Notes: Prospect Pence turning heads
Astros outfielder continues hot streak with pair of hits
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- When he reported to Spring Training a couple of weeks ago, Hunter Pence seemed destined to start the season at Triple-A Round Rock.
He still will probably end up there when the regular season begins, but if he keeps hitting at this clip, he's going to make it very hard for management to demote him when it's time to make the final cuts.
Pence has answered every challenge in the early stages of the Grapefruit League season. He entered Tuesday's game with a .700 average (7-for-10), and then, facing the highly respected Tom Glavine, knocked two hits, including a triple in the third frame.
Pence started this game because of a few circumstances surrounding his teammates. Carlos Lee's right shoulder was a little sore, prompting manager Phil Garner to keep him off the field and use him as the designated hitter instead. That left an open spot in left field for Pence, who didn't miss a step facing one of the most successful left-handers in baseball.
Before the game, Garner hinted that he was curious to see how the young outfielder would fare against Glavine.
"Give Pence a shot, let him see a guy that'll be pretty sharp, probably," Garner said. "He'll probably throw pretty good today."
Glavine allowed four hits -- two to Pence.
"I've been watching him since I was a kid and kind of idolized him a little bit," Pence said. "When it comes down to it, I have to see the ball and try to hit it, and I was lucky enough to find some holes."
Pence has hits in four consecutive at-bats and five of his last six. Garner, while impressed with Pence's early performance, warned to not get too excited, too early.
"He's a kid that's trying to get enough experience in under his belt to get his shot at the big leagues," Garner said. "That's all there is to it. He's done a nice job since he's been here."
Garner will reserve judgement for a little later in the spring.
"For young hitters, and particularly for a guy like him, it's in his favor," Garner said. "Pitchers aren't locating as well as they will, their breaking balls aren't as sharp as they are.
"It might very well be that when everybody's on track, he may be doing the same thing. But we do know pitchers get sharper. Spring Training is not a true test, although it's a good test to see what a young man can do. Certainly, he's doing very well right now."
Minor start: Woody Williams and Dan Wheeler threw in a Minor League intrasquad game Tuesday morning, prior to the Astros game with the Mets.
Williams threw three innings, allowing one hit while striking out four. He threw 39 pitches, 25 for strikes. Wheeler threw one inning, allowing one hit with one strikeout.
With 28 pitchers in camp and only so many innings to go around, select pitchers will have to get their work in during Minor League games, until cuts are made in another week or so.
Williams and Wheeler had no issue with pitching in the intrasquad game rather than on the Major League field.
"Over the years, I've learned how to approach Spring Training, and basically it's about getting ready for the first start of the season and prepare my body for that," Williams said. "Obviously, it's only the second time out. There's a lot of room for improvement. At the same time, I've got to get a lot stronger, too."
Good outing: Brian Moehler, vying for one of the vacant spots in the rotation, pitched three scoreless frames on Tuesday. This was a big improvement over his first outing last Thursday in Winter Haven, when he allowed three runs on three hits over one inning.
Moehler was somewhat encouraged by how he fared against the lineup he faced in his second start. The Mets brought many of their star players, including Carlos Beltran and Moises Alou.
"You kind of grade yourself by that," he said. "But if you don't throw strikes, it doesn't matter who you're facing. The times I got hurt today were the times I was behind [in the count] on guys, and the same as the other day. Getting ahead is the key."
Familiar territory After taking up residency on the right side of the infield for 15 years, Jeff Bagwell knows first base pretty well.
So it was only fitting that one of his first assignments as a retired player was to serve as the first-base coach for two innings during the Astros' game with the Mets on Tuesday.
Still in the process of finding his way as one of general manager Tim Purpura's many special assistants, Bagwell chuckled at his gameday duties.
"So that's what I'm down to now," Bagwell said.
"It was for the fans," Garner said. "We wanted to announce that he was coaching for a few innings, have a nice ovation, and that's what he got."
Healing: Left-hander Troy Patton appears to be nearing a return to the mound after spending the last two weeks tending to a sprained left ankle.
Patton will likely play on Wednesday when the Astros host the Nationals. Needless to say, the 21-year-old top prospect is looking forward to returning to the mound.
"I've been watching a lot of games because I've made every trip," he said. "It'll be nice just to get on the mound and pitch in a game for the first time since October [in the Arizona Fall League]."
Odds and ends: Brad Ausmus will be the guest on Astroline, the club's call-in radio show, on Wednesday at 7 p.m. CT. Hosted by broadcaster Milo Hamilton, Astroline airs on the club's flagship station, KTRH 740 AM, and at astros.com. For the final four weeks of this offseason, the show will be broadcast live from the ESPN Club at Disney's BoardWalk in Orlando. ... Brandon Backe threw long toss on Tuesday and could be ready to pitch off the mound by Thursday or Friday. ... Mark Loretta did not play on Tuesday, mainly because Craig Biggio played second base. Loretta is also dealing with neck stiffness, but he said he would have played had Lee not taken the DH spot.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.