KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The third-base coach is often the most unpopular man in uniform in any team's home ballpark. Fans typically boo when he holds a runner and boo louder when he sends a runner and he's thrown out at the plate.
Astros third-base coach Pat Listach knows what he's getting himself into. He has years of experience coaching third with the Cubs and Nationals, while also managing in the Cubs' Minor League system. He originally came to Houston as a first-base coach in October, but was moved across the diamond when Eduardo Perez resigned.
"The only pressure you get is when you get someone thrown out and you get pressure from [the media]," Listach said. "Here's the thing with fans: They're paying to watch the game and they start screaming to the coaches on the bases, and you can hear everything being said. Some guys are up there yelling, 'Hey, you already lost 50 games, take a chance!' Well, we don't want to lose 51."
Listach says he has an aggressive approach about sending runners, putting the onus on the player. He says as long as the players are running 100 percent, it makes his decision easier. Listach told his players to assume he's going to send them, so he's basically there to serve as a stop sign.
"Basically, I told the guys, 'When you're on second base or first base, anticipate me sending you,'" he said. "The scoreboard is going to dictate what I'm able to do over there. If we're down, we're not going to take chances making outs at the plate. For the most part, we will be aggressive with two outs and put the pressure on the defense, and make the defense make a good throw and put pressure on the catcher to make the catch and tag. We'll be aggressive with two outs."
Oberholtzer working to improve his curveball
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros left-hander Brett Oberholtzer took the mound Sunday for the first time this spring, allowing three hits and one run in two innings against the Braves. Oberholtzer, one of the club's big surprises last year, is using his early spring starts to work on more consistency with his curveball.
"My main objective was working on my curveball and trying to be more consistent with strikes at 0-2, 1-2," he said. "Also, to use it with lefties ahead in the count. I felt like I threw some good offspeed pitches today. That's a positive note. It gives me a foundation to work off a good base. Each outing is a learning experience, and I take it as it comes."
Oberholtzer, who came to Houston from the Braves in the Michael Bourn trade, went 4-5 with a 2.24 ERA in 10 starts in his Major League debut last year, but knows adjustments will be key.
"Any time you can make a pitch better, it will help you," he said. "My fastball and changeup is what got me a lot of success last year, and I know if I had my curveball as well to go along with good fastball location, I'll be on my way."
"He threw some really good breaking balls, which he didn't have last year," pitching coach Brent Strom said. "It's a third pitch for him."
Players hold annual meeting with MLBPA
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros players held their annual meeting with the Major League Baseball Players Association on Sunday morning, where topics such as the new rules concerning collisions at home plate and expanded instant replay were discussed.
"These meetings are state-of-the-union issues that are at hand, explanations about what's going on, making sure if those guys have questions -- whether you're a veteran guy or a young guy -- if you have questions, we answer those things," said MLBPA executive director Tony Clark. "The message is the same. We spend a lot of time before the meeting, spend time after the meeting -- should there be any individual questions that guys have, and we'll have to answer those, as well."
Catcher Jason Castro, the Astros' representative to the union, said the meeting was pretty straightforward with respect to the Astros.
"We're unique because we have so many young guys and [the MLBPA] has a role in helping us understand how things work, why things work and things like that," said Castro. "I think ... it was probably the most specific to us, but as far as Astros-specific issues, there really wasn't anything. Mostly, it was a state of the Players Association and baseball-related topics like instant replay and catcher's collisions."
Clark was asked by reporters about the Astros' low payroll the last few years, but it didn't appear to be a concern for the MLBPA. Houston's payroll finished at around $13 million last year, and it has spent about $30 million in salary for 2014.
"We watch all of that," Clark said. "We watch trends, we watch how certain clubs are functioning, we watch for things that concern us, we watch for things that appear to be going right. Whether it's Houston or any club, we're going to pay attention to what's going on, how it inevitably is going to affect players, so we're watching."
Porter looking for everyday players, not platoons
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- In a perfect world, Astros manager Bo Porter would like to avoid platoons. That could be hard to do in right field and at first base, where there are no clear-cut candidates in camp to be the starter at those spots. But he has four more weeks to work that out.
"As we stand here today, I'm hoping that we don't have to platoon any position," said Porter. "When you look around the diamond and you have everyday players, that puts you in the best position to actually be successful each and every day when you have those guys [who are capable of playing daily]. With that being said, we're going to do what's best for the ballclub once all these competitions play themselves out -- and if it's the best thing for the ballclub to platoon at a particular position, then we'll take that option at that time."
L.J. Hoes, J.D. Martinez, Marc Krauss and prospect George Springer are all vying for the right-field spot. Martinez can also play left field, Krauss can play first base and Springer, of course, came through the system as a center fielder.
"I don't think we're going to have a problem getting these guys enough at-bats to make that determination [of who starts]," Porter said.
At first base, Brett Wallace, Japhet Amador, Jesus Guzman and prospect Jonathan Singleton are competing for playing time. Chris Carter can also play first and left field, but he'll log the bulk of his time at designated hitter.
"We're looking for an everyday guy," Porter said. "We're looking for a guy we don't necessarily need to platoon -- a guy that, obviously, defense will be a priority. When you start to talk about young pitchers and improving your pitching, that starts with improving your defense, as well."
Odds and ends
• Porter said Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells will pay him a visit on Monday in Jupiter, Fla., and Tuesday in Port St. Lucie. The two have been friends, and Parcells lives in the area and visits Porter when the Astros are in that part of the state.
• Special assistant Craig Biggio, who came up two votes shy of reaching the Hall of Fame this year, will spend a couple of days at camp beginning Monday. It will be the first of two trips to camp for Biggio, who is the team's all-time leader in games played, hits, runs scored and doubles.