LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Astros have several intriguing roster decisions to make in the 10 days prior to their March 31 opener, against the Rangers, and those have been made even more intriguing by the performance of infielder Brandon Laird.
Laird, who was claimed off waivers from the Yankees last September, began play on Thursday hitting .350 with four homers and 10 RBIs in 40 at-bats, getting time at first and third base. The 25-year-old isn't on the 40-man roster, but he's making a strong case to make the club.
He strengthened that case on Thursday, taking Detroit ace Justin Verlander deep for a two-run homer.
"I feel it's going pretty well," Laird said. "I'm doing whatever they ask me to do. At the plate right now, I'm feeling pretty good and confident and just getting good pitches, just getting in good hitters' counts and putting good swings on it."
Laird made his Major League debut with the Yankees in 2011, appearing in 22 games, but he's never been on an Opening Day roster.
"That's what I play for," he said. "To make the team out of spring is something I've always looked forward to. With the Yankees, it was kind of tough over there. I've been here and there's a lot of opportunity, and whatever happens, happens, and I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing and hopefully in the next week or two, we'll find out."
Laird was drafted in the 27th round out of Cypress College in California and is a career .272 hitter in the Minor Leagues with 100 homers and 438 RBIs. He appeared in 17 games for the Astros last year and hit .257 with a homer and four RBIs.
Newly named No. 2 hitter Wallace has pinched nerve
LAKELAND, Fla. -- On Thursday, manager Bo Porter said the No. 2 spot in the lineup will be occupied by first baseman Brett Wallace, who left Thursday's game with a pinched nerve in his left trapezius after diving back into first base in the first inning.
Wallace could have stayed in the game but was removed as a precaution.
"When I dove back, I jammed my shoulder in the bag and jammed my neck a little bit and had a little spasm in my trap," Wallace said. "I feel pretty good, though, I think. It was more precautionary to come out and get some treatment and ice it up."
Wallace has never dealt with an injury to that area of his body but doesn't expect it to be a lingering issue.
"It was sore when it happened, but it's kind of gone away now," he said. "I told Bo if it was in-season, honestly, I could have stayed in. I felt fine. Being spring, we wanted to make sure I got in and got treatment and stuff. I feel good, and I think I'll be good tomorrow."
Brandon Laird took over for Wallace and homered in his first at-bat.
As for Wallace batting second, it will be primarily when the Astros are facing righties. Wallace, a left-handed hitter, actually hit higher against lefties last year (.273) than right-handers (.247), but for his career he's a better hitter against right-handers (.252) than lefties (.241). He's expected to split time at first with Carlos Pena and perhaps Nate Freiman if he makes the club.
"We want to try to maximize our ability to get guys on base at the top of the lineup so the guys we have in the middle of the lineup are hitting with men on base more often," Porter said. "We have guys in the middle of the lineup who can change the game in one swing."
Against a left-hander, the No. 2 spot could be occupied by several players, including Marwin Gonzalez and Tyler Greene, both of whom are battling for the shortstop job.
"When you look at the lineup and how it stacks up, we'll probably have those guys in the middle of the lineup that can drive the ball out of the ballpark and have the guys that can handle the bat more so down in the eight, nine area," Porter said.
Harrell encouraged by start vs. Tigers
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Lucas Harrell bemoaned the fact he had trouble throwing strikes on Thursday night against the Tigers, but the fact he was still able to deliver a strong start was certainly a good sign.
Harrell worked five innings and allowed three hits, two runs and three walks in his second-to-last Grapefruit League start. He has allowed three earned runs in his last 16 innings of work.
"I was struggling throwing strikes," Harrell said. "I was leaking out a little bit early and my arm wasn't getting up, so it's something I'll definitely work on next time. I feel like my sinker was pretty good, but just when you get behind, you have to throw pitches guys can hit. I felt a couple of times I got myself into trouble."
Harrell is happy with how his changeup is coming along, as well as his curveball. His sinker, his bread-and-butter pitch, was sharp on Thursday, but his cutter was up in the zone.
"It's something I'm really going to address over the next three or four days and make sure I get that right going into the season," he said. "I have to trust my stuff and work on getting ground balls early, get some early contact. I got in too many hitters' counts, and I have to let my defense work for me."
Harrell will start for the Astros on April 2 against the Rangers, who have announced that Yu Darvish will start that night.
Corporan getting best from pitchers and his bat
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Offensive production is a bonus for backup catcher Carlos Corporan, who's more concerned about getting the best out of his pitchers. Corporan contributed on both ends on Thursday, hitting a pair of long homers in Houston's 7-2 win over Detroit at Joker Marchant Stadium.
The switch-hitting Corporan, who had only one career Major League at-bat in eight years of professional ball when the Astros signed him to a Minor League deal in 2010, is hitting .370 this spring, with two homers and seven RBIs.
"I'm putting good swings on balls and trying to put the ball in play," Corporan said. "Thankfully, I had some good pitches and put some nice swings on them. That's the balance for me; I want to take care of my pitching staff like I did today. We [were facing] a pretty good lineup, one of the best lineups in the game. We showed them what we got. That's when I'm happy, to see my pitching staff working like that."
Corporan hit a tape-measure homer to right in the fifth against Justin Verlander and added a long homer to right in the seventh against hard-throwing reliever Al Alburquerque. He singled in his final at-bat to finish 3-for-4.
"You can mature in the game, and you get to know your swing and you learn," he said. "You can learn what the pitcher is trying to do. My swing has always been there, and now I have more experience and figured out what they're trying to do to me. I feel more mature."
The Astros have clubbed 39 homers in 25 games this spring, and Corporan believes the power surge will pay dividends in the regular season.
"We don't have a good team on paper, but on talent, I think, we have a really, really good team," he said. "We have a lot of people who can change the game with one swing. That's going to be my goal this year, trying to keep it to two or three runs per game, and I know someone is going to turn on one. That's the big difference between this year and last year."
• Edgar Gonzalez's start in a Triple-A game in Viera, Fla., on Thursday was cut short after he was struck on the shin by a line drive. Manager Bo Porter said preliminary reports are that the right-hander, who's battling for a spot in either the bullpen or the rotation, will be fine.
• Porter strongly hinted that Chris Carter will be the starting left fielder, which shouldn't come as a surprise considering how much he's played there this spring.
"We're completely comfortable with him in left field," Porter said. "He's done a great job."
• Outfielder Fernando Martinez remains day to day with tightness in his lower back, and Porter said on Thursday that the trainer reports he'll be ready soon. Porter said that when Martinez is cleared, he'll be given another day to make sure he's 100 percent.
• The Rangers announced on Thursday that left-hander Matt Harrison will start against Bud Norris and the Astros in the March 31 season opener. Yu Darvish will start in Houston on April 2, against Lucas Harrell. Harrison is 0-1 with a 5.14 ERA in four career games (two starts) against the Astros. Norris has never faced Texas.