Fowler, Qualls discuss first spring with Astros

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros center fielder Dexter Fowler was scratched from Wednesday's lineup against the Tigers because of a stiff neck. The team said he was removed from the lineup purely for precautionary reasons.

Fowler has appeared in three spring games, with one single in seven at-bats. Delino DeShields Jr. was inserted into the lineup in the leadoff spot to replace Fowler.

Fowler said he slept with his neck at an awkward angle.

"I slept on it wrong," Fowler said. "You ever gone to sleep and you didn't know you went to sleep? That's what happened. I woke up and I was like, 'Whoa.' I was driving this morning and saying, 'I can't really look in my rearview [mirror]. My neck is kind of tight. Let me get it rubbed out.' But I'm good now. I should be back tomorrow."

Fowler was acquired from the Rockies last offseason to play center and hit leadoff. He batted .250 last year with 12 homers, 42 RBIs and 19 stolen bases for the Rockies, with an on-base percentage of .369.

As soon as Fowler was acquired, Porter said Fowler would hit leadoff, ahead of former All-Stars Jose Altuve and Jason Castro. The Astros struggled to find a leadoff hitter last year, using eight guys, including Robbie Grossman 55 times, Jonathan Villar 36, Altuve 33 and Barnes 23.

Astros glimpse future with prospect-laden lineup

Correa, Appel on being the core of Astros' future

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros' top three prospects -- shortstop Carlos Correa, first baseman Jon Singleton and outfielder George Springer -- were all in the lineup for Wednesday's game against the Tigers at Osceola County Stadium.

Also in the lineup was the team's No. 7-rated prospect Delino DeShields Jr., who replaced Dexter Fowler about 15 minutes prior to the game.

Singleton and Springer have a shot to make the Opening Day roster, but seeing them in the same lineup as veterans like Jose Altuve and Jason Castro gives you a glimpse of what the Astros could look like in the near future.

"It will be good to go out there and play some with pretty talented guys," Springer said.

DeShields played the entire game and went 0-for-4, including 0-for-2 against reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. Springer was 0-for-2, striking out against Scherzer. Singleton was 0-for-1 with a walk and Correa was 0-for-2.

"I think it's great for these young guys to be able to give them a measuring stick," manager Bo Porter said. "When you come to Spring Training, you're in big league camp and whether you make the team or not to be able to face the elite pitchers -- or if you are a pitcher, to be able to face the elite hitters in this league -- I think it really helps you as far as your development goes, as far as your confidence goes. It can only be a plus."

Porter will handle the playing time of veterans and youngsters differently. For guys like Fowler, Altuve and Chris Carter, he'll talk with them about how many at-bats they need. The prospects get as many at-bats as Porter deems necessary.

"They've come here this year fresh off another year in the Minor Leagues in which they played at a high level," he said. "We see these guys as part of our present and our future, and they're going to get a long look this entire spring."

Porter gets in some replay practice

TOR@MIN: Rahl reaches on first use of expanded replay

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros manager Bo Porter huddled with the umpires following the first inning on Wednesday to discuss whether a play at second base would have been permitted to be challenged under the new expanded replay rules.

With a runner on first and one out in the top of the first against the Tigers, Victor Martinez grounded to third baseman Matt Dominguez, who threw to shortstop Carlos Correa covering second. Correa was pulled off the base by the throw -- the runner was called safe -- and Correa threw to first to retire Martinez.

The play would have not been reviewable -- replay wasn't being used in Wednesday's game -- because it was a neighborhood play, which is a force play at second base in which the fielder gets close to the base without touching it.

"There can be some gray area, as far as the neighborhood play goes," Porter said. "So I wanted to ask the home-plate umpire, given that particular play, would that be considered the neighborhood play? And he said that is one of the trickier ones, because it all depends on how the second base umpire views it.

"If he views it as a neighborhood play, then you can't ask for replay. He said 'Bo, in that situation, even if you came out, what would probably happen is the crew would get together and the third-base umpire would probably have to explain to the second-base umpire and deem it a regular throw or routine throw.'"

When the play happened, Porter turned to bench coach Dave Trembley and thought it would have been a play they would review if they could. The Astros are using replay in five games this spring, beginning Saturday.

Porter originally talked to plate umpire Larry Vanover about the play, but he was called back out and the entire crew went over the scenario.

"The umpires, this is new to them as well," he said. "I think that collectively we're all trying to work our way through this and understand the ins and outs of it, and I think it's going to be good for baseball."

Porter said the neighborhood play is allowed to protect the field and base runner, saying it doesn't force the infielder to stay on the bag longer and risk a collision with the runner.

Chambers close to return from hamstring strain

PIT@STL: Chambers delivers a walk-off single in 14th

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Needless to say, outfielder Adron Chambers is eager to finally get into a game.

Chambers, a non-roster invitee who has appeared in 84 Major League games for the Cardinals over the previous three seasons, has been slowed by a mild left hamstring strain for more than a week. He participated in baserunning drills on Wednesday and could get into a game in the next few days.

"I've been out long enough," said Chambers, who's competing for a backup outfield spot. "Whether it's today, tomorrow, somewhere in there, I'm still waiting on the word. I feel great, a whole lot better than where I was. We'll see where I go from here."

Chambers not only wants to get on the field and show the staff what he can do, but he knows his teammates are probably ready to see him play.

"I'm just anxious to see what all this work was for," Chambers said. "I need to get back on the field and play some baseball. I know these guys are like, 'Man, when is he going to play?' If I were them, I'd be the same way. You want to be part of the team and do some work. I'm ready to go out there and do some work."

Worth noting

• Porter said first baseman Japhet Amador will make his Grapefruit League debut in one of the split-squad games the team has scheduled on Saturday. Amador, who was late reporting to camp because his wife was having complications with her pregnancy in Mexico, was signed out of the Mexican League last year.