The Astros get started with the Rays

Cy Young hopefuls, question on Correa highlight opening series

Justin Verlander pitches Game 1. Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros finished their exhibition season Tuesday at Minute Maid Park and now turn their sights to Tampa Bay and the Rays for baseball's opening day on Thursday.

Probable Pitching Matchup

Thursday, March 28

Justin Verlander vs Blake Snell

The top two finishers for last year's Cy Young oppose each other for the season's first game. Snell allowed seven hits and two runs in two different outings against the Astros last year. Verlander faced the Rays twice with one start being one of his rare poor outings. He allowed five runs on nine hits in five innings of work. The other was just a one run outing.

Friday, March 29

Gerrit Cole vs Charlie Morton

The contract year begins for Gerrit Cole who is set to be a free agent at the end of the season. Cole finished fifth in Cy Young voting last year. Morton begins a two-year deal with the Rays after finishing up his two years with the Astros where he was 29-10 with a 3.36 ERA.

Saturday, March 30

Collin McHugh vs Tyler Glasnow

The Astros have shifted McHugh back to the rotation after a season in the bullpen. He has started 102 games for the Astros in his career producing a 48-28 record with a 3.70 ERA as a starter. Last year as a relief pitcher he had a career low ERA of 1.99.

Sunday, March 31

Wade Miley vs TBA (The Opener)

The Rays will utilize The Opener instead of a traditional starter in this spot. Tampa posted the league's best ERA last season when they added The Opener to their rotation. Wade Miley is the lone left-handed pitcher in the starting rotation taking over the role filled by Dallas Keuchel. Miley was 5-2 with a 2.57 ERA last year in 16 starts for the Brewers.

Offensive Opponent to Watch: CF Tommy Pham

The former Cardinals outfielder disappointed for the Redbirds but for the Rays he's been awesome. His average and on-base percentage went up almost 100 points each when he moved to the American League. His slugging went up almost 200 points. He's the best hitter for the Rays by a wide margin. He has a lifetime .583 batting average against Gerrit Cole.

Notes from Tuesday's Exhibition

Alex Bregman played shortstop as Carlos Correa was a late scratch with neck stiffness. Manager A.J. Hinch was non-committal on Correa's status for Thursday's season opener. Hinch said he didn't think Correa's injury was a long-term issue but is not thrilled he hasn't played the few days leading up to the season starting. If Correa misses time it will be interesting to see how Hinch manages third base and shortstop. His best offensive lineup would likely be Tyler White at third with Bregman sliding over to short.

J.B. Bukauskas was the Astros first round selection in 2017 and he took the mound for the start in the exhibition finale. He had a much better Minute Maid Park debut than Forrest Whitley did. He scattered three hits over his four innings of work allowing two runs on a fourth-inning home run. He struck out three Pirates two with a fastball and one with his breaking pitch. One gripe with the outing would be he wasn't exactly economical with his pitched throwing 63 but just 30 for strikes.

Corbin Martin was a second round selection for the Astros in 2017. He relieved Bukauskas and tossed four innings of scoreless relief. His fastball sat in the high 90's for a good portion of his outing producing two strikeouts while his slider added two more strikeouts. He would add a fifth punch out with a change-up. The former Texas A&M pitcher was the most impressive of the highly touted Astros prospect arms.

George Springer annihilated a baseball into left-center field for the Astros lone run of the day.

Aledmys Díaz is thought to be the new Marwin Gonzalez with his versatility but he struggled to hit this spring. He had the most at-bats on the team in the springs and slashed (AVG/OBP/SLG) .154/.241/.212.

Tony Kemp posted the highest on-base percentage of regularly playing Astros players this spring with a .490 on-base percentage. Alex Bregman was close with .488 himself.

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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