Opposite dugout: Springer, powerful Astros looking to launch

AstrosLogo.jpgManager: Bo Porter, second year
Record: 9-17
Last 10 games: 4-6
Who to watch: SS Jonathan Villar (.234/.289/.468, 11 XBH, 8 RBIs, 4 SB); C Jason Castro (.221/.322/.429, 4 HR, 13 RBIs); RF George Springer (.170/.264/.213, 2 doubles, 2 RBIs); LHP Brett Oberholtzer (0-4, 4.61 ERA, 22 K)
Season series vs. Nats (2013): Did not play

Pitching probables
April 29: Jarred Cosart vs. Gio Gonzalez, 8 p.m., MASN2 HD
April 30: Brett Oberholtzer vs. Jordan Zimmermann, 8 p.m., MASN2 HD

Series breakdown
The young Astros give the Nationals their first look at touted outfield prospect George Springer.

The 24-year-old right fielder is a consensus top-20 prospect, ranked 18th by Baseball America, 19th by ESPN.com and 20th by Baseball Prospectus. After recording 65 homers and a .959 OPS in four minor league seasons, Springer is still searching for his swing at the top level, hitting .170 with 15 strikeouts in 47 at-bats through 12 games.

Former Nats third base coach Bo Porter faces his former team as Astros manager for the first time. But Houston is off to another sluggish start after going an MLB-worst 51-111 a season ago.

The Astros are 9-17 because of an offense that ranks last in baseball with a .210 average and second-last with 85 runs. But Houston, which has no regulars older than 28, is tied for sixth in the majors with 29 homers even though no player has hit more than four. Catcher Jason Castro and third baseman Matt Dominguez.

Houston is also dealing with pitching issues, some related to health. Opening day starter Scott Feldman hasn’t pitched since April 17 because of biceps tendinitis, after going 2-1 with a 1.69 ERA over his first four starts. Reliever Matt Albers, who leads the bullpen with a 0.90 ERA, is out with right shoulder tendinitis. Reliever Jesse Crain, an All-Star with the White Sox last season and a leading candidate to close for Houston, has yet to pitch this season after offseason biceps surgery.

As a team, the Astros’ 4.82 ERA is fourth-worst in baseball with the bullpen ranked last with a 6.05 ERA.

But their balanced power and Springer could make for an interesting couple of days.

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