Notes: Flock of early birds joins camp
Pitchers feel rush at Daytona; bunting skills emphasized
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Although position players are not required to report to Spring Training until Wednesday, the Astros' clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium on Monday was a bit more crowded with the addition of several early arrivers.
Chris Burke, Jason Lane, Charlton Jimerson, Luke Scott and Cody Ransom have arrived at Kissimmee and worked out separately from pitchers and catchers, who have been in Florida since last Friday.
"I always like to get down here early, get situated, get comfortable, catch up with the guys, get some early work in," Burke said. "For me, I don't ever get on a field before I get down here. I don't get outdoors [in his hometown of Louisville], so the earlier the better for me."
Added Lane: "I'm just always eager to get going. I like to get down here. I feel like I'm missing out even when pitchers and catchers are here. We'll hit on the field after [the pitchers are] done, kind of knock the rust off the first couple days."
Burke, who drove to Florida with his wife, Sara, spent much of the offseason rehabbing from his October surgery that repaired a torn labrum and tightened the capsule in his left shoulder. To squelch any lingering doubt as to how secure that shoulder is now, Burke repeated Dr. James Andrews' assessment that "a bomb could go off and it'll stay in the socket."
Burke's focus now shifts to the season with a new peace of mind, knowing that he's finally going to be an everyday player. It's unlikely he'll play anywhere but center field this year, and he probably won't go near second base until 2008. However, he plans to talk to manager Phil Garner about possibly taking grounders in the infield every once in a while, just to stay sharp.
Burke admitted he sometimes forgets that he's not an infielder anymore.
"I walked in today and Manso's like, 'You want to take some ground balls?'" Burke said, referring to third base coach Doug Mansolino. "Then he looked at me and we both laughed. It's kind of weird.
"That will probably hit me the first day of camp, when we break off with infielders and outfielders and I go with the outfielders. I'm used to getting my outfield work, just extra after practice is over, but obviously, this year it's going to be my sole focus."
Thrill ride: Roy Oswalt's expectations were high as he headed to Daytona on Sunday, and the right-hander wasn't disappointed with his first live NASCAR experience.
Oswalt, along with Woody Williams, Chad Qualls and Brandon Backe, had tickets to the Daytona 500 and got an up-close and personal view of the cars, which travel at a clip of around 185 mph.
The foursome was situated in the infield area at Turn 4 -- where, according to Oswalt, a lot of the wrecks occur.
Although he's watched races on TV, Oswalt was in awe of the perspective he got from being just feet away from the action.
"It's unbelievable," Oswalt said. "Every time cars came around, Chad got chills."
Extra work: A starting pitcher can add a couple of wins onto his record every year just by being a good bunter, and to maximize productivity, anyone in the mix for Major League starting jobs this year is putting in some overtime during Spring Training.
Prior to the start of workouts Monday morning, Dave Borkowski, Wandy Rodriguez and Brian Moehler worked with a handful of coaches on bunting, a very underrated part of a pitcher's game. More pitchers will do the same in the upcoming weeks.
"If you bunt well, you can stay in the game longer, and a lot of times it dictates the game, if they have success bunting," Mansolino said. "If Gar's got to take you out in the sixth inning, he's got to make a decision. Now you come out and you're giving the ball to the bullpen, and you don't have the ball anymore."
Odds and ends: Brad Lidge's bunting group is still light years behind the competition after Day 2 of the annual bunting showdown. Team Lidge's score of minus 31 may be too much to overcome in the next week of competition. "But it can be done," Lidge said, gesturing toward two former position players turned pitchers. "Anytime you've got Backe and [Chris] Sampson, you're never out of it." ... Garner missed his second day of camp due to his daughter's wedding, which apparently lasted well past midnight on Sunday. "The festivities went a little late," general manager Tim Purpura said. "And he's trying to get a bunch of family out of town." Garner is expected to be back in camp on Tuesday. ... With temperatures expected to increase through the week, workouts will go back to their normal start time of 9 a.m. ET ... Happy 68th birthday to Triple-A Round Rock manager Jackie Moore, who shares his birthday with former World Series MVP Dave Stewart, actor Jeff Daniels and musician Seal.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.