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Position battles dominate Astros' early workouts

The SportsXchange

Bud Norris or Lucas Harrell as the Houston Astros' No. 1 starter? Tyler Greene or Marwin Gonzalez at shortstop? Rick Ankiel in right field?

Those questions and more have dominated the start of spring training at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla.

Norris has the early lead on the No. 1 starter slot, but Harrell will receive the ball for the Astros' spring training opener Feb. 23 against Philadelphia. Norris will then take the mound Feb. 24 against the New York Mets.

Jordan Lyles is expected to hold down the third spot in the rotation, but first-year manager Bo Porter recently said all starters except Norris and Harrell will have to compete for their spots. Left-hander Erik Bedard and right-handers Philip Humber, Alex White and John Ely also are battling for rotation jobs.

Porter hopes to have 2012 All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve bat No. 2 this season, potentially leaving the top of the lineup open. At the No. 1 spot, Porter wants an aggressive and speedy contact hitter who also possesses power.

Greene and Gonzalez were initially expected to platoon at short this season, with the right-handed-hitting Greene earning time because of his speed and pop and the switch-hitting Gonzalez taking the field due to his slick glove. Porter acknowledged the Astros' shortstop will likely bat in front of Altuve, though, leaving Greene with an edge at the start of spring training.

The outfield remains wide open. Justin Maxwell is the expected center fielder, while Chris Carter has an initial hold on left and Ankiel could end up in right. Porter wants a veteran designated hitter, meaning Carlos Pena likely will become the club's first-ever DH as Houston moves to the American League. If Carter and Ankiel hold on to the corners, J.D. Martinez and Fernando Martinez could be the primary reserves.

Veteran Jose Veras wasn't ready to call himself the team's closer at the start of spring training, but he's expected to fill the role this season. Relievers Wesley Wright, Rhiner Cruz and Hector Ambriz will take the ball before the ninth inning.

Porter has made a strong first impression on his young team, using everything from clubhouse motivational signs to mirrors above players' lockers in the attempt to erase the Astros' losing culture. With 17 position players arriving early for camp and 61 players competing for 25 Opening Day spots, the early vibe under Porter has been positive. But what happens when the young, rebuilding Astros -- who've lost 213 combined games the last two seasons -- start playing baseball that counts?
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