KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The opportunity to be a full-time closer for the first time in his career is one Jose Veras isn't taking lightly. Veras, who signed a one-year deal with Houston and reported to camp Tuesday, is thankful for any opportunity at this point in his career.
"I feel very blessed," the 32-year-old said. "I appreciate every day, every step in my life, every second in my life. Every time I put on a uniform, I feel like I've been blessed."
The Astros aren't saying Veras will be their closer to start the year, but he's certainly the leading candidate after considering the lack of experience in the Houston bullpen. Veras has pitched in 327 big league games, but has only five saves with a 4.01 ERA.
"I just focus on doing my job, no matter what position and what spot they use me," he said. "I don't focus on one thing because I don't think that makes sense. I focus on doing my job to make my team win ballgames. That's the best part of the game."
Astros manager Bo Porter would be comfortable with Veras closing games.
"If you're going to take a chance on someone to be a first-time closer, that's the type of guy you want," Porter said. "We do have other pitchers that will get an opportunity to pitch late in the game, whether it's [Rhiner] Cruz, who had a really good winter league, or [Hector] Ambriz. There are others who will get a look, but Veras has the experience right now and is the front-runner."
Focused on Astros, Martinez backs out of Classic
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros outfielder Fernando Martinez arrived in camp Tuesday morning and said he will not participate in the World Baseball Classic. Martinez was going to play for Spain, though he was born in the Dominican Republic.
"I'm going to stay here and prepare for the season," he said.
Martinez, claimed off waivers from the Mets a year ago, hit .237 with six homers and 14 RBIs in 118 at-bats last year for Houston, playing in a career-high 41 games. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said earlier this year Martinez would hurt his chances of making the club by playing in the Classic, and Martinez heard the message.
"I just thought about and I figured it would be a lost couple of weeks, and I want to make the team here," said Martinez, who's battling for a spot in camp with Rick Ankiel, Brandon Barnes, Trevor Crowe and Jimmy Paredes, among others.
"It definitely shows a commitment to this team and this organization, but I'm not one of those who would try to discourage someone from playing for their country," said manager Bo Porter. "I think it's an honor to play for country. Any player picked by their country to play in the World Baseball Classic, they'll have our full support."
Astros pitcher Chia-Jen Lo was originally scheduled to participate in the Classic, as well, but had a change of heart. Pitchers Xavier Cedeno (Puerto Rico) and Rhiner Cruz (Spain) are still scheduled to participate, along with Minor League right-hander Murilo Gouvea (Brazil) and outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin (Chinese Taipei).
Teams have until Feb. 20 to file their formal rosters.
Lifelong Astros fan Grossman savors first camp
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The chance to put on an Astros uniform -- even if it wasn't the uniform he remembered while growing up in Houston -- was a thrill of a lifetime for outfielder Robbie Grossman, who is a non-roster invitee to Major League camp.
Grossman attended Cy-Fair High School outside Houston and grew up a big Astros fan. The Astros acquired him, along with pitchers Rudy Owens and Colton Cain, from the Pirates last July in the deal that sent veteran pitcher Wandy Rodriguez to Pittsburgh.
"It's kind of a dream come true," Grossman said. "I grew up in Houston and grew up watching the Astros, and it's kind of surreal being around here, wearing a Houston logo. I can't be more excited."
And of course, Grossman was a fan if the Killer B's in the mid-2000s -- a team led by Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell. He also liked Morgan Ensberg, Moises Alou and Richard Hidalgo.
"You grow up idolizing those guys," he said. "It's just a surreal experience to wear this uniform. I hoped one day to end up here, and it came sooner than later."
Grossman was a high school teammate of Astros catcher Chris Wallace at Cy-Fair, which also produced former Astros pitcher Woody Williams.
Veterans Ankiel, Bedard report to camp
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Pitcher Erik Bedard and outfielder Rick Ankiel, a pair of veterans battling for a spot as non-roster invitees this spring, each reported to camp Tuesday.
Ankiel, who spent the previous two seasons with first-year manager Bo Porter in Washington, lives about two hours south of Kissimmee in Fort Pierce, Fla., near where the Marlins and Cardinals have Spring Training. He worked out at the Cardinals' facility for a few days with Tyler Greene and Matt Dominguez before driving north on the Florida Turnpike to the Astros' facility Tuesday morning.
"It feels good," Ankiel said. "Another spring. It's exciting. Driving up here this morning, I was excited for the opportunity and looking forward to seeing what happens."
Ankiel, 33, hit .228 with five homers and 15 RBIs in 68 games with the Nationals last year, and is four years removed from his time in St. Louis, where he belted 25 homers in 2009. Bedard, 34, made 24 starts last year for Pittsburgh, going 7-14 with a 5.01 ERA.
He was one of the best lefties in baseball in 2006-07, going 28-16 in that span with the Orioles. Bedard also spent four years with Seattle in the American League West, where the Astros will now be playing.
"I'm going to come here and compete and do the best I can, and at the end of the day, that's all I can do," Bedard said. "If I make the team, I make the team, and if not, I move on. I would love to stay here and help contribute."
Rice set to honor Humber for perfect game
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros pitcher Philip Humber was humbled when he learned Monday his alma mater, Rice University, will honor him for the perfect game he pitched last year for the White Sox.
Rice will unveil a commemorative plaque Thursday at Reckling Park in Houston, recognizing Humber's accomplishment and featuring the text of the email he sent to Rice head coach Wayne Graham shortly after pitching his gem against the Seattle Mariners on April 21.
"It's pretty cool," Humber said. "I didn't expect anything like that. It means a lot to me. That's really neat. Whatever they do is more than they needed to."
Humber combined with Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend and David Aardsma to form one of the most dominant pitching staffs in college baseball in 2003, with Humber shutting down Stanford with a complete game in the College World Series title game.
He's always been grateful for his time at Rice and his relationship with Graham.
"I emailed him [after the perfect game] and we stay in touch through the grapevine, but I felt for some reason I needed to tell him, 'Look, you had a lot to do with what happened,' and also express to him how much he meant to me when I was in school there.
"He still has a big influence on me, and some of the things he taught me and the way he's coached me has made me been able to do the things in the game and play as long as I have. I appreciate the opportunities I had there and his influence."