HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Astros begin the Jim Crane era on Friday night against the Colorado Rockies, fielding a team filled with young players looking to bounce back from a season that was the franchise's worst.
The sale of the team from Drayton McLane to Crane was completed in November. Crane immediately began looking for ways to improve the Astros in their last year as a member of the National League — also the 50th anniversary of the franchise. A condition of the sale requires a move to the AL West in 2013.
Crane insists that the team, which went 56-106 last season, will be better in 2012.
The new ownership group is looking long-term, meaning the Astros will give young players — and a lot of them — a chance to play this season.
The Astros hired general manager Jeff Luhnow in the offseason after firing Ed Wade, and Luhnow made it clear everyone would have to compete for their jobs this spring.
"These guys are ready to go and I'm excited to see what they can do," Luhnow said. "There's a lot of energy in the clubhouse ... and there's going to be a lot of excitement here on Friday."
Houston first baseman Carlos Lee appreciates the work the new owner and executives have done this offseason, but knows in the end they don't determine the results.
"A lot of times you can make all the changes above and in the front office and all that and the game is the same. It's still up to us to go out there and perform and try to win games," he said.
Jeremy Guthrie, in his first year with the Rockies, will make his fourth career opening day start when he faces Astros left-hander Wandy Rodriguez. Last year's opening day starter, Brett Myers, is Houston's closer.
Guthrie went 9-17 with a 4.33 ERA last season with the Orioles.
"It was a good spring," he said. "I got the work in I wanted and the opportunity to work on the things I wanted — particularly the location of my off-speed pitches — and get acquainted with my new teammates. And I stayed healthy. That's an important thing, too."
The Rockies hope to rebound from a disappointing season after beefing up an offense which already included Todd Helton, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, with Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro and Ramon Hernandez. Guthrie is looking forward to pitching with that offense behind him.
"We have speed and a bunch that can bang the ball pretty good," he said. "This lineup has the potential to be a good offensive team. Guys like Troy and Todd bring a lot of power to the game, and we have made some nice additions, including some excellent young prospects. So I think this can be an exciting club."
The Rockies are relieved that Tulowitzki is OK and should be ready to start on Friday after being hit in the left elbow by ex-teammate Ubaldo Jimenez of Cleveland on Sunday. Jimenez was suspended five games and fined for intentionally throwing at Tulowitzki. He played for the first time since the beaning on Wednesday and went 0 for 2 in four innings.
For ten Houston players, Friday will be the first time they've been on a major league roster on opening day. Just two position players who started for Houston last season will start Friday. Third baseman Chris Johnson is the only player starting in the same spot, with Lee, who is in the last season of a $100 million contract, moving from left field to first base.
Lee is one of the few veterans on one of the youngest teams in baseball. Seven of the 25 players on Houston's active roster are 25 or younger, and the 35-year-old Lee and 31-year-old backup catcher Chris Snyder are the only position players over 30.
Lee said being around so many youngsters puts an extra bounce in his step.
"It's real exciting and I love to go out there and see those guys and be around all of them who are playing so hard," he said. "They want to make a name for themselves in the big leagues."
The Rockies have quite a different makeup, with a roster that includes 41-year-old Jason Giambi, Helton, who is 38, and most notably starting pitcher Jamie Moyer, who turns 50 in November.
Moyer, entering his 25th major league season, is scheduled to start on Saturday.
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