McHugh sharp as Astros power up in spring opener

No longer battling for rotation spot, right-hander strikes out three

McHugh sharp as Astros power up in spring opener

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Because he was battling for a spot on the roster a year ago, right-hander Collin McHugh didn't even get a chance to start a game in the spring. He didn't make the club, but he was called up by the end of April and wound up making 25 starts and becoming a great story.

McHugh took the ball for the Astros' Spring Training opener Thursday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium in only the second start of his career in a Spring Training game. Instead of worrying about a spot on the club, McHugh can focus on getting in his work.

McHugh sailed through two scoreless innings against the Phillies, striking out three batters and walking one in the Astros' 6-3 victory.

"In terms of just kind of mental space, it's different because I've never been here, never broken camp with a team before," McHugh said. "It's different, but I'm excited because I'm honored to be called one of the five guys who gets the ball."

Phillies starter Cliff Lee worked two scoreless innings and gave up two hits with no walks or strikeouts. It marked his first game action since July 31 after he went on the disabled list with a left elbow strain and missed the rest of the regular season.

With the starting pitchers out of the way, the Astros blasted three homers in a span of two innings to take a 4-1 lead. Luis Valbuena, making his first appearance in a Houston uniform, socked a solo homer in the fourth inning, and Robbie Grossman and Marwin Gonzalez homered on consecutive pitches off Phillippe Aumont in the fifth.

Up next: Left-hander Brett Oberholtzer, who's a favorite for the No. 4 spot in the starting rotation, gets on the mound for the first time this spring when the Astros travel to Jupiter, Fla., to face the Cardinals at 12:05 p.m. CT on Friday, live on Gameday Audio. Most of Houston's veteran pitchers won't make the long trip down the Florida Turnpike.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.