KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Fresh off his country's victory in the World Baseball Classic, Astros relief pitcher Jose Veras returned to camp on Thursday and was beaming with pride Friday morning while talking about the Dominican Republic's performance. The Dominicans closed out their undefeated run to the Classic title in convincing fashion with a 3-0 defeat of Puerto Rico on Tuesday night in San Francisco.
"It was something that I can't explain," Veras said. "It was unbelievable to be there and the feeling you have, the pressure you have in each game is impressive. The first two games I was there, I couldn't imagine it was going to have that intensity, it's going to be that tough, and then after that you're starting to find out the spirit of the game and the way we play -- it was like World Series games."
Veras pitched in two games for the Dominican team, throwing 1 2/3 innings, but the chance to contribute to the win and share it with his fellow countrymen was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"We always prayed to God to have the victory and prayed to God to do our job, to do our best because some people didn't think we can make it, some people didn't think we could do it because guys were thinking we were missing All-Star players, but it's not about names," Veras said. "It was about one goal and that's why we won every game and played with our heart every day, and that was the way we made it."
Veras will now turn his attention to the Astros. He hasn't pitched in a Grapefruit League game since March 1, and he's the clear favorite to begin the season as the team's closer.
"I'm probably going to pitch three or four or five more times before we leave [for Houston]," Veras said. "We're going to be OK knowing I have to focus on my job here and to prepare for a long season. The WBC is over and thank God we won, and now I have to focus forward."
Left-hander Xavier Cedeno, who pitched for Puerto Rico, was also back in camp on Friday.
Astros have 36 in camp after optioning Elmore
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros trimmed their roster to 36 players on Friday by optioning infielder Jake Elmore to Triple-A Oklahoma City. Elmore, claimed off waivers from Arizona in November, hit .226 (7-for-31) in 15 Grapefruit League games.
Elmore wasn't expected to make the club, and he'll play mostly second base at Oklahoma City, though he can play third base and shortstop as well.
"Like we said to Jake, we're at that point in the spring where you're starting to make the tough decisions, but you have to look at the organizational depth and what's best for each and every player," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "It's better to get down to Triple-A and get quality playing time each and every day, so if we have an unfortunate situation or injury that will affect us from a game standpoint, we have somebody that we can call upon and get them in the lineup on an everyday basis."
The Astros are now at the point in the spring where the next wave of roster cuts could have a significant impact on the shape of the Opening Day roster. A lot will hinge on the future of Rule 5 pick Nate Freiman, who must stay on the 25-man roster all season or be offered to the Padres.
If the Astros decide he is not going to make the club, they could try to work out a trade with San Diego to keep him. Houston did that with the Indians in 2005 and were able to keep Willy Taveras, who wound up finishing second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting behind Ryan Howard that season. Luke Scott also came to Houston in that deal.
Major and Minor League coaches swap roles
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros swapped their coaching staffs for Friday's game against the Cardinals, with the Major League coaches working a Minor League game on the back fields and the coaches from Double-A Corpus Christi, Class A Lexington and Class A Quad Cities working the Major League game against St. Louis. The Triple-A staff has been in Major League camp for most of the spring.
The idea came from manager Bo Porter, who managed the Major League game against the Cardinals while bench coach Eduardo Perez, first-base coach Dave Clark, third-base coach Dave Trembley, hitting coach John Mallee, pitching coach Doug Brocail and bullpen coach Dennis Martinez worked on the Minor League side.
"One of the biggest things in your organization is your ability to properly evaluate your own players," Porter said. "We see this as an opportunity to allow our Minor League staff that was not in big league camp, it gives them an opportunity to come over and throw batting practice to Major League hitters, coach a Major League game, see our players, see other team's players. When they're now charged with doing reports, they have a recent comparable."
The Minor League games are played at the same time as the Major League games, so it's difficult for the Major League staff to see any of the Minor League players and vice versa.
"It was something that I talked to Eduardo [Perez] and [general manager] Jeff [Luhnow] and the rest of the staff and [director of player development] Quinton McCracken and [field director] Paul Runge about, and I ran it by all of them and they were like, 'No, it sounds like a great idea.' I felt it was something that needed to happen at some point this spring and it made the most sense to do it today."
Gonzalez, Wallace, Martinez on the mend
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros have had a relatively healthy camp, especially considering they're nearly six weeks in with one more remaining before they head to Houston. The three players dealing with nagging injuries were all on the mend Friday -- pitcher Edgar Gonzalez, infielder Brett Wallace and outfielder Fernando Martinez.
Gonzalez was struck on the back of his lower left leg by a line drive while pitching in a Triple-A game Thursday in Viera, Fla., and had to be removed after two innings. He was initially worried about the injury, but after treatment Friday morning, he felt much better.
"Yesterday was pretty bad," he said. "As soon as the ball hit me..." he continued, shaking his head. "There was pain, but before I got to bed the pain was going [away]. This morning, everything is good. I can walk and I don't even feel the pain. I feel like nothing happened."
Wallace was removed from Thursday night's game in Lakeland, Fla., for precautionary reasons after pinching a nerve in his neck/upper back while diving back to first base in the first inning. When he showed up at his locker Friday, he said he had no issues.
Martinez, meanwhile, hasn't played in several days because of tightness in his lower back. He took batting practice on Thursday and is hoping to get into a game this weekend. He's hitting .333 with one homer and five RBIs in 24 at-bats this spring.
• The Major League Baseball Alumni Association addressed the players at a meeting Friday morning. Manager Bo Porter told the players: "Today you are a current player and one day you'll be a former player, and that's why it's important for the players that are playing now to support the former players, and when you become a former player the current players will support you."