March 06, 2016

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) Houston prospect Matt Duffy homered twice and Carlos Correa had two hits to lead an Astros split squad over the Pittsburgh Pirates 11-8 on Sunday.

Jake Marisnick hit a two-run shot for the Astros on a day when several of their top minor league hitters impressed. A.J. Reed had three hits, Duffy drove in three runs and Tyler White also homered.

Reed, Duffy and White are getting a look in the spring competition at first base. Houston would like to see Jon Singleton lock up the position after he signed a $10 million, five-year contract in 2014 that includes three club options.

Singleton homered, doubled and drove in three runs during Houston's other split-squad game Sunday, a 7-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

John Jaso hit an RBI single for the Pirates and Josh Harrison had a sacrifice fly. Andrew McCutchen singled for his first hit in seven at-bats this spring.

Pittsburgh starter Juan Nicasio tossed two scoreless innings. He struck out two and gave up an infield single to Correa.

''I tried to keep the ball down in the zone and get contact,'' Nicasio said. ''I threw all my pitches: fastball, slider, changeup. I only threw a couple of changeups, but I threw a lot of sliders. It was really good today.''

Although he worked as a reliever last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Nicasio is being stretched out as a starter at this stage of spring training. The Pirates already have their rotation set, so Nicasio will open the season in the bullpen if everyone stays healthy.

''It's not hard for me,'' Nicasio said. ''I was a starter in the past (with Colorado) and last year was my first year in the bullpen. I can switch quickly.''

Astros starter Brad Peacock gave up two runs and three hits in 1 2-3 innings.

STARTING TIME

Astros: The 28-year-old Peacock is trying to rebound after having back surgery last year to repair a left intercostal strain. He's trying to make the team as a long reliever and spot starter.

''I'm just excited to get him on the field,'' manager A.J. Hinch said. ''He's looked great so far in camp. He's on a normal routine, not rehabbing, and he's not struggling in any fashion. I'm pleasantly surprised with how quickly he's gotten back into pitching shape and pitching efficiency.''

PITCHING CHANGE

Hinch laughed when someone suggested infielder Danny Worth should have been given a chance to test his knuckleball against the Pirates.

''The knuckleball is real, from what I understand,'' Hinch said. ''It's becoming more legendary as camp goes on, and I've been asked to check the numbers and the video. But we're going to stick with middle infield for now.''

Worth threw a scoreless inning of relief for the Detroit Tigers in 2014. He signed with the Astros in January.

''Usually, you wait to talk about throwing the knuckleball until you're underperforming,'' Hinch said. ''He's playing great.''

Dan Johnson, who was in camp with the Astros last year as a first baseman, is trying to reinvent himself as a knuckleball pitcher with the Tampa Bay Rays this spring.

''We are not the grassroots of position player-to-knuckleball specialists,'' Hinch said. ''But we are 1 for 1 ... so far.''

TAKE IT SLOW

Hinch said only a handful of position players, such as Singleton and catcher Jason Castro, might play complete games at this point. ''Once you get into the second and third week, you'll see a few more extended outings,'' Hinch said. ''But I'm still not ready for our everyday players to go much more than five or six innings.''

UP NEXT

Astros: RHP Mike Fiers makes his spring debut Monday against the New York Yankees.

Pirates: LHP Jeff Locke starts Monday against the Philadelphia Phillies. Locke, who is refining a new delivery, gave up four runs and four hits in his spring debut last week.

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