Players getting benched already? Heck, no.

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Mark it down: position players who are projected to be on the Opening Day 25-man roster are going to leave Florida with 55-65 Spring Training at-bats. This means two things: a) even the projected starters aren’t going to play every day and b) like pitchers, they have to slowly build up their strength throughout the spring season so they can be in acceptable playing shape when the bell rings on April 1.

I’ve already heard from a number of fans who have expressed concern when Chris Johnson and/or Brett Wallace aren’t in the lineup one day after they play. This is all by design, planned out ahead of time, and it absolutely does not mean they’re being benched. Rather, it simply means they’re staying on schedule.

Pretty soon, and throughout the Grapefruit season, you’ll notice a trend with a bunch of the position players expected to be regulars this season. They’ll play three days in a row and have a day off, and their at-bats per game will jump from two to three and eventually, by the end of the month, they’ll make the four plate appearances that are pretty typical during a regular-season nine-inning game.

There’s a difference in being in shape and being in playing shape. No matter how much conditioning a player does during the offseason, there is a period of “baseball soreness” that grabs him in the early stages of spring games. Michael Bourn may be the most well-conditioned athlete on the team, but when he first started working out on the fields at the Astros’ complex, he was sore. Really, really sore. That’s to be expected.

That “baseball soreness” won’t last as long if a player is already in shape when he gets to Spring Training. But there’s no way to prepare during the offseason for the long periods of time players have to spend running and fielding their positions on the hard infield dirt and the grassy outfields. By the end of Spring Training, their legs have readjusted to the elements. But this process does not happen overnight.

Subsequently, manager Brad Mills and his coaching staff map it out so that players can properly progress as the month of March wears on. They also have to find playing time for 63 players on the spring roster. This requires some crafty maneuvering and careful planning. No players play every day during Spring Training, and the Astros aren’t the exception.

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Initially, I was unfazed by the number of JBs, JTs, CJs and TJs wearing Houston Astros uniforms this spring. Then I actually started counting the number of people throughout the organization whose nicknames are designated by two letters and I have to wonder if this
would make it into the Big Book of Meaningless Stats and Unconfirmed Records.

By my count, the Astros have five players whose first names are simply initials: T.J. Steele, J.R. Towles, J.B. Shuck, J.D. Martinez and J.A. Happ (although his is pronounced “Jay”). Chris Johnson probably fits into this category too, because everyone pretty much
just calls him C.J.

The front office is also represented, thanks to media relations specialist M.J. Trahan. Don’t forget about the broadcast team either: our very own Jim Deshaies is probably referred to as “Jim” by his wife and, well, that’s about it. The rest of us know him simply as “J.D.

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Our old friend Moises Alou is in town, visiting with his old friend, Jeff Bagwell. Just like old times:

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Pics from pregame fun at Lakeland:

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