Notes: Loretta gets to show versatility

Notes: Loretta shows versatility

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Mark Loretta will probably play more at second base this season than at shortstop or third, but he's doing a little bit of everything this spring so that he can be ready for whatever comes his way.

Recently, Loretta has played quite a bit at shortstop. Adam Everett missed two games for precautionary reasons regarding his lower back, allowing Loretta to make both of those starts. Everett did not accompany the team to Vero Beach on Saturday, giving Loretta his third start at shortstop in four days.

Loretta has played 328 games at shortstop in his career, but since 2003 has only appeared at that position three times. He hasn't played there regularly since 2000, so he has a little catching up to do.

"It's kind of foreign to me a little bit," he said. "I'm back trying to get used to the left side of the infield. Each time I play I get a little more familiar with it. Certainly timing, footwork and all of that, I had to rekindle."

With his track record -- Loretta hit .285 with the Red Sox last year and has a career average of .299 -- the super utility infielder can count on significant playing time this year, probably more than infield role players have received from this club in the recent history.

While he's practically guaranteed multiple starts at second base when Craig Biggio is resting, Loretta has spent his time this spring making sure he's prepared for anything.

"Ideally, you want to have all your regulars healthy and productive, but it doesn't always happen," Loretta said. "I've been in the situation before where injuries or poor performance opens up a spot. You have to be ready for when that happens."

Behind the plate: When Spring Training began, it was widely assumed that the competition for the backup catcher job would be a three-man race between Humberto Quintero, Hector Gimenez and Eric Munson.

But Gimenez's season ended before it started when he had shoulder surgery a couple of weeks ago, and throughout the exhibition season, Quintero has received most of the time behind the plate when Brad Ausmus isn't playing. Quintero has caught in nearly every Grapefruit League game and has started seven times.

Munson, on the other hand, has appeared in 16 games, but very rarely has been behind the plate. His start at catcher Saturday was only his third this spring.

Munson, a non-roster invite, was hoping for a little more playing time at the position he won when camp broke last year.

"I wanted to come here and catch," he said. "But there's still two weeks left. We'll see. I'm getting my at-bats, so that's good."

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Average outing: Brian Moehler's recent performances have elevated his chances to make the rotation out of Spring Training, although Saturday's was just so-so compared to his previous two.

Moehler allowed three runs on seven hits with no walks and two strikeouts over four innings against the Dodgers. In his prior two outings, he did not allow a run, spanning seven frames.

"It wasn't his better outing," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "He got hit around a little bit. I wouldn't call it a disaster, either."

"Mechanically I was a little out of whack the first innings and really wasn't staying back on the mound," Moehler said. "The ball was moving a little too much for me and I had a hard time getting ahead of the hitters and getting pitches down where I wanted it. After the first couple of innings I felt better."

Moehler has been pleased with the effectiveness of his changeup, a pitch that he abandoned after he had Tommy John surgery in 2003.

"It's a matter of going out there and pitching and building the pitch count up and seeing what happens," he said.

Overall, Moehler has pitched considerably better than Matt Albers, Fernando Nieve and Wandy Rodriguez, all of whom are vying for starting jobs. Prior to Saturday's game, Garner cited Moehler and Chris Sampson as pitching the best of all of the candidates.

At this point, Moehler, a non-roster invitee, knows that every start is crucial.

"They're all big, Moehler said. "I could go out and pitch great the rest of the spring and still not make the team. I'll never know unless I pitch well. That's kind of the way I look at it."

For the troops: Orlando country station K92 FM is holding a "March for the Troops" campaign throughout the month of March and has recruited Astros players and staff to help with the project.

The radio station is collecting cards and words of encouragement to send to the troops stationed overseas and circulated a stack of the cards around the Astros clubhouse and front office so that the players, coaches, staff and media could show support for the troops.

The cards will be delivered to K92 during the final week of Spring Training and the station will send the cards of support to those stationed abroad.

Cattle call: Minute Maid Park hosted the Grand Slam Genetics Angus Sale, the first cattle sale in the history of Houston's downtown ballpark, on Friday. Bob McClaren, a former Astros executive, and his team at 44 Farms presented 69 lots of the nation's finest registered Angus cattle from 31 of the top Angus breeders from California and North Carolina.

Three Trees Ranch from Sharpsburg, Ga., topped the competitors as the biggest buyer with a purchase of $64,000.

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