Notes: Berkman cleared to play Sunday

Notes: Berkman cleared to play

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Manager Cecil Cooper has taken the cautious route with Lance Berkman, but the first baseman, nursing a strain in his right side, has been cleared to play on Sunday when the Astros host the Nationals.

The Astros will face a left-hander in that game, which means Berkman, a switch-hitter, can swing from the right side and not risk reaggravating his injury.

If that goes well, Cooper will probably let Berkman play on Monday and hit left-handed.

"He took some extra swings today and he felt good so we'll give him a shot on Sunday," Cooper said.

Earlier in the day, Cooper said he was leaning toward holding Berkman back until at least Monday. Berkman, who strained his oblique muscle the day he reported to Spring Training, said he had no problem waiting a bit longer.

"There will be plenty of games this year to play in," he said.

Designated hitter: The Astros used the designated-hitter rule during their home opener Friday, even though National League teams usually use the NL rules in their own ballparks.

Cooper, like many NL managers during Spring Training, prefers to use the DH early in the spring, because it gives his veteran hitters some much-needed at-bats without having to find a place for them in the field.

Projected backup outfielder/first baseman Darin Erstad served as the Astros' DH against the Indians on Friday.

"Guys need some at-bats," Cooper said. "But they don't necessarily need to be playing in the field. Darin Erstad's a Gold Glover. He doesn't need to play defense right now. He just needs to get some swings in."

Ailing: Second baseman Kazuo Matsui was scratched from Friday's game, and the official diagnosis given was hemorrhoids. But after the game, Cooper said "it wasn't what we thought it was" and guaranteed the second baseman will play on Saturday.

Geoff Blum started at second base on Friday in Matsui's absence.

Backe's back: The bone on the side of his right foot still protrudes slightly through his shoe, but Brandon Backe doubts that will hinder him when he pitches.

He'll find out for sure on Sunday, when he takes the mound to face the Braves at Disney. Backe, who took a Carlos Lee liner off his foot last week, will make his first start of the spring season as part of the traveling portion of the Astros' split-squad arrangement. Half the team will play at Disney, while the other half remains at home to host the Nationals.

"I'm definitely excited," he said. "It's always the day we're looking forward to and actually getting out there and competing against another team, not your own teammates ... I can't wait."

Same old Roy: Roy Oswalt breezed through two innings in the home opener on Friday, holding the Indians hitless while walking one and striking out two.

Oswalt, like most pitchers this time of year, is working on regaining command of his fastball before he tinkers with any of his other pitches.

"The number one pitch is the fastball," he said. "You have to get command of the fastball going before you really start working on other pitches."

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Oswalt estimated he threw two curveballs, two sliders and two changeups during his brief time on the mound.

"I was just trying to get a feel for my pitches," he said. "The biggest thing is throwing strikes, getting back in the strike zone. Pitching is just like hitting. It takes a few times out before you can get a feel of the ball."

Spring games on the tube: FSN Houston recently announced the addition of five Spring Training telecasts, increasing te Astros' exhibition TV schedule to an all-time high nine games.

The added games are Tuesday, March 4 against Detroit; Thursday, March 6 against Cleveland, Saturday, March 8 against Washington, Thursday, March 13 against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Saturday, March 22 against Cincinnati.

The telecasts begin at noon CT and will feature Astros announcers Bill Brown, Jim Deshaies, Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond calling the action.

The four previously announced Astros Spring Training telecasts on FSN Houston are Monday, March 3 at noon CT against the New York Yankees and Sunday, March 16 at noon CT against the New York Mets from Kissimmee, Fla; Sunday, March 23 at noon CT against Atlanta from Orlando, Fla. and Friday, March 28 at 7 p.m. CT from Minute Maid Park against Detroit.

Brown (play-by-play) and Deshaies (analyst) will work three of the four telecasts. FSN Houston is picking up SportSouth's Atlanta Braves feed on March 23.

On deck: The Astros will host to the Braves on Saturday at Osceola County Stadium, beginning at 12:05 p.m. CT. The game will feature most of the projected Opening Day lineup, minus Berkman. Right-hander Woody Williams will face Braves lefty Tom Glavine.

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