KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- One of the pitchers in the thick of the battle for a spot in the bullpen this season is left-hander Sergio Escalona, who had a solid season for Houston in 2011 before missing all of last year following Tommy John surgery.
Escalona, who was 2-1 with a 2.93 ERA in 49 appearances in '11, tore his ulnar collateral ligament last spring and underwent surgery in March. He comes to camp this year with no restrictions and excited about the strides he's made.
"I feel 200 percent," he said with a smile. "It was a long time to prepare for this day and I feel great. I feel like my conditioning is back, everything is back. Hopefully everything is working."
Escalona has even thrown two light bullpen sessions already and has had no setbacks. He spent most of last year rehabbing in Florida before going to his native Venezuela late in the year to work out with a professional team.
"My goal was to be ready for Spring Training," he said. "I don't have any restrictions. I'm ready to go, seriously. I feel good. I feel better than before. I know it's just nine months from the surgery, but I think I'll be healthy and strong and focused on doing my job."
Starters to compete for Opening Day assignment
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Considering the Astros are still seven weeks away from opening the season against the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park, the thought of picking an Opening Day starting pitcher isn't on the front of manager Bo Porter's mind.
The two obvious options are right-handers Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell. Norris has tenure on Harrell, but Harrell had a better season last year, going 11-11 with a 3.76 ERA in 32 starts en route to being named the team's Pitcher of the Year.
"We don't have one yet," said Porter when asked Monday about a potential Opening Day assignment. "That's another competition that will work itself out. In sports, I'm a firm believer that competition is probably one of the best things. It makes guys rise to the occasion and you want to see who's going to take the bull by the horns and say, 'Look, I'm showing you that I should be the Opening Day starter.' It's an honor to be an Opening Day starter for a Major League Baseball team."
Roy Oswalt started a club-record eight consecutive Opening Days from 2003-10 before Brett Myers (2011) and Wandy Rodriguez (2012) took the honor. The Astros haven't had three different pitchers start in consecutive Opening Days since Scott Elarton (2001), Wade Miller (2002) and Oswalt (2003).
The Astros open the season and their time in the American League against the Rangers at Minute Maid Park in a nationally televised game Sunday, March 31 at 7:05 p.m. CT on ESPN.
Pitchers have time to get ready
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- With the World Baseball Classic adding an extra week to the length of Spring Training, the pitchers who reported Monday know they have to take it easy. They'll have close to seven weeks to get ready for the start of the season.
That means there's plenty of time for bullpen sessions, live batting practice and game action.
"You have to take your time," right-hander Bud Norris said. "You have seven weeks down here. It's not being ready for the first day of camp to throw a 100-pitch game, it's just really taking your time and getting your throwing program and workout program dialed in, and that's going to carry you through September and October, hopefully."
General manager Jeff Luhnow said that with 61 players, the Astros have one of the smallest Spring Training rosters in baseball. Combined with the fact they have seven weeks to settle on a roster, it's an ideal situation.
"For us, that's a good formula because we really want to take our time and be sure everybody gets enough of a look," he said. "Our philosophy is going to be as soon as we know someone is not on the club, we'll send them out because we want to allocate that playing time to the ones that are left."
• Rice University will honor Philip Humber for the perfect game he threw with the White Sox in 2012 by unveiling a commemorative plaque Thursday at Reckling Park in Houston. The plaque recognizes Humber's accomplishment and features the text of the email he sent to Rice head coach Wayne Graham shortly after pitching his gem against the Seattle Mariners on April 21.
• Carlos Perez, who will be one of seven catchers in camp, didn't report Monday. Luhnow said he's held up on a visa issue in his native Venezuela.
• Right-hander Chia-Jen Lo has opted to not play in the World Baseball Classic and has reported to camp.
• No. 1 overall Draft pick Carlos Correa and 2012 fourth-round pick Rio Ruiz were in Kissimmee for a week earlier this winter to work with hitting instructors Jeff Albert and Ralph Dickenson. The Astros wanted them to go back and work on some things at home before coming back to Kissimmee.
"The reports were all fantastic on those guys," Luhnow said.
• Dan Radison is serving as assistant hitting coach/advance scout this year and will travel with the club. He'll handle video scouting during the season.