KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) -Astros third baseman Chris Johnson sat by his locker Thursday morning and started packing up his bags for a new destination.
Unlike the past three springs when he left camp for Class AAA Round Rock, Johnson will be heading for Houston later tonight to begin the season with the big league team for the first time in his career.
Johnson found out he made the team earlier in the week and hit his seventh home run Thursday in Houston's 4-2 loss against a Detroit Tigers split squad that did not include any players on the 40-man roster.
``It was awesome, the hard work paid off,' Johnson said. ``I was a little bit surprised. ``We've got a bunch of new staff and a new manager and my goal coming in was to show them what I can do. You don't get many chances for a first impression so I just wanted to have the best spring I could.'
Eric Roof had a two-run single during the Tigers three-run seventh inning and finished 2-for-2. Hernan Perez added two hits and an RBI.
With All-Star first baseman Lance Berkman starting the season on the 15-day disabled list, manager Brad Mills wanted another infielder and right-handed bat with pop on his bench.
The Astros will possibly face three left-handers (Barry Zito, Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer) within the first five games of the season and Mills hinted that Johnson could get a start at third in those situations.
``The thing that I think he showed me was his ability to make adjustments a little better than I had heard or seen in the past on tape,' Mills said of Johnson. ``I thought his bat speed was really good. There are a lot of things that jump out from him: his makeup, how big he is and to have that bat speed is huge.'
When the Astros signed Pedro Feliz this offseason to be their every day third baseman, Johnson said he felt like he was going to be put on the backburner. But his numbers this spring (.309 batting average and 19 RBI) and his potential were too much for the new coaching staff to ignore.
``Coming in I didn't really think that I was going to be in the situation I'm in right now,' Johnson said. ``So just keep grinding, keep working and anything can happen.'
Johnson was a fourth round pick of the Astros out of Stetson University in the 2006 draft. He reached the Major Leagues for the first time last September when rosters expanded. He also had a productive season at Class AAA Round Rock where he hit .281 with 13 homers and 42 RBI in 104 games. In four minor league seasons, he's hit a combined to hit .272 with 41 homers and 226 RBI in 1,532 at_bats.
``We think he's the third baseman of the future,' Astros general manager Ed Wade said. ``The kid's got a ton of tools and he'll play at the big league level for a long time.'
Tommy Manzella, out since March 20 with a strained right quadriceps, got his first Grapefruit League start since the injury on Thursday. He finished 0 for 4, but flashed some nice defense at short.
Astros reliever Brandon Lyon was battered around in his inning of work. He allowed three runs on four hits and a walk in his fifth appearance of the spring. Closer Matt Lindstrom increased his scoreless innings streak to 9 2-3 this spring.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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