JUPITER, Fla. -- The Astros may not be expected to contend this year, but they had some championship-level talent at batting practice on Monday.
Two-time Super Bowl champion and soon-to-be Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells attended the Astros-Cardinals game in Jupiter, where he lives seven months out of the year, on Monday watching batting practice and talking to Astros manager Bo Porter and his players.
"This here was my favorite sport. I love baseball, I love it to this day, I watch all the time," Parcells said. "And I know just enough to be dangerous."
Parcells said he met Porter a few years ago when Porter was a coach with the Marlins. Parcells, who has Texas ties from coaching at Texas Tech and later with the Dallas Cowboys, was an executive with the Miami Dolphins at the time.
"It's great that Bo has contacts like that," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "I think any time you can learn from somebody who's had that kind of success, even if it's in another sport, and has been that inspirational and that successful, that it can only help."
Porter and Parcells spoke again about a month ago when Porter arrived in Florida, and Parcells offered him some advice about being a young coach in the league.
"I know he wants it bad," Parcells said. "That inspires me to give him everything I've got."
Porter inherits an Astros team that's coming off a 107-loss season and moving to one of baseball's most challenging divisions, the American League West. Parcells is widely considered one of the all-time best football minds, but even he went 3-12 in his first year with the Giants in 1983.
"My first year, I almost got fired," Parcells said. "Sometimes the situation won't let you win. …If you start to make progress, you start to get some credibility and things can move forward and the organization gets confident in you and the direction you're trying to take the team."
Astros learning to be aggressive on basepaths
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Astros have not been shy about stealing bases early in Spring Training, and they've had great success doing so.
The team entered play Monday 6-for-6 in attempts, with six different players -- Trevor Crowe, Delino DeShields, Marwin Gonzalez, Tyler Greene, Jose Martinez and Justin Maxwell -- recording a stolen base.
"We want our players to be aggressive and we want to provide them with information that allows them to be aggressive," manager Bo Porter said. "Like I explained to the whole team, everyone has the green light."
Houston last year was led by second baseman Jose Altuve, who swiped 33 bases. As a team, the Astros were sixth in the National League with 105 steals.
Porter said it's not necessarily a reflection of his style as manager, but mostly him allowing players to be aggressive during Spring Training games, and also putting some of the team's best skills to work.
"I think what he's doing is getting to know his own team and utilizing Spring Training for the original purpose, which is to try things out and see what works with our team and our personnel," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "You don't want to give away all your secrets during Spring Training, but you certainly want to try different things."
Poise allows Astros' Humber to limit damage
JUPITER, Fla. -- The way Philip Humber and Astros manager Bo Porter saw it Monday, the mess Humber got himself into was bad, but the escape was even better.
In his first Grapefruit League start, Humber sputtered in the second inning, as he walked the first two batters of the inning, launched a wild pitch and also gave up a double. But he managed to get out of the jam allowing just one run. That was the only damage done in his two innings of work, spanning 43 pitches (22 strikes).
"I told him, you walk three guys and give up a double and only give up one run, that there is a tremendous job," Porter said. "I loved the fact that he kept his poise and kept pitching, kept making quality pitch after quality pitch. Veteran guys know how to do that. You could get another guy in that situation and end up putting up a four-spot."
Porter has made it clear from the beginning of Spring Training that there will definitely be a competition to be the club's Opening Day starter, and Humber certainly figures to be toward the top of the list. The 30-year-old right-hander will be in his first season with the Astros after spending the last two years with the White Sox. He won a career-high nine games in 2011 while starting 26 games (28 total appearances), and started 16 games last year.
"Everybody has a chance," Porter said. "When we talk about the two guys that are in competition for the Opening Day starter, the fact that you put the word competition in front of it lets you know that the competition can be open to other people, as well."
On Monday, Humber cruised through the top of the Cardinals' order in the first, retiring Jon Jay, Kolton Wong and Matt Holliday in order. He faced seven hitters in the second, though he didn't come away from it overly concerned.
"You're out there competing, nobody wants to get beat, whether you're playing tiddlywinks or whatever," Humber said. "They're hitting back so you want to go out there and do your best, too. But it's a process and you have to cut yourself a little bit of slack, especially going out there in your first game."
Porter said that with the longer Spring Training, he intends to give pitchers a bit more time to make adjustments, especially as he uses a six-man rotation to start games.
"Early on, with all the pitchers, I've told them I'm more concerned about their command," Porter said. "Being able to command their pitches down in the zone. You're not gonna be able to make the club in one day."
Other contenders for the Opening Day spot are right-handers Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell. Brett Myers started Opening Day in 2011, while Wandy Rodriguez got the honor last season. Neither is with the club this year, so the Astros will have three different pitchers start in consecutive Opening Days for the first time since 2001-03. But that guy probably won't be identified for quite some time, Porter said.
"I haven't mastered baseball to that extent to where I just can throttle it just exactly right," Humber said of his Spring Training regimen. "We do have a little bit of extra time this year, but at the same time, you don't want be rushing at the last minute to try to get things sharp. You want to get sharp as soon as you can and be able to back off and give yourself a little bit of a breather before the season starts. We do have a little bit of extra time, but at the same time for me, none of these guys have seen me. I wanna show them what I can do, and I want them to be able to have confidence in me when I get out there and the games start counting."