KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros left-handed relief pitcher Sergio Escalona, who injured his elbow swinging a bat early in camp, was examined by team doctors Thursday and was scheduled to undergo an MRI, manager Brad Mills said.

Escalona's elbow didn't respond as well as the Astros would like following his live batting practice session Wednesday.

"Escalona's arm, after he threw yesterday, just wasn't where he feels it needs to be, and really our doctors and staff feels it needs to be," Mills said. "We're going to get him some more tests on that to see where he's at, so he's probably not going to throw for a while with that."

Mills said left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, who's been dealing with back stiffness, is feeling better. Infielder Angel Sanchez, who injured his back falling down some stairs last month, continues to improve. He hit soft toss in the batting cage Thursday and fielded ground balls on each side of his body.

Mills also said third baseman Jimmy Paredes, a switch-hitter, was able to take batting practice from the left side of the plate only. He's been dealing with wrist inflammation since January.

"We're going to have to monitor him real close," Mills said. "He's still a ways away."

Lyles hopes curveball takes him to next level

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros right-hander Jordan Lyles has been tinkering with a new grip on his curveball and has been thrilled with the results so far, both during his bullpen sessions early in camp and his two live batting practice appearances.

"Hopefully, it could be a big pitch for me," he said. "Having that curveball could be another pitch to take me to the next level."

The new grip was something Lyles picked up while throwing off flat ground.

"I knew I had to work on my curveball," he said. "That was the biggest thing this spring, was to get that curveball in my back pocket that I feel comfortable with throwing like I do my cutter and changeup in any counts. If I could have four [quality] pitches, that could be a big plus."

Lyles, who threw 51.7 percent fastballs last year and 23.9 percent changeups, mixed in his curveball about as much as his changeup. He used the curve early in the counts to get a quick strike or tried to bury it in the dirt late in counts when he needed a strikeout.

"It's coming along," he said. "It's not where I want it to be right now. Like I said, I just started throwing it and it's coming along pretty nicely. I like the bite and spin. I throw with Kyle [Weiland] and he says the spin is really good, and it's shown more promise than other curveballs I've had in the past."

Mills in favor of plan to expand postseason

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Add Astros manager Brad Mills to the list of people who like the idea of baseball perhaps adding another team to the playoffs.

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are working to meet a Thursday deadline to expand the playoffs by adding two additional Wild Card teams overall, creating a one-game first-round playoff in each league, beginning with the 2012 postseason.

"It's going to be good for the all the fans," said Mills, who spent six years as bench coach of the Red Sox before coming to Houston. "Even though you're adding one more spot, you're creating a lot of interest for more teams in both leagues. I'm definitely in favor of that. If I'm not mistaken, it's going to be a one-game playoff, and those are always fun."

Under the current format, three division winners and one Wild Card team in each league make the playoffs. The Astros will be moved to the American League beginning in 2013, creating three five-team divisions in each league.

MLB has been studying how to expand the playoffs for at least two years, and it became a hot topic of discussion for Commissioner Bud Selig's 14-man special committee that has been studying on-field improvements of the sport.

Versatility is veteran Bixler's trump card

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- One of the most versatile players in camp with the Astros this year is veteran Brian Bixler, a non-roster invitee who is with his fourth Major League organization in eight years as a professional.

Bixler, claimed off waivers by the Astros in November, can play third base, shortstop, second base and all three outfield positions. He's played 659 career games at shortstop in the Major and Minor Leagues, which is his most for any position. He had never played the outfield prior to 2009 but has been getting some work in the outfield this spring.

"I think just being able to find a spot and go wherever they ask you to go is a challenge, specifically when you play a lot of different spots," Bixler, 29, said. "If you're prepared, you put yourself in a good position to be ready for whatever situation comes up."

That versatility can only help Bixler crack the roster in a camp where there are 16 infielders and 13 outfielders and only 11 spots to fill.

"I think there's an opportunity, and I just want to come in and show my versatility and what I can do from that utility spot and show them I belong," said Bixler, who hit .205 in 83 at-bats with the Nationals last year.