Astros' Springer hopes to stay healthy, reach potential
KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) The Houston Astros are still waiting to get a whole season out of George Springer.
''Obviously, the goal is to stay on the field, but there's some stuff you can't control,'' the 26-year-old outfielder said Saturday. ''I was able to take some strides and figure some stuff out as a player, and obviously I was happy with the stuff the team was able to do.''
Obscured by the success of the Astros' breakthrough year was the disappointment that Springer, their high-energy right fielder, had to sit out two months after a pitch from Edinson Volquez broke his right wrist in midseason. He returned for most of September and the playoffs, finishing with a .276 average, 16 home runs and 41 RBIs in 102 games.
''Because he hasn't played 150 or 155 games in a year, there's certainly (the assumption that) the numbers would increase if we could keep him on the field for that length time,'' manager A.J. Hinch said. ''Unfortunately for him, some of the things that have hurt him during the season have been very bizarre circumstance – he gets him by a 97 mph fastball, he runs head-first into a wall . . . He plays at a style that's very aggressive, but he can do anything on this field. There's a vibe and an excitement that comes when Springer's playing.''
Springer's big rookie season of 2014, in which he hit 20 homers in a 59-game span, ended in July due to a quad strain. Last year the Astros went 26-27 without him. General manager Jeff Luhnow referred to him as ''the heart and soul of this team.''
When he returned on Sept. 4, he was ''good enough to play, I felt fine,'' Springer said. ''This isn't a try-hard league. When they stick you out there, you can't make excuses, you go out and play.''
Said Hinch: ''He had to get up and running very quickly. There weren't any rehab games. There wasn't enough time to get him ramped up like you normally would to build the hand strength. He had to play while rehabbing, and that's not always easy to do in a pennant race.''
So as the new season looms, there is the sense that Springer's best has yet to be seen.
''There's not one aspect of this game that I can say that I've gotten figured out,'' he said. ''I need to improve on anything I can.''
He spent the winter in Houston ''doing anything and everything'' to stay in shape.
''I like to play basketball, soccer, just for different movements and different this and that,'' he said. ''It's fun; I like it. I use it as a condition tool.''
And maybe this is the year of 40 homers and/or 120 RBIs?
''It's not about that,'' Springer said. ''It's about what I can do to help us that day. If that's a walk, a stolen base, a sac fly, that's what counts, not the stats at the end of the day. But the game is starting to slow down for me. I'm starting to get more relaxed, and that's a good thing.''
NOTES: Veteran LHP Neal Cotts, signed by the Astros on Friday, threw a bullpen session Saturday afternoon . . . Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel threw live batting practice for the first time. . . . SS Carlos Correa batting third is the only fixed part of the batting order, Hinch said . . . The Astros will play their first exhibition game Thursday at Clearwater against the Philadelphia Phillies.