Young Astros look to improve in last NL season

By Kristie Rieken

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 22 2012 11:10 a.m. MDT

Schafer, who has been Houston's leadoff hitter since Bourn was traded, has had a great spring, hitting .391.

Jose Altuve, who did well last season after being promoted from Double-A, will play second base and Jed Lowrie, acquired in the deal for Melancon, is Houston's new shortstop.

"I thought it was a great opportunity for me — new ownership, a new general manager," Lowrie said. "Obviously, they're going in a new direction and I'm excited to be a part of it."

Veteran lefty Wandy Rodriguez will lead Houston's rotation and Bud Norris and J.A. Happ look to have secured two of the other starting positions. Former World Series MVP Livan Hernandez, Zach Duke, Kyle Weiland and Jordan Lyles are vying for the last two spots in the rotation.

Hernandez, who was signed to a minor league contract, believes he still has something left that could help the Astros.

"I still love the game," he said. "I still want to pitch. I'm 37 years old. I know I can still pitch and I don't want to retire. I feel good."

He likes Houston's youth.

"I played in Arizona with a young team," he said. "Washington, too, is a young team. It's fun and I enjoy every moment of it."

AP freelance writer Dick Scanlon in Kissimmee, Fla., contributed to this report.

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