WASHINGTON -- Tuesday night's game against the Nationals marked Astros manager Bo Porter's first trip to Nationals Park since Game 5 of the 2012 National League Division Series, when the Cardinals beat the Nats, 9-7, to end Washington's season. Porter was finishing his second season as the Nationals' third-base coach and had already accepted the job in Houston.
"It's always nice to come back to a place in which you know a lot of people," Porter said. "We had some really good times here. Two-thousand twelve was a special season. We had the best record in baseball (98-64). It didn't end the way we all wanted to in the end, but all in all I have a lot of great friends here. It's a great place to play baseball, and I'm excited to be back with our ballclub, and we're playing well as well."
Porter was seen by some as a prime candidate to take over for former Washington manager Davey Johnson, who wound up retiring after the 2013 season. For Porter, the chance to manage in his hometown of Houston was too good to pass up. Even when the Nationals' season ended, Porter was too bummed out to focus on his coming job.
"Game 5 of the NLDS was probably the lowest moment of my life," Porter said. "It's the last time I was in this ballpark. At that moment, I think there were tears, there was frustration, there was sadness. We had just lost Game 5, and we felt like we had a world championship-caliber team."
Astros reach deal with fifth-round Draft pick Nix
WASHINGTON -- Jacob Nix, the Astros' fifth-round Draft pick this year, who was considered to be a tough signing based on his commitment to UCLA, told MLB.com on Tuesday that he had agreed to a deal to join the Astros. He said he would be in Houston next week to sign his contract, take a physical and have a news conference.
MLB.com's Jim Callis reported that Nix agreed to a $1.5 million signing bonus, which is well above the assigned slot value of $370,500 for the 136th overall pick. The Astros had not announced the deal.
"It's a dream come true," Nix told MLB.com. "It's pretty crazy we were able to come to an agreement in the fifth round."
Nix is a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher from Los Alamitos High School in California. He pitched on Team USA's under-18 gold-medal-winning team in 2013. Also on the team was Brady Aiken, whom the Astros selected with the No 1. overall pick, and the two are friends.
"After not being drafted on the first day I was expecting to go to school, and we ended up sorting out a better deal in the fifth round," Nix said. "I had my dollar figure, and if I got my dollar figure I'd turn pro, and if it were a dollar less I was going to college. It was a fairly easy decision."
Nix said he would report to Kissimmee, Fla., next week to begin his pro career.
Altuve back in lineup for opener against Nats
WASHINGTON -- Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, who led the Major Leagues with 90 hits entering Tuesday, was back in the starting lineup against the Nationals for the first time since Thursday. He was hit on the hand by a pitch in that game and did not start over the weekend against the Rays in Houston.
Altuve was back in the No. 2 spot in the batting order behind Dexter Fowler.
"I feel really good," said Altuve, who had a pinch-hit at-bat in the ninth inning Sunday. "I feel 100 percent. I'm going to be ready to go and get on base and play defense to keep winning some games."
The Astros' lineup is clearly much more effective with Altuve in it. Entering Tuesday he had hit safely in 30 of his past 34 games and led the American League with 24 stolen bases. Defensively, he ranked third among Major League second basemen in total chances (320) but had made just two errors.
"It's always exciting when you pencil the big guy in the lineup," manager Bo Porter said. "We're happy to have him back. That was a scare, but the news was good right away with it not being a fracture and the soreness and the swelling is behind him, so he's ready to go."
Astros, Nats honor Gwynn before series opener
WASHINGTON -- The Astros and the Nationals held a moment of silence prior to Tuesday night's game for Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn, who died Monday at age 54 following a battle with cancer.
Astros manager Bo Porter had met Gwynn a few times and considers himself a friend of Tony Gwynn Jr., who plays for the Phillies.
"It's a sad day in baseball to lose one of the greatest players in the history of our game," Porter said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, and it's just one of those [things] when you look at his age and you reflect on his career, you realize how special a player he was and a person. We lost one of our great human beings."
Like Gwynn, Astros legend Craig Biggio played for one team for 20 seasons and retired with more than 3,000 hits. Losing a contemporary like Gwynn brought sadness to Biggio.
"You play the game for 20 years, so I've seen a lot of good players, and he's the best hitter, as far as putting the bat on the ball and hitting it consistently hard every time," Biggio said. "It didn't get any better than him."
Biggio remembers being at Jack Murphy Stadium (now Qualcomm Stadium) years back and, from the dugout, seeing Gwynn go out to the field with a tee and a bucket of balls. Gwynn put the tee on home plate and started hitting balls down the third-base line, hitting some through the six-hole, some up the middle and some through the four-hole, ending by pulling balls down the first-base line.
"To sit there and have a seat in the house and watch this guy do this for 30 minutes was impressive," Biggio said. "He just hit every ball hard and hit it where he wanted to hit it, and that's hard to do. Just shows you the caliber of hitter he was and his skill set. He's the best pure hitter I've ever seen."
When in Washington: Luhnows tour White House
WASHINGTON -- What would a trip to the nation's capital be without some sightseeing? Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and his son and daughter on Tuesday took a tour of the White House, which was arranged with the help of the father of scouting director Mike Elias.
Richard Elias retired last year after serving as assistant director in charge of intelligence of the Secret Service, which, of course, is charged with protecting the President. He used to oversee agent training as well. Elias arranged for a Secret Service agent to provide a tour to the Luhnows.
"We kind of got to see how the White House works from his perspective, and it was very eye-opening," Luhnow said. "And then we had a chance to meet one of the senior people with the Secret Service back at their headquarters and had a chance to walk around that building a little bit. It's amazing how much work goes into the protection of the President and the first family. It was a great learning experience for the kids and me."
When the Astros visited Washington two years ago in their final season in the NL, Richard Elias gave Luhnow a tour of the training facility in Maryland, which Luhnow said was spectacular.
• Astros right-hander Brad Peacock did not make the trip with the team to Washington after coming down with a case of food poisoning. Peacock spent the night at a Houston hospital and was expected to fly to Tampa, Fla., in time for his start Saturday against the Rays.
• Luhnow said he still hoped for a quick signing of No. 1 overall Draft pick Brady Aiken, a left-handed pitcher from California. He said there was no rush, though, considering Aiken will be on a limited schedule once he starts his pro career.
"We'd like to do it in a way that allows him to come to Houston when we're there," Luhnow said. "I'm not going to say it's going to happen next homestand, but we would like it to happen sometime in the next two homestands."
• Right-hander Anthony Bass, who has been on the disabled list since May 11 with a right intercostal strain, threw a simulated game Monday in Kissimmee, Fla., and could be sent out on a Minor League rehab stint soon. Luhnow said that could happen at Class A Quad Cities given the schedule of some of the other Minor League affiliates.