The Astros are a long way from being a potent offensive team, but it has to start somewhere, and Houston is starting at the top of its batting order.
Jordan Schafer is batting .350 after seven games this spring, and the 25-year-old center fielder has been doing everything a leadoff man should do. He reached base in all three plate appearances and scored twice in Thursday's 6-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
"He's been doing it all spring," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "He's grown up and he's come to camp with a mission."
Schafer joined the Astros in a trade last summer with Atlanta, where he was long regarded as a top prospect but rarely had a spot open for him. He has a slot with the Astros, primarily because he embraces the leadoff role.
"I feel comfortable leading off," he said. "A good leadoff guy can change a lot of outcomes. You set the tone for the whole game right away, and that's something that I enjoy doing."
New Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow is not about to take a legitimate leadoff man for granted.
"In eight years in St. Louis, I don't think we ever had a true leadoff hitter there," he said. "A lot of teams don't, and I think it can be a true advantage. I think Jordan and (Jason) Bourgeois both have a chance to do it."
Schafer learned a lot about leading off from the Braves.
"There's a lot of experience there. They helped me understand that you don't just go up there and hack away. There's a lot more to it than that," he said. "You're setting the tone, you're taking pitches. Leading off is not so much about yourself. It's letting the guys behind you see pitches, working pitchers, giving your pitcher a break when he grounds out ... it's a complicated role. It's not just go up there and swing."
Dustin McGowan and Kyle Drabek each pitched three solid innings for the Blue Jays.
McGowan, bidding for a spot in Toronto's rotation after three years of arm and knee problems, gave up one unearned run in his second spring start. Drabek followed and also allowed an unearned run.
Blue Jays manager John Farrell said as long as McGowan's name stays off the medical reports, he will have a spot in the rotation.
"It's even more comforting when he's throwing 92 to 95 (mph) with the sink that he's shown," Farrell said. "He's passing every plateau, and that constant buildup and endurance is where he's at."
Travis Snider hit a two-run double against Houston starter Zach Duke, who gave up four runs and eight hits in four innings.
Jake Marisnick homered for the Blue Jays in the ninth inning.
NOTES: Jordan Lyles, competing with Kyle Weiland and Duke for a spot in the Houston rotation, struck out seven in five shutout innings in a Triple-A game at the Astros' training complex. The 21-year-old Lyles is breaking in a curveball as his fourth pitch . . . The Astros signed former Oakland A's catcher Landon Powell.