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03/24/08 3:23 PM ET

Ausmus to be emergency infielder

Backup catcher to add extra duties away from home plate

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Brad Ausmus is most comfortable crouching behind the plate, but he's also a fixture on the field as one of many "infielders" taking grounders during batting practice.

Ausmus enjoys fielding grounders with his teammates, something he's done regularly since A-ball. But he's been taking grounders with more frequency lately, and for good reason. In addition to backup catching duties, Ausmus will be considered an "emergency infielder" for the Astros this season.

Ausmus has played the infield in the past, usually during a blowout game or one that goes into multiple extra innings. It's likely he'd be used in the same capacity this year, but the circumstances have changed a bit. The Astros may start the season with three catchers, making it imperative that that one of them be of use to the club in another capacity.

J.R. Towles is in line to win the starting job, but Humberto Quintero may make the team as well. To send him to the Minors, Quintero would first have to pass through waivers. It's unlikely the Astros would be able to sneak him through.

Carrying three catchers is highly unconventional, but if one of them -- namely, Ausmus -- can assist the team as an infielder, the club would be less limited.

"That way, you can move them to another position and use the third catcher to pinch-hit without having to worry about an injury," Ausmus said.

Manager Cecil Cooper noted Ausmus' penchant for taking ground balls during batting practice and said it can't hurt to have a solid backup plan.

"You never know," Cooper said. "Emergency. If we're in the 14th, 13th, 12th [inning] and we've used pinch-hitters and he can play third, second, first ... he's done a good job. He takes ground balls every day. It's his passion."

Said Ausmus: "It keeps me moving, and I get an understanding what those positions are like, too -- what it's like to play third, what it's like to play second."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.