Astros' Dominguez to get a look at first base this spring
''It feels a little weird, but as the days go along I'll get used to it,'' Dominguez said of his first baseman mitt Wednesday. ''I've played third base my whole life, but we got (Luis) Valbuena and stuff.''
As the Astros prepared for Thursday's exhibition opener against the Philadelphia Phillies, third base appeared to be one of the positions for which there will be competition this spring. But then they gave Dominguez, who started more than 300 games for them at third base over the last two seasons, the glove of a position he has never played.
''Clearly we have a good option in Valbuena,'' manager A.J. Hinch said. ''Dominguez has had some time and certainly is coming off a season that he wants to improve on, but I see no reason to limit him as to how he impacts the team. Guys that play well will push their way into more playing time.''
The 25-year-old Dominguez bats right-handed and Valbuena, 29, hits from the left side, suggesting a possible platoon.
''I'm not sure what's going on,'' Dominguez said. ''Other than a few guys, there's nothing really in stone yet. Luis is a great player and I know I'm going to have to work and compete to find a spot on the roster. The most I can do is go out and have good at-bats. I know defensively I'll be all right; I have to just go out and hit.''
Dominguez hit 21 home runs and drove in 77 runs in 2013 at the age of 23, becoming the youngest Astros player in 39 years to exceed 20 homers. Last season his average dropped to .215 and he struck out 125 times.
''I'm just trying to get a better mental approach this year,'' he said. ''You can always work on stuff mechanically, but it's more focus, just being prepared and knowing what you want to do during at-bats.''
Hinch said he will continue to think of Dominguez primarily as a third baseman, although he will start some spring games at first base.
''Versatility is a key, it's something that's needed on every team,'' Hinch said. ''I don't want to limit him to anything before we start games. Matt Dominguez has had a good season in the major leagues and can offer a lot. Going into camp, I don't think it's fair to limit him to anything.''
NOTES: The Astros have at least one spot open in their pitching rotation as the games begin. Collin McHugh, who will start the spring opener, is in along with Dallas Keuchel and Scott Feldman. ''Right now (Brett Oberholtzer) is trending toward the 4,'' Hinch said. ... Having worked out his visa problem, veteran right-hander Roberto Hernandez is expected in camp Thursday. ... Jose Altuve and Jed Lowrie will not play in the first two games, and catcher Jason Castro will DH only until Sunday. .... Lance Berkman, currently a guest instructor in the Astros camp, was announced Wednesday as an inductee in the National Collegiate Baseball Hall of Fame. ''Some of my favorite memories came when I was at college, so I'm just thrilled to have the honor,'' said Berkman, who was named National College Player of the Year in 1997 at Rice.