten here pretty quickly, and haven't had time to necessarily learn the language the way they might have," said Astros general manger Jeff Luhnow, who was born in Mexico and is bilingual.
"We wanted to convey the message we're here to support them and we have a teacher in place for whatever their goals are -- if it's just conversational or to be able to read and write. I was hoping Carlos and Livan would convey the message of how important it is to be at least conversational and ultimately read and write in English, and they did a great job. The players got the message."
Lee, a native of Panama who has had success in the ranching business in the U.S., stressed to the young players the importance of learning the language.
"I speak pretty good English, and I know how to read and write," he said. "I think it's very important to do it. There's a lot of things going on besides baseball. You never know when baseball comes to an end, and if you can speak or read or write [in English], it might open up another opportunity. You've got to take advantage. The team is trying to help them out and is providing a teacher, and I told the guys to take advantage of the situation. I didn't have that when I was younger."
Mills puts Bogusevic in center field mix
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros plan to give Brian Bogusevic a good look in center field this spring, putting him in competition with Jordan Schafer and Jason Bourgeois for the starting nod. Bogusevic started 31 games in right field last year after Hunter Pence was traded, but has some experience in center and enough athleticism to play the position.
What's more, the Astros have Jack Cust and Travis Buck capable of playing right field.
"His ability gives him the opportunity to be able to play center or right, but we want this guy to step up and be an everyday starter for us and there's no reason he won't be able to," Astros manager Brad Mills said of Bogusevic. "We all saw what he can do at times last year."
Bogusevic, a former first-round pick as a pitcher who made the switch to outfield in 2008, understands the importance of being versatile enough to play different positions, and is more than willing to give center field a shot.
"There's a lot of guys going for open spots, so I think everybody is trying to make a good impression all around," he said.
Cust can play in left and right and will get some ground balls at first base. Top prospect Jonathan Singleton will also get some time in the outfield, Mills said. Versatile infielders Matt Downs and Brian Bixler will also do some work in the outfield.
Regarding Schafer, Mills said: "He seems like he's on a mission."
Barnes hones skills in Australian league
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- When he wasn't able to get a job playing winter ball in Latin America last winter, outfielder Brandon Barnes decided to head a little farther south. Make that, a lot farther south.
Barnes, a non-roster player who split time last year at Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City, spent six weeks in Australia last offseason playing for the Sydney Blue Box of the six-team Australian Baseball League.
"I kind of went there on a whim," he said. "I was trying to get a Latin American job and my agent said there was an opening in Australia."
The league, which is a partnership between the Australian Baseball Federation, Major League Baseball and the Australian Sports Commission, features a 45-game schedule. The league just completed its second season and had a handful of Major Leaguers competing.
"It was unbelievable," Barnes said. "We had three off-days a week and you get to hang out at the beach for three days. We played Thursday, Friday and Sunday, and a doubleheader on Saturday, but it was great competition."
Astros manager Brad Mills announced the starting pitchers for the team's first two Grapefruit League games, with veteran Livan Hernandez pitching Saturday against the Washington Nationals -- his former team -- at Kissimmee. Left-hander J.A. Happ will face the Nats on Sunday in Viera, Fla.
Astros pitchers will take a break from throwing live batting practice on Tuesday, giving some of the pitching groups two days off between times on the mound.
The Astros haven't been able to successfully schedule extra "B" games against other clubs, something they wanted to do to create more innings for all of the arms they have in camp. Mills said some pitchers might have to throw in Minor League games. "You'd rather have 'B' games against other teams, but that didn't quite work out," he said.
Infielder Angel Sanchez was again forced to watch from the sidelines on Monday because of his ailing back. Sanchez did some light toss, but didn't participate in the team's defensive drills. He said the back is improving.
Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, who had been slowed by a tight back last week, threw his scheduled living batting practice sessions on Monday without incident.