2013 Outlook: Wallace needs to produce at first

VIERA, Fla. -- Armed with a new approach at the plate and under a new regime in Houston, Brett Wallace is looking to break out in 2013.

Wallace appeared in 66 games last season, with a slash line of .253/.323/.424, and played primarily first base, appearing in eight games at third.

This year, he's been working with hitting coach John Mallee to refine his swing, and his numbers have already improved, with nine RBIs and a .321 average through 11 Grapefruit League games entering Thursday.

"My timing and everything is a lot easier now," Wallace said. "Before, it was almost like I was fighting myself, like my body was pulling me back, so to try to get going forward and try to get through the baseballs, I could feel that tug in my own body pulling me away. Now I'm in the box and I feel like everything's working in the right direction."

Wallace is one of a handful of players -- Chris Carter and Carlos Pena included -- who could see time at first base or designated hitter.

"He gives us a lot of flexibility with his ability to not only play first base, but also play third base and also be able to DH as well," manager Bo Porter said. "We are excited about the spring that Brett is having and we expect him to be a huge part of our ballclub this year."

Wallace said the biggest difference in his swing has been getting his lower half in a position where he can be consistent and stay through the baseball easier. Mallee watched a lot of video of Wallace's swings and saw an angle in the swing that had Wallace almost going backwards.

"So we just really worked on correcting that, getting my body driving forward, and from there, everything else kind of plays a little bit better," Wallace said. "I can stay through the baseball easier and more consistently."

White feels comfortable after four-inning outing

VIERA, Fla. -- Alex White scattered seven hits over four innings against the Nationals on Thursday and came away from his fourth outing with a better feeling for his repertoire of pitches.

The right-hander, fighting for a spot in the Astros' rotation in his first spring with the club, surrendered two runs -- one via the long ball -- while striking out one. He threw 68 pitches, 43 for strikes.

"You've got to throw a lot of strikes to get these guys out," White said after Houston's 6-3 loss. "If you get behind in counts, they're gonna hurt you. When I got hurt today, it was because I was behind in the count. I gotta pitch ahead and be effective."

Jayson Werth homered in the first inning, and three singles in the second accounted for the second run. But White said he threw more splitters against the Nationals than he has in the past, and that pitch is rounding into form. He said the changeup was inconsistent, but believes it will get to where he needs it in time for the regular season.

"I think the stuff was tremendous today," manager Bo Porter said. "I talked to [catcher Jason Castro] after the game, and Castro talked about the late life of his sinker, his split. He worked down in the zone and did a tremendous job for four solid innings against a really good hitting ballclub."

White, 24, has a 6.97 ERA this spring after allowing eight earned runs on 17 hits over 10 1/3 innings in Grapefruit League play.

Harrell, Bedard show progress after throwing

Outlook: Harrell sits atop Astros rotation

VIERA, Fla. -- Manager Bo Porter said Lucas Harrell and Erik Bedard are both feeling good after throwing Wednesday, and the Astros manager will make a decision soon about when they will continue with game action.

Harrell threw a bullpen session Wednesday, after skipping his Sunday start with a groin injury, and said he felt good afterward. Bedard returned from a strained gluteal muscle on Wednesday to throw one shutout inning against the Nationals.

"Everything came out good," Porter said. "[Pitching coach Doug Brocail] actually stayed back today, just to make sure that they didn't have any ill effects from yesterday. He and I will talk when we get back there today. He stayed back for the bullpens and to make sure everything was OK with those guys. I'll talk to him when he gets here, then we'll look at penciling those guys in to the their next outing."

Harrell, the Astros' pitcher of the year in 2012, is a candidate to start Opening Day against Texas, competing with Bud Norris. Bedard is a non-roster invitee fighting for a spot in the rotation.

After going 11-11 with a 3.76 ERA in 32 starts last season, Harrell has started three games this spring and thrown nine innings, surrendering three runs on 10 hits with five strikeouts and two walks. Bedard, a member of the Pirates' rotation last season, has thrown three innings over two games, allowing just one unearned run and three hits.

Worth noting

• Infielder Jake Elmore returned to action Thursday for the Astros, batting ninth and playing second base against the Nationals after missing more than a week with a strained left oblique.

Porter said Elmore played in a Minor League intrasquad game Wednesday and got a few at-bats before rejoining the big-league club.

"It's good to get him back in the lineup. He had a little setback with the oblique strain, but we were able to get him healed in a timely fashion," Porter said. "Talked to the trainers afterwards, and he didn't have any ill effects, so we wanted to get him into some game action as quickly as possible."

• Porter will appear on the final Astroline show of the season Thursday night on SportsTalk 790 AM, which will broadcast live from the Disney Boardwalk at the ESPN Zone restaurant at 8 p.m.

"That should be exciting," Porter said. "It'll be good to hang out with [Milo Hamilton] for an hour and talk to our fans back home."

• Astros reliever Xavier Cedeno faced one batter for Puerto Rico in World Baseball Classic action Wednesday, entering with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth inning before surrendering a three-run double to Anthony Rizzo.

Puerto Rico erased its three-run deficit and won, 4-3. It will face the loser of the United States and Dominican Republic, which play Thursday night at 6 p.m. CT.

Cedeno has appeared in four World Baseball Classic games, throwing two innings and surrendering one earned run on three hits with four strikeouts and one walk.