LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Astros brought in Cesar Izturis to add to their infield depth this spring, while hoping the well-respected veteran would provide valuable leadership to fellow middle infielders Carlos Correa, Jonathan Villar, Marwin Gonzalez and Jose Altuve.
Izturis provided leadership in many ways, but he was beat out for the backup middle-infield spot by Gonzalez and was released Monday. The Astros would have had to play Izturis $100,000 by Tuesday if he wasn't on the 25-man roster, and he had no plans to go to the Minor Leagues, so a release was the only option.
"It was a tough decision to keep Izturis off the club, just because of all the things in which he brings to the ballclub," manager Bo Porter said. "As we looked at the situation, they were in competition, Marwin won the competition."
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Izturis came to camp with a legitimate shot to win a job.
"It was a real opportunity and we were genuine in bringing him in for that opportunity," Luhnow said. "There were a lot of teams out there that have expressed interested in middle infielders, so I'm pretty sure he'll land on his feet quickly. The mentorship he had this spring was valuable. Correa got to spend time with him, Villar got to spend time with him, Altuve got to spend time with him, and Marwin. All four of those guys benefited from behind around him."
Keuchel perseveres after rough first inning
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Monday marked Dallas Keuchel's turn to audition for one of the final two spots in the Astros' starting rotation, and the left-hander endured a rough first inning before bouncing back to throw three scoreless innings against the Braves.
Keuchel, who appears to have wrapped up a spot on the Major League roster, gave up back-to-back homers to Chris Johnson and Justin Upton in the first inning, but worked swiftly in the second and fourth and escaped a bases-loaded jam in the third.
"I made an adjustment last time out," said Keuchel, who was touched for 13 hits and seven runs in four innings in his last start. "My velocity was down last start, and I hadn't gotten into my legs yet. It was all upper torso, and I've been kind of achy and just trying to get back into my legs. I felt really good coming out of the gate. It was not a very good start."
Keuchel tried to sneak an 0-2 fastball past former teammate Johnson, who crushed it and sent it well over the wall in center field for a three-run homer.
"It's Major League Baseball, so any time you get 0-2, you can't take your foot off the gas," Keuchel said. "I didn't spot a high fastball, and C.J. hit it out. I tip my cap to him. Just kind of worked through it. That's a good lineup over there, so you have to come with your 'A' game every time out, and I did a good job battling through the last three [innings]."
As far as his immediate future with the team, Keuchel isn't worried.
"I've had three send-downs already, so it's nothing new" he said. "Whatever happens, happens. I go out there like it's my last time every time."
Astros option righty Zeid as roster nearly set
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said the team plans to announce its 25-man roster prior to leaving Florida in a couple of days, but the moves the club made Monday certainly brought the roster composition into complete focus.
The Astros trimmed their roster to 30, optioning right-hander Josh Zeid to Triple-A Oklahoma City, reassigning outfielder Adron Chambers and catcher Rene Garcia to Minor League camp and releasing veteran infielder Cesar Izturis.
"Zeid pitched well, especially recently," Luhnow said. "We believe Zeid is going to spend many days in the big leagues this year, but this is the way we're going to configure the team out of the gate."
The moves leave the Astros 26 healthy players in camp, including three catchers (they'll only carry two).
That means infielder/outfielders Jesus Guzman and Marc Krauss have made the team, along with pitchers Anthony Bass, Kevin Chapman and Raul Valdes. The club will open the season with 13 pitchers, but the final two rotation spots have yet to be decided between Jerome Williams, Dallas Keuchel, Brad Peacock and Lucas Harrell.
Carrying eight relievers gives manager Bo Porter some flexibility early in the season considering the Astros play 13 games in a row to start the year.
"When you look at the woes in which we came out of the gates with last year, and our starters going out [three out of five games in mid-April] and not getting out of the first inning and burning through the bullpen, the last thing you want to do early in the year is tax your bullpen," Porter said. "I think that was a learning experience for myself and the organization, and that can have ripple effects throughout the course of the year. We don't have to go through that again."
Keuchel, who pitched Monday, Williams, Peacock and Harrell were being given one final start to determine who goes to the bullpen and who stays in the rotation. If the roster stays constructed the way it is now, L.J. Hoes and Krauss will platoon in right field, with Krauss seeing time at first with Guzman and Chris Carter.
Gonzalez's hard work earns him spot with Astros
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When the Astros called Marwin Gonzalez into the manager's office Monday afternoon, he couldn't help but be nervous. After all, it's the time of year when these sorts of meetings mean a player has been sent out of camp. But that wasn't the case.
The Astros informed the versatile switch-hitter he had made the Opening Day roster for the third year in a row, which was certainly no surprise considering he entered Monday hitting .395 and could play all four infield spots, as well as the outfield. He beat out veteran Cesar Izturis for the final spot.
"He earned it," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "When you inform guys they are in the competition and the players go out and perform the way Marwin performed, it kind of makes it an easy decision from a standpoint of him being on the team."
Gonzalez, taken in the Rule 5 Draft in 2011, spent the entire 2012 season on Houston's roster, hitting .234 in his Major League debut. He split last season between Houston and Triple-A Oklahoma City, hitting all four of his homers off righties.
"I'm pretty happy. Bo told me as soon as I got to the ballpark today. I was kind of scared when they called me into the office. I was happy. I worked hard for this the whole offseason when I went to Venezuela. I went down there to work hard. I'm happy for that, and I'm going to keep going and working hard in the season and do whatever Bo wants me to do."