Astros Humber on new opportunity, perfect game

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- With the exception of a couple of pitches he left up in the strike zone -- and another he tossed over the middle of the plate to avoid a walk -- Astros starter Philip Humber had another crisp outing in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Braves.

Humber, who will start for the Astros on April 3 against the Rangers, went six innings and allowed three solo homers and no walks while striking out four batters. In 20 innings this spring, he's allowed eight hits and five runs while striking out 11 batters.

"I felt good about the way the ball was coming out of my hand, especially early," said Humber, who will pitch one of the split-squad games Thursday. "I got a little bit tired late, but that's good. That's what we're after is pushing limits a little bit this spring. The changeup was really good today, and that's a really good sign for me. Overall, I was happy with how things went."

The spring couldn't have been scripted any better for Humber, a Texas native who signed with Houston after being claimed off waivers. He was guaranteed a spot in the rotation, but certainly pitched well enough to follow Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell.

"I'm thankful," he said. "After coming off of last year, I was just looking for an opportunity, and they've treated me very well here and given me a chance to come in and compete. I felt like I've earned a spot on the team and that feels good, to know that you worked hard, and to come in and get good results is a blessing. I'm just happy things have worked out. The work's not done, and I'm just excited for the season."

As far as making his debut for the Astros while facing Texas, that's ideal, too.

"It was neat last year because [the White Sox] opened up in Texas in Arlington and I had a lot of family and friends at that one," he said. "This will be a little bit cooler, I guess, because I'm playing on a Texas team. I'm sure I'll have a lot of ticket requests and things like that, but that's part of it.

"I'm thankful to have family and friends that support what I do, and I'll be really excited when we get to Houston and get to catch up with a lot of people. A lot of people were rooting for me in Spring Training because they wanted me to be there because it wasn't for sure. You sign a deal, but I still had to come in and win a spot. I'm thankful for it, and I think it's going to be fun."

Astros nearing deal with shortstop Cedeno

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros are closing in on a deal with free-agent infielder Ronny Cedeno, a baseball source has told MLB.com. Cedeno was released by the Cardinals earlier this week.

Cedeno, 30, will provide some middle infield depth for the Astros, who have yet to see either Tyler Greene or Marwin Gonzalez seize the starting shortstop job. Cedeno has played mostly shortstop in his career, but he can also play second.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow couldn't be reached for comment.

Cedeno played for the Mets last year and appeared in 78 games, hitting .259 with four homers and 22 RBIs in 186 plate appearances. He's a career .247 hitter with 37 homers and 218 RBIs in an eight-year career with the Cubs, Pirates, Mariners and Mets.

The Astros traded shortstop Jed Lowrie in February and came to camp with Greene and Gonzalez vying to be his replacement. They've both had 42 at-bats in 18 games this spring. Greene is hitting .167 with no RBIs and Gonzalez is hitting .238 with a homer and two RBIs.

Astros' Rule 5 pick Freiman claimed by A's

HOU@NYM: Freiman scores a pair with single to center

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Nate Freiman, the burly 6-foot-8 slugger who the Astros took a chance on in last year's Rule 5 Draft, was claimed off waivers by the Oakland A's on Saturday.

Freiman was in uniform for the Astros' game against the Braves on Saturday at Champion Stadium, but not for long. Houston manager Bo Porter told him in the dugout in the first inning he was headed to the West Coast.

"When I said it to him, he said with a sadness in his voice, 'So I'm not a Houston Astro anymore?'" Porter said. "I said, 'You are now an Oakland A and I wish you well.' It's one of those things. It's the nature of baseball."

As the Astros move toward the end of their stay in Florida, it became clear Freiman wasn't going to fit into their plans. General manager Jeff Luhnow said the club placed him on waivers to try to work out a possible trade with the Padres, but he didn't clear. He must stay on Oakland's 25-man roster all season or be offered back to San Diego.

"When we selected him in the Rule 5 in December, we thought we were getting a right-handed power guy who's had good success, and he's done everything to prove that's what he was," Luhnow said.

But with the Astros having acquired Chris Carter, who will start in left field and can DH, and the strong springs of corner infielders Brett Wallace and Brandon Laird, Freiman became a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Luhnow said he was impressed by what he saw in Freiman.

"He did a good job and he proved to us he is what we thought he was," he said. "Whether or not he's ready for the big leagues after being in Double-A, that's anybody's guess, but he did everything that we hoped he would. It's not a reflection on him, it's a reflection of we stayed healthy and we had a lot of options on the corners. When you talk about a player that is limited to first base or DH, there's not many roster spots available for those types of players."

The move leaves the Astros with 35 players in camp eight days ahead of Opening Day, and Laird may have bettered his chances of making the club. Luhnow said the Astros will make roster moves when necessary in the next week, but he doesn't expect a big wave of cuts at once.

"It clears up the picture a little bit," he said. "It doesn't mean anybody's guaranteed anything yet, because we still need to determine those last couple of spots with [Brandon] Barnes and J.D. [Martinez] and Laird, and there's still enough guys in the mix. Same thing on the pitching side with the last spot in the bullpen, the last spot in the rotation. We still have our work cut out for us but we have games every day, so we'll keep after it."

Meanwhile, relief pitcher Josh Fields, who was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in Rule 5 Draft, still has a good shot to make the club. Last year, the Astros carried Rhiner Cruz all season as a Rule 5 selection.

"It's a little easier with a relief pitcher than it is with a position player," Luhnow said. "We're still optimistic we can give him a few more looks and make the right decision for the club."

Fields makes case for 'pen spot with perfect inning

Top Prospects: Josh Fields, RHP, Astros

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- With big first baseman Nate Freiman getting snatched up on waivers by the Oakland A's, the Astros have one remaining Rule 5 player in camp in right-handed reliever Josh Fields, who threw a 1-2-3 inning against the Braves on Saturday.

Fields, who was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft from Boston, appears to have a good shot to make the club. Freiman was the victim of his lack of versatility and too many other players at his position, but Fields is competing to win a spot in a wide-open bullpen.

"God's very gracious," Fields said. "He's blessed me with an unbelievable opportunity here with the Astros, and I'm super pumped to be here. I'm pretty excited where things are at and hoping I can keep working and keep improving, and hopefully I'll stick around a while."

Fields, who's allowed seven hits and three earned runs in 8 2/3 innings this spring, has tried not to think about the chance he could be wearing a different uniform in a week.

"If you think about it like that, it can get a little nerve-wracking," he said. "I trust where I'm at in the organization and I'll be fine."

Fields said he still has a few finishing touches to get done mechanically and admits he's a late bloomer.

"I'm feeling pretty good right now, and hopefully as the season progresses, I'd like to get a little more consistency in my release point," he said.

Worth noting

• Minor League right-hander David Martinez will start for the Astros on Sunday against the Marlins at Osceola County Stadium. Porter says he's trying to get his starting rotation lined up by the start of the regular season in a week.

• Porter said most of the Astros' regular players will stay in Kissimmee, Fla., to face the Tigers on Thursday, when the Astros have a split-squad scheduled for the final day of the Grapefruit League season. Some of the reserves and Minor League players will travel to Disney to face the Braves that day.