Notes: Ausmus back in action for Astros
Catcher makes Grapefruit League debut against Nationals
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Brad Ausmus played in his first game of Spring Training on Sunday, after spending most of his time in Kissimmee monitoring a stiff shoulder that required a cortisone shot a week ago.
Ausmus is nowhere near 100 percent, but manager Phil Garner wanted to insert the catcher into the lineup just to give him some playing time as he eases his way back to health.
"It'll be his discretion if he's going to throw or not," Garner said prior to Sunday's game. "I saw him throw the day before yesterday. He threw good, but he's not 100 percent. Basically, he's catching today to get some time behind the plate and to get a couple of at-bats. I'm not worried about him throwing."
Ausmus did not have to make a throw in his five innings of work, but he reiterated his earlier assessment that he continues to make progress.
"The last three days have been pretty good," Ausmus said. "I've been throwing farther and harder each time. Not full speed, but I'm good enough to play. Certainly throwing from first to third is not a problem. It's how hard I can let it go to second."
Ausmus was leery about the shoulder flaring up if he threw too hard.
"I don't want to come out in the first inning and throw full-bore, and go right back to where I was," he said. "If a guy has a big lead, I'll just shut it down [and not make the throw]."
Ready to pitch: Chad Qualls, Miguel Asencio and Fernando Nieve will pitch in Monday's game in Jupiter, a positive step for all three pitchers, considering they've been dealing with various ailments since reporting to Spring Training.
"It's getting better," said Qualls, who has been nursing a sore right shoulder. "I'm excited to throw in a game tomorrow. It'll be good to get in a competitive game and just try to get those juices flowing when you get out there."
Despite missing the first few games and having to take it easy during the two weeks of workouts, Qualls isn't worried that he's behind schedule.
"I caught up fairly quick," he said. "Obviously, the games started a couple days ago and I would have liked to be along with everybody else. But as long as I get in five, six, seven games, it's pretty much like normal. If I miss the first two or three games, I don't feel like I'm not on schedule."
Nieve hasn't had any issues with the elbow soreness he experienced during winter ball, but he has had to battle tightness in his forearm while at Spring Training.
"It just started when I got here," he said. "But my arm feels good now."
Wandy's first outing: Wandy Rodriguez may have a leg up on the competition for a spot in the rotation, but that doesn't mean he does not have to perform well this spring. Like the four others gunning for starting job, Rodriguez will have to pitch his way onto the team during Spring Training.
He made a positive first step on Sunday, when he threw two scoreless frames against the Nationals. He did not allow a hit, walking one and striking out two.
"It was a good first outing," Rodriguez said. "My changeup was working, I was hitting my spots."
Over the last couple of years, Rodriguez has earned a reputation of becoming somewhat unglued during sticky situations. But when he walked Kory Casto after striking out the first two batters in the opening frame, Rodriguez coaxed a 5-3 grounder from Alex Escobar to end the inning.
"It was a nice, crisp outing," Garner said. "He was good. He threw the ball down in the zone, his two-seamer had some movement, his breaking balls were sharp.
"The whole thing with Wandy, the more he does that, the more confidence you have and the more he does well. Wandy stays aggressive. When he throws the ball down in the strike zone and up when he wants to, he's as good as anybody. That's part of his maturation process as a pitcher. He learns to keep it in control and keep his emotions in control in those situations and do just what he did."
In the community: The Astros began their annual Spring Training community visits on Sunday with the "Give Kids the World" gameday visit.
Astros players and coaches hosted children from the organization and their families, who were treated to the Astros-Nationals game at Osceola County Stadium.
Several players and coaches, including Woody Williams, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence, Troy Patton, Luke Scott and Cecil Cooper, visited with the group in the area near the clubhouse, signing autographs and posing for pictures.
Give Kids the World is a Central Florida-based non-profit organization that creates magical memories for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families around the world.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.