VIERA, Fla. -- Astros pitcher Lucas Harrell is focusing this year on perfecting his curveball, a pitch he believes will help him work deeper into games and get more outs. He threw a handful of curves in his four innings of work Tuesday against the Nats and is pleased with the results so far.
"I felt like it was pretty good early, and we threw it a few times to lefties, a few times to righties," Harrell said. "It was my first time throwing it in a game. I really worked on it the last couple of days, really worked on it a lot this offseason trying to get it better. [Catcher Carlos] Corporan and I were on the same page the whole time, and then the defense made some good plays."
Harrell, who allowed three hits and one run and struck out four batters in four innings, is predominantly a fastball/sinker pitcher, though he has an effective cutter and changeup. He said there were some games last year he didn't throw a curveball at all.
"It's usually my fourth-best pitch," he said. "But I want to make it one of my strengths. I threw a lot down in the bullpen, and today I wanted to throw it in situations I wouldn't get hurt. I threw it a couple of times today for a first-pitch strike."
Harrell threw one to Ryan Zimmerman after throwing a couple of good fastballs and got a strikeout looking.
"I knew my curveball wasn't very good, and I knew to be successful, too, you have to pitch longer in the game," he said. "Any time you can help your team and get deeper in the game, that's the key."
Norris to stay on track with simulated game
VIERA, Fla. -- The Astros will have their first of three scheduled off-days in their Grapefruit League schedule on Wednesday, but that doesn't mean there won't be some activity at Osceola County Stadium.
Right-hander Bud Norris is scheduled to throw a four-inning simulated game against Minor League hitters in the morning, keeping him on a track of pitching every five days. Norris threw three innings Friday against the Cardinals in his second start of the spring.
"It's my fifth day and I want to stay on track, so I don't mind coming in on the off-day and getting it done in the morning," Norris said. "It's just really getting your am in shape and seeing how it responds. I'm sure I'll get a couple of more spring starts down here to get my game action, but right now, I'll build up a little strength."
If he keeps pitching every fifth day, Norris would be in line to start the season-opener March 31 against the Rangers at Minute Maid Park. The Astros haven't named their Opening Day starting pitcher yet, but Norris certainly appears to be the leading candidate.
"We want to make sure we keep him sharp and on turn," manager Bo Porter said. "He'll be able to get up to 60, 65 pitches [Wednesday], which will get him ready for his next start. It's too early in spring to skip a day, and we want to keep him on turn."
Porter hopes Bedard returns to action soon
VIERA, Fla. -- Left-hander Erik Bedard has been limited to only two innings this spring because of a strained gluteal muscle. Astros manager Bo Porter said Bedard had been scheduled to pitch Saturday's game against the Braves, but he didn't pitch.
"He's been getting treatment, and hopefully we get him back out there soon," Porter said.
Bedard, who turned 34 on Tuesday, was signed as a non-roster invitee to compete for a spot in the starting rotation, and he certainly has plenty of time left to get healthy and get on the mound a few times. Bedard has been on the disabled list eight times in his career, with the injuries including Tommy John surgery in 2003, a strained oblique in '07, and left shoulder surgeries in '09 and '10.
This has proven to be a pretty healthy camp so far for the Astros outside of newly acquired catcher Max Stassi having to have surgery for a sports hernia that will sideline him until April.
Astros right-hander Hector Ambriz, who hadn't pitched in a spring game because of a sprained left ankle, saw his first Grapefruit League action with one inning of work Tuesday. Ambriz took a comebacker off his left ankle, but said he was fine.
"Everything felt good," he said. "I felt I made good pitches. The comebacker wasn't hit very hard. It got me directly on the ankle bone, but it wasn't an effect on me," Ambriz said.
Brocail: Astros pitchers need to throw more strikes
VIERA, Fla. -- After a frustrating day on the mound when his pitchers struggled to throw strikes and walked nine batters in an 8-5 loss to the Tigers on Monday, Astros pitching coach Doug Brocail on Tuesday planned to talk with his catchers about how to get the pitchers to pound the strike zone more.
"The one thing we need to do is we need to get strike one," he said. "I've always been a preacher that if we have to sit down and talk about a strike zone at this level, we're in trouble. We're going to sit down with the catchers [on Tuesday] and try to figure out if it's we're not throwing enough plate, or too much plate."
Brocail said Astros pitchers threw 184 pitches in eight innings Monday, throwing a first-pitch strike only seven times. When he addresses the catchers, Brocail wants to know how they're setting up behind the plate and how they can get more of the strike zone.
"My theory is one of the first two pitches have to be a strike," Brocail said. "We just need to get out there. Guys are in their third times through [the rotation] and are probably going to go through a little bit of a dead arm phase right now. Hopefully, that's what it is. If it's not, we need to buckle down and start throwing more strikes and trust our stuff and attack the hitters."