DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Astros manager Bo Porter issued a challenge to Carlos Correa on Wednesday: Correa was going to start Thursday's game against the Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, and he was going to have all day to think about it.
Correa started one game earlier this spring, but Porter wanted to see how the 19-year-old shortstop would respond when he didn't just show up at the ballpark and see his name in the lineup. As it turned out, Correa couldn't have handled the challenge much better.
The Astros' top prospect hit two home runs, his first of the spring, and made a pair of excellent defensive plays in Houston's 7-5 win over Toronto, showing off the enormous potential that got him picked No. 1 overall by the Astros in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
"Outstanding performance," Porter said. "He responded the way you would want your player to respond, and to go out there and perform the way he performed today, it's pretty impressive."
Correa's big day began in the first inning, when he teamed up with left fielder L.J. Hoes and catcher Carlos Corporan on a relay play that cut down Jose Bautista at the plate. Correa received Hoes' throw from the outfield and fired a laser right to Corporan, who tagged out the sliding Bautista.
"He's very good. I've actually had the chance to be able to play with Manny Machado, and I tell Correa this a lot -- that he reminds me a lot of him, the way they look, the way they move on the field and the way they swing the bat. It's very similar," Hoes said. "That's somebody great that you want to be compared to. He's going to be a great ballplayer as long as he continues to work and develop."
In the third inning, Correa deposited a high sinker from Esmil Rogers over the left-field fence for a solo homer, his first of the spring. He continued his excellent work in the field in the fourth inning, ranging to his left to snag a Brett Lawrie grounder then spinning and making the throw to first base in time for the force out.
"I was just focused. [Porter] told me I was going to start," said Correa, who wasn't expecting to play all nine innings, either. "I came out here with the mentality to play hard, play the game the right way, do my best all the time out there on the field the whole time out there and respect the game."
Correa launched his second homer in the eighth off Blue Jays right-hander Neil Wagner, lofting another high fastball into the wind and eventually over the wall in right-center field for a two-run homer.
"Age aside, this guy's a really good baseball player. There's no age criteria on how good you can be, but he's a focused individual," Porter said. "He's one of the first ones to the ballpark. He's the last one to leave. His attention to detail is mature for his age, but that's why he plays the game at the speed at which he plays it; because he's confident."
Keuchel continues cruising through spring
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- When asked before Thursday's game what he'd like to see out of left-hander Dallas Keuchel, Astros manager Bo Porter gave a simple answer: Keep doing what he's doing.
This spring for Keuchel, that's meant putting up scoreless innings, and that's what he continued to do in a 7-5 win over the Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Keuchel allowed six hits with no walks and two strikeouts over four scoreless innings. That gives the lefty a nine-inning scoreless streak over three outings to start the Grapefruit League season.
"Keuchel was outstanding. To go through that lineup and pitch the way he pitched, it's really good to see him use all of his pitches, especially against a really good fastball-hitting team," Porter said afterward. "I felt like even at times when he was even or behind in the count, he was able to throw his offspeed stuff -- his changeup, his curveball -- to get back into the count, then he was still able to use his fastball because he was throwing his breaking stuff in any count, and he pitched to both sides of the plate."
Keuchel got some help from his defense in the first inning, when a 5-4-3 double play negated Jose Reyes' leadoff single and a relay throw from L.J. Hoes to Carlos Correa to catcher Carlos Corporan cut down Jose Bautista as he slid home.
"You never know what the first inning's going to be like if that out is not made. I got lucky, and the defense is always going to be a big key for me, because I'm a ground-ball pitcher and I work off those guys."
Keuchel bounced back with three straight groundouts in the second inning and worked his way out of a two-out jam with runners on first and second in the third inning by striking out Bautista on a changeup.
"You've always got to be a little happy with throwing up some zeros," Keuchel said. "I think I had a little bit more movement on my two-seam and changeup today, so that was kind of nice, and just rolled from there."
Singleton squares up, breaks out at plate
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- First-base prospect Jon Singleton -- No. 4 on the Houston list -- arose from his Grapefruit League slumber in a big way Thursday, bashing a solo shot to right-center field off Blue Jays starter Esmil Rogers.
That home run ended an 0-for-16 start to the spring for Singleton, and he went on to also draw two walks in the Astros' 7-5 win over the Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
"I finally squared up the ball, so I'm definitely making progress and stuff like that," Singleton said. "It's definitely a great feeling. ... At this point, I'm not ready to start the season. Every day's a work in progress, but I'm getting to that point."
Houston manager Bo Porter has praised Singleton for how he's working at-bats despite the lengthy hitless stretch, as evidenced by his eight walks compared to seven strikeouts this spring. Still, Porter was happy to see Singleton put one over the fence on Thursday.
"It was a really good swing, and I've said this: He hadn't really had any hits, but the at-bats have been deep counts," Porter said. "He's putting together quality at-bats, and that's more so what we're looking at. But it was good to see him really get down through a baseball today and put a good swing on it."
• Astros pitchers Mark Appel and Jesse Crain are progressing on their way back to the mound, Astros manager Bo Porter said Thursday. Appel is coming along slowly after undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Jan. 30, while Crain is recovering from a strained right calf.
"I know Appel is getting close," Porter said. "Crain is continuing the program which the trainers have laid out for him. His arm strength is increasing, and we're going to continue to monitor those guys as we go along."
• Left-hander Kevin Chapman allowed a walk and struck out a batter in 1 2/3 innings on Thursday, working parts of three innings. Porter said before the game he was looking to get certain relievers in the kind of matchups they'll face in the regular season, which is why Chapman stayed in to face another left-handed hitter. Overall, Chapman has put together four scoreless Grapefruit League appearances over 4 1/3 innings.
"Chapman did a tremendous job," Porter said.
• Outfielder George Springer -- the Astros' No. 3 Prospect -- went 1-for-2 with a double and a walk a day after knocking a walk-off single, and Porter is pleased with the way he's adjusted this spring.
"Early on in camp, I think he was over-swinging. That's something that hitting coach John Mallee has talked to him about," Porter said. "But what I've been impressed with this spring is his strike-zone discipline."