HOUSTON -- The Astros had been content to open the season carrying 13 pitchers, but when general manager Jeff Luhnow saw Alex Presley was available on the waiver wire, he knew the team couldn't pass up a chance to nab the outfielder.
The Astros claimed Presley from the Twins and designated left-hander Raul Valdes for assignment Thursday, giving them seven relievers and an additional position player as they broke camp and headed to San Antonio for a pair of exhibition games against the Rangers.
The former Pirates eighth-round Draft pick in 2006, Presley has played in parts of the past four seasons with the Twins and Bucs. He has a .264 career batting average to go along with 17 home runs, 32 doubles, 15 triples, 60 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 232 games.
"[Presley is] a versatile left-handed-hitting outfielder with speed and a good approach at the plate," Luhnow said, "and [he] has had tremendous success in the Minor Leagues, and has had success against us.
"We were excited when he became available. He's the type of player you hope becomes available through a waiver claim. He was competing for the everyday center-field job in Minnesota and didn't get it, so I guess they decided they didn't have a spot on the roster for him. We're going to accommodate him."
Presley is a career .292 hitter with a .352 on-base percentage in the Minor Leagues and can play all three outfield positions. He figures to be a valuable asset with his ability to pinch-hit, pinch-run and make the occasional start.
The Astros wanted to carry eight relievers to avoid a scenario they had last year, when the bullpen was decimated in mid-April after starting pitchers failed to escape the first inning three times in a five-game span. Also, Houston begins the year with 13 consecutive games without an off-day, which could put an extra workload on the pitchers.
"Unless something comes up, we're going to start the season with 12 pitchers," Luhnow said. "We are hopeful to maintain Raul in our system, and down the road I'm sure they'll be a chance for him to pitch in the big leagues for us or someone else. Right now, we felt the opportunity to get a player of Presley's caliber was worth it to go back down to 12 pitchers."
The Astros have yet to set the 25-man roster, and Luhnow said they continue to monitor the waiver wire.
Harrell, Keuchel excited to return to rotation
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros pitchers Lucas Harrell and Dallas Keuchel spent last season bouncing between the rotation and the bullpen, especially later in the year, and each came to camp this year determined to grab a spot in the rotation entering 2014.
After being told Wednesday they had won the final two spots in the rotation -- Jerome Williams and Brad Peacock are going to the bullpen -- Harrell and Keuchel were grateful for the show of faith from the Astros.
"It's exciting," said Harrell, who will pitch April 4 against the Angels. "It's an opportunity to go out and start every fifth day and hopefully get back to where I was in the past, and put last year behind me and kind of have a fresh, new start."
Harrell went 6-17 with a 5.86 ERA in 36 games last year, including 22 starts, and is looking to duplicate the great success he had in 2012, when he was 11-11 with a 3.76 ERA in 32 starts.
"It helps they have confidence in me to give me the opportunity to make the team, and that shows they still believe in me," he said. "That's going to help out a lot, and I think the team overall is better this year, which will also help out, too."
Keuchel, a lefty who will start April 5, pitched much better in the rotation than he did in relief last year. He had a 4.90 ERA in 22 starts and a 6.75 ERA in 21 1/3 innings in relief in 2013.
"Any time you get the chance to start and try to pitch the majority of the game and be a starting pitcher is exciting," he said. "That's what I came to camp wanting to do. I didn't put any extra pressure on myself. I was hoping to stay healthy and keep on pitching. I'm pretty happy."