HOUSTON -- If you were paying close attention in the latter innings of Tuesday's loss to the Twins, you might have noticed something a little different about relief pitcher Josh Zeid.
Zeid has begun experimenting with a sidearm delivery on a few of his pitches, which gives the hitters a different look and him another weapon. The initial results were good, considering Zeid threw a career-high three scoreless innings in the loss to Minnesota.
"It's in its infancy," Zeid said. "It's not a finished product, but it's something that can help myself and my ballclub down the road."
Zeid has thrown from a sidearm slot before in high school and early in his professional career, but he hadn't done it since he was traded to the Astros organization in 2011. He approached pitching coach Doug Brocail about throwing some pitches sidearm and went with it Wednesday.
"Over the last six or seven outings, I'm not getting weak contact and I'm not striking people out like I used to," Zeid said. "So I brought it to [Brocail] and I said, 'Hey, I can throw strikes from there.' It's late in the season and the arm is tired, so I dropped down, and those are the hardest fastballs I threw yesterday from a low three-quarters or almost sidearm [slot].
"If at any point a hitter says, 'What was that?' Then it served its purpose. As long as it doesn't take way from throwing over the top, it will be fine."
Zeid said he threw about six pitches from his lower arm slot. He can throw four-seamers, two-seamers and sliders from that position.
"It made me feel good," he said. "It was really reassuring to me that maybe it's a weapon I can use. I don't want to use it all the time. I don't want to become a sidearmer. Maybe I have to add it more and more, but right now it's a weapon I use."
Castro still bothered by sore right knee
HOUSTON -- All-Star catcher Jason Castro appears to be at least a few days away from returning to action after having a cyst in his right knee drained Tuesday. Castro left Monday's game against the Twins with a sprained knee and hasn't played since.
"It feels a lot better today," Castro said Wednesday. "Once I start doing stuff … we'll see how it feels and progress from there. It feels a lot better this morning, as far as the soreness has gone down a lot. That was good to see, waking up."
Castro, who missed the entire 2011 season following surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, said he fouled a ball off his knee in the first inning Monday, which aggravated the cyst. When asked if he would be available to play this weekend in Oakland, Castro wasn't sure.
"It really depends on how it feels once we get back into hitting and running and doing all that kind of stuff," he said. "Squatting will be the next big test. I'm sure we'll kind of progress and ease into it, as far as not trying to push it too fast. If we don't wait long enough for the thing to calm down and start doing stuff on it, it could have the chance to act up again. I'm feeling pretty good about it based on how it's feeling this morning."
Astros manager Bo Porter said Castro would likely be in the lineup at designated hitter before he gets behind the plate.
"We're going to be very careful," Porter said. "With the number of games we have left, it's not worth risking this lingering into the offseason and now becoming an issue he has to deal with the whole offseason."
Castro, a two-time American League Player of the Week, is having a career season, hitting .282 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs. He's the latest in a string of catching injuries for the Astros.
Krauss recalled to give boost to ailing roster
HOUSTON -- The Astros called up outfielder Marc Krauss from Triple-A Oklahoma City prior to Wednesday's game to give manager Bo Porter another option. Catcher Jason Castro is nursing a sore knee, outfielder Robbie Grossman has a strained right oblique and third baseman Matt Dominguez is ill.
Porter wanted another bat, which led the Astros to call upon Krauss, who hit .300 with a .443 on-base percentage during his recent 12-game stint at Oklahoma City. Kraus, who hit .169 with three homers and 10 RBIs in his previous stint in Houston this year, started at designated hitter in the finale vs. the Twins and hit an RBI single in his first at-bat.
"We figured we want to get somebody here who's ready to go today, just because of the number of guys we have dealing with situations," Porter said.
Castro, who aggravated a cyst in his knee Monday and had it drained Tuesday, appears to be at least a few days away from returning. Grossman strained his oblique swinging the bat in the 12th inning Tuesday and can't play. Dominguez was feeling sick for the second day in a row Wednesday.
"I'm just day to day, and we'll see how it goes," Grossman said.
Krauss left the RedHawks just before they were scheduled to play the first game of a best-of-five series against Omaha in the American Conference Finals of the Pacific Coast League. The chance to return to the Majors trumps a chance to play for a ring.
"This is where you want to be," Krauss said. "To miss out on the playoffs, it's one of those things that's going to happen. Really, it's out of my control. It would have been fun to be there and help the team get a ring, but at the same time, this is the end goal for everybody. This is where you want to be, this is where you want to play and make your mark. I'm happy to be back up here again."
Villar back in lineup after baserunning gaffe
HOUSTON -- One day after he was pulled in the second inning vs. the Twins for unsuccessfully trying to stretch a single into a double while his team was trailing, 4-1, rookie shortstop Jonathan Villar said Wednesday aggressiveness is just part of his game.
"I played like that every time," he said. "I play hard. That's my game."
Astros manager Bo Porter didn't hesitate in pulling Villar, though he had him back in the lineup Wednesday batting first and playing shortstop. Porter said he made his statement on Tuesday and was ready for Villar to get back on the field.
"The statement was made last night when he got pulled out of the game, and that conversation that followed the action was more so for him to understand exactly why, and moving forward I believe that he will receive it the right way," Porter said.
Porter doesn't want to stifle Villar's aggressiveness, but he would rather he pick and choose when to take chances.
"As a young player that's aggressive, there's going to be things which happened throughout the course of the game that sometimes it may warrant a conversation during the game or may warrant a conversation after the game," Porter said.
First-base coach Dave Clark had such a conversation with right fielder L.J. Hoes in the second inning Tuesday after he didn't get to a ball quick enough and allowed a Twins runner to advance from first to third, though the runner didn't score.
"That shouldn't happen," Porter said.
Earlier this year, Porter removed outfielder J.D. Martinez from a game after he swung at the first pitch when the hitters were instructed to take some pitches and buy some time for their starting pitcher. Porter said Martinez and Villar are the only two players he's pulled from a game this year for disciplinary reasons.
"All of these things are going to help us be a better baseball team as we move forward," he said.
Astros sports NFL jerseys on getaway day
HOUSTON -- With the start of the NFL season one day away, manager Bo Porter was planning to allow his players and coaching staff to wear NFL jerseys on the team's flight to San Francisco following Wednesday's game. Houston opens a four-game series in Oakland on Thursday.
The Texans, of course, were well-represented, with Porter (Andre Johnson), Jose Altuve (J.J. Watt), Chia-Jen Lo (Watt), Erik Bedard (Arian Foster), Josh Zeid (Watt), Jarred Cosart (Watt), Matt Dominguez (Foster), Brett Oberholtzer (Foster) and Robbie Grossman (Ed Reed) among those wearing the local team's colors.
And there were no shortage of 49ers fans, led by Bay Area native Brett Wallace, who lent 49ers jerseys to several of his teammates.
"I had like five or six jerseys, and I gave one to [Chris] Carter, one to [Trevor] Crowe and one to [Brandon] Barnes," Wallace said. "I had quite a few. I was advertising if anyone wanted to come to a big-time team, they could wear one. I think a lot of guys will be repping the Niners."
Oberholtzer grew up an Eagles fan while living in Delaware, but he said he had to support the local team.
"When I went shopping for a jersey, obviously they're not going to have any Eagles attire around here," he said. "It's a big Cowboys-Texans state. I like the Texans. I play for the Houston Astros, and I feel like I have to support the fellow sports teams."
There were, of course, a few Cowboys jerseys, led by outfielder L.J. Hoes (Miles Austin jersey) and shortstop Marwin Gonzalez (Jason Witten). Catcher Jason Castro grew up in the Bay Area and planned to wear a Patrick Willis jersey of the 49ers.
"A lot of my friends and my groups of friends are all Niners fans," Castro said.
Among some of the other jerseys represented: Robert Griffin III (Paul Clemens ), Matt Ryan (Jake Elmore ), Eric Berry (Dallas Keuchel ) and Marshawn Lynch (Kevin Chapman ).
"I'm more of a fan of players," Crowe said. "I like Baltimore's defense. I'll probably root for the Texans this year. Ed Reed is over here now. I love Ed Reed."