Notes: Plan is for Biggio to DH more

Notes: Plan is for Biggio to DH more

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- In the past couple of years, Astros manager Phil Garner used designated hitters during Spring Training home games, even though Osceola County Stadium is a National League ballpark.

The DH habit started even before Garner became manager. Former skipper Jimy Williams used the DH as a way to allow Jeff Bagwell to hit but not have to play in the field, as the first baseman battled through a shoulder injury that plagued him for the final four years of his career.

With Bagwell retired, it may have made sense for the Astros to go back to playing by NL rules, but Garner prefers to use the DH in the early stages of Spring Training games. On Friday, Garner tabbed Craig Biggio as his DH for the opener at Kissimmee.

Garner plans to implement the DH rule, assuming the visiting team is in agreement, for the first few games of Spring Training.

"It'll get Biggio more at-bats," Garner said. "He doesn't need to be on the field right now. We'll get him out there soon enough. That way he can get three or four at-bats today without having to stand on the field. It's a courtesy to the American League teams, too."

Biggio has no issue with the plan.

"We're pacing ourselves for Opening Day, we're not pacing ourselves to be ready in the next week or so," Biggio said. "By the time it's all said and done, we'll be perfectly ready to go for the season to start."

Stitches required: Brooks Conrad cut his hand so severely while trying to break up a double play on Friday that the injury required 12 stitches.

Conrad, who pinch-ran for Mark Loretta in the fifth frame, feels lucky that the damage wasn't worse, and he hopes to be playing in a week, although that may be a bit optimistic.

"It wasn't deep enough to get any of the tendons, so that was lucky," said Conrad, whose left hand met Tigers second baseman Kevin Hooper's cleat as the infield prospect slid into second. "It cut all the way down there to where you could see them. It just cut all those veins on that side. I was lucky it didn't get any tendons."

Qualls improving: Chad Qualls, who has spent most of Spring Training nursing a sore shoulder, threw live batting practice on Friday without incident. He said it shouldn't be much longer before he appears in a game. Miguel Asencio, batting a hamstring injury, also threw batting practice.

"It definitely feels better than it did two days ago," Qualls said. "[Director of pitching development] Dewey [Robinson] noticed my hand was getting a little close to my head, and I'm usually extended a little bit more. I started getting out there and started feeling a little more whip and felt a lot stronger."

Healing: After testing his shoulder during throwing drills on Thursday, Brad Ausmus said it was the best he felt "since Christmas."

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"I threw 150 feet nice and easy, and let it go a little bit," he said. "I let it go a little bit at 70 or 80 feet, just to stretch it out a little farther each day."

Ausmus did not play on Thursday in Winter Haven, Fla., or during Friday's spring home opener, but he doesn't think it'll be much longer before he sees some playing time.

"Within a few days, I would imagine," he said.

First outing: Roy Oswalt could tell by the looks on the Tigers hitters' faces that they weren't prepared for the right-hander to throw his changeup.

Oswalt, who has thrown his changeup to righties maybe four times in his career, plans to do so more this season, with the hope that he'll keep his pitch count down and be able to go deeper into games.

"They put some good swings on them," Oswalt said. "When I had it down [in the zone], they swung on top of it."

Grand Slam for Youth: Grand Slam For Youth Baseball (GSFYB) and The Houston Parks and Recreation Department (HPARD) will open the 2007 annual city league baseball season on Saturday, March 3.

The opening ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. CT at Andy Anderson Ballfield in Memorial Park. Guest speakers include former Astros great and GSFYB ambassador Jimmy Wynn, HPARD assistant director of recreation and wellness Doug Earle and emcee Bryan Morgan, HPARD program manager of east recreation and wellness.

GSFYB, a partnership between the makers of Minute Maid and the Astros, helps HPARD provide free baseball, softball and T-ball instruction and league play for children ages 4-18. Any child wishing to sign up for instruction and league play can do so following the opening ceremonies at Andy Anderson Ballfield this weekend.

Uniforms and equipment are also provided to all league participants by GSFYB. HPARD provides officials, facility use and training for volunteers to serve as coaches for the teams. For additional league information, or to sign up to coach a team, please call (713) 845-8077.

Odds and ends: Carlos Lee, who left camp for two days to attend the Livestock Show and Rodeo in Houston, returned to Kissimmee on Friday and will play the Braves at Disney on Saturday. ... Brandon Backe is likely less than a week away from throwing off the mound for the first time since he had Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery last September. The right-hander, who has a marginal chance to return to the team before the end of the 2007 season, estimated that he'll throw off the mound next Wednesday or Thursday. "Everything's been going well," he said. "I'm ready to go." ... The Astros announced Friday that two outfielders have agreed to terms on one-year contracts with the corresponding Major League values: Chris Burke, $415,500 and Charlton Jimerson, $380,000.

Alyson Footer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.