Well-traveled Kratz eager to help Astros

Well-traveled Kratz eager to help Astros

HOUSTON -- The welcome party was brief for Erik Kratz, and it had to be with Opening Day looming. The Astros' new backup catcher was acquired from San Diego on Monday, and he only joined the squad in Houston for this two-game exhibition series against Milwaukee.

It's certainly been a whirlwind of sorts for the veteran.

"At first, you're disappointed you're leaving the team you've worked with, but I'm going to a great situation here that's ready to win," Kratz said. "That's obviously exciting."

The Astros needed big league experience behind Jason Castro after Max Stassi went down with a left wrist injury. Kratz fits the bill, having played for four teams in six seasons. And Houston's high expectations won't be a problem, considering he played for the Phillies at the end of their recent playoff run, a star-laden Toronto club in 2014 and then the Royals in 2014-15.

"It's normal for me," Kratz said. "Makes you feel good. If they traded me to a team looking to lose, that wouldn't say too much about me. They see a way I can help them."

Right now, manager A.J. Hinch said the focus is on getting Kratz familiar with the pitching staff. Kratz started Friday's exhibition vs. Milwaukee and played the final four innings in Thursday's game. A former catcher himself, Hinch likes what he sees so far.

"He's got a strong arm, a big body back there that should give a good target," Hinch said. "His receiving skills are good. I know he's got some home run power to the pull side. The way he balances out Castro is beneficial. I like the fact that, so far, just his reputation and our initial look, his priority is catching behind the plate and the way he presents pitches."

Hinch said Kratz will likely start next Thursday's game against the Yankees -- a day game immediately following a night game -- with Mike Fiers on the mound. Fiers also started Friday's exhibition with Kratz behind the dish, but Hinch is hesitant to get wrapped up in a "personal catcher" situation.

"I'm not really into the personal catcher component of it," Hinch said. "Obviously, I say that and I'll catch the same guy over and over again, and you'll call me on it. I don't want our guys to fall in love with either one in particular.

"I'd like the liberty to set the game up based on game time, game situation and matchups. He'll end up catching everybody."

As much as anything, Kratz might be an ideal clubhouse guy -- an affable, confident and humble presence for a team chasing a title. He even quipped, "I'll probably get 30 games at shortstop," when asked what Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow told him to expect upon his arrival with the team.

Kratz hopes to harness that style and his experience to develop a staff with disparate stories, including: a reigning Cy Young winner in Dallas Keuchel, a comeback effort for Doug Fister, fireballer sophomore Lance McCullers and journeyman-turned-20-game-winner Collin McHugh.

"A lot of guys with a good track record, really good ability and then some that haven't even tapped into their ultimate potential," Kratz said. "That's part of being a catcher, helping these guys reach that level.

"Everybody in baseball can see the talent, and I'm on board pretty quick with the goals here."

Chris Abshire is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.