Astros determined to start fast after last year's fiasco

HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Astros are still thinking about their terrible start to last season and are determined to start things off much better this year.

As the Astros prepare for the start of spring training, that 7-17 mark is still firmly in their minds. The Astros got it together after that awful month, but it put them in too big of a hole to dig out of and they just missed reaching the playoffs for the second straight season.

''We weren't expecting that bad start,'' general manager Jeff Luhnow said. ''Nobody was, and once it happened people were a little but paralyzed (like): `What do we do?'''

The Astros added Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick and Brian McCann this offseason and Luhnow thinks the trio of proven veterans will help Houston's young and talented core better deal with the ups and downs of a 162-game season.

''I think we have a better chance of surviving a downturn, because we know the downturns are coming,'' Luhnow said.

Luhnow was confident in his team last season, but believes the offseason additions make the Astros a much more complete team and he expects them to compete for the AL-West crown. The added depth will also give manager A.J. Hinch options if his starters struggle.

''A.J. is going to have more weapons,'' Luhnow said. ''Last year Carlos (Correa) got off to a slow start, Colby (Rasmus) got off to a slow start, but those were regular players and there really wasn't anybody to take their spot. This year if someone gets off to a slow start, there's another player there and you can give him a shot.''

Some things to know about the Astros as they open spring training:

NEW LOOK

Longtime catcher Jason Castro signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Twins and the Astros got McCann to waive his no-trade clause to be dealt to Houston. Beltran returns for his second stint with the Astros for what will be his 20th major league season. He is expected to get some time at designated hitter, but Hinch has said that Beltran still enjoys playing in the outfield and will get plenty of time there, too.

Along with Beltran, the Astros beefed up their outfield by adding Reddick and Norichika Aoki and parted ways with Rasmus, who hit just .206 in an injury-filled 2016.

''I think there's just a general buzz and a general excitement because we've added some names, we've added some credibility on the position player side to fill in some of the gaps on the guys that we have lost,'' Hinch said.

ROOKIES TO WATCH

Houston doesn't have any rookies expected to play big roles this season, but they do have some youngsters that they are hoping will take another step this season to help the team. The most important among them is third baseman Alex Bregman, the second overall pick in the 2015 draft who made his major league debut last season. Bregman hit .264 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs in 49 games last year and the Astros are eager to see what he can do in his first full season in the majors.

THEY'RE SET

For the first time in years, most of Houston's starting lineup and rotation is set. Their infield should be the strength of the team with second baseman Jose Altuve , who hit .338 to win the AL batting title for the second time in three years, and shortstop Carlos Correa, who hit .274 with 20 homers and 96 RBIs leading the way.

THEY'RE NOT

Perhaps the only spot on the team that isn't a lock heading into the spring is the team's closer. Houston used a variety of different options last season after Ken Giles struggled early in his first season in Houston after a trade from Philadelphia. Hinch said he'll get a shot at the job this season, but Luke Gregerson and Will Harris will also get a look.

''Who gets the 27th out will most likely be the same person over time, but it's not necessarily something I have to deal with now,'' Hinch said.

ON DECK

Ace Dallas Keuchel had a down year in the follow-up to his brilliant 2015 season where he won the Cy Young Award. He started the season 3-9 and was shut down in late August with an injury. He's healthy now and the Astros say he will be ready for the start of camp and expect him to look more like the pitcher he was in 2015 when he won 20 games with a 2.48 ERA.

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