HOUSTON -- Brad Ausmus, who played for the Astros for 10 seasons (1997-98, 2001-08) and has caught more games than anyone else in franchise history, threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Friday as part of the club's "Flashback Friday" promotion in celebration of the club's 50th anniversary.
"It's a little strange being back, taking a left on Congress [Avenue outside the ballpark]," said Ausmus, who retired following the 2010 season and now works for the Padres. "I hadn't done that in four years since I played here. It's a little bit odd. I almost drove past my old house, but decided not to."
Ausmus was the starting catcher for the Astros during some of their most memorable seasons, including the playoff appearances in 1997, '98, 2001, '04 and '05. He understands the Astros needed to try to rebuild to get back to where they used to be.
"They're certainly rebuilding and they're in the infancy of rebuilding, so it's going to be a waiting game," he said. "You never know in any given year they could exceed expectations, but generally speaking, it looks like it's going to take a little bit of time."
Ausmus came up through the Padres system and was traded away as the club was rebuilding in 1996, a year before it went to the World Series.
"They capped off their rebuilding by trading me away," Ausmus joked.
Niekro added to Astros Walk of Fame
HOUSTON -- Joe Niekro, the knuckleball pitcher who's won more games than any other pitcher in Astros history, was inducted into the Astros Walk of Fame on Friday afternoon. He's the 15th person to be honored on the walk, which sits along Texas Ave. outside Minute Maid Park.
Niekro, who died of a brain aneurism in 2007, was represented at the unveiling of his plaque by daughter Natalie Niekro. Joe Niekro won 144 games for the Astros, for whom he played 11 years in his 22-year career.
"Houston was always our home and by far out of the seven teams my dad played for, it was definitely the one he enjoyed the most," Natalie Niekro said. "So it means a lot to me. We just have to get No. 36 hanging from the rafters. That's my next mission."
Shortly after her father's death in 2006, Natalie Niekro started the Joe Niekro Foundation, which has raised more than $2 million to benefit brain aneurism research. It's based out of Scottsdale, Ariz., which is Natalie's home.
"I come to Houston quite a bit and we do a lot with the foundation in the city, but today is extra special," she said. "I appreciate being here and what the Astros are doing. It means a lot."
Luhnow restructuring scouting department
HOUSTON -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow is working with new director of scouting Mike Elias to reshape the club's scouting department. Luhnow said Elias and national cross-checker David Post met earlier this week to go over the organization of the entire department.
"Mike and I have batted that about, too, and really what they're looking at is a restructuring of the department that fits our needs going forward," Luhnow said. "There's going to be some personnel moves coming out of that."
Luhnow said some geographical alignments of some scouting assignments could be changed, as well as implementing a larger scouting staff. In other words, the Astros are going to have more scouts in more places.
"The intent is to align our scouting department in a way that will help us perform the best we can in the Drafts and making sure our scouts are located in the right area where the talent is," Luhnow said. "That necessitated some changes, but we're pretty excited about the group of scouts we do have. We will be adding some new scouts to the group, too."
Norris scheduled to make next start
HOUSTON -- Astros pitcher Bud Norris, who suffered a bruised left foot when he was hit by a comebacker to the mound on Wednesday in Chicago, should be ready to make his next start, general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager Brad Mills said Friday.
Norris is scheduled to pitch Tuesday in St. Louis against the Cardinals, a team he's 7-3 against with a 2.47 ERA in 12 career starts. He'll throw in the bullpen Saturday to further test the foot.
Meanwhile, center fielder Jordan Schafer, who's been on the disabled list since Aug. 7 with a left shoulder separation, is expected to begin a rehab assignment at the team's Gulf Coast League affiliate in Florida early next week before heading to Double-A Corpus Christi.
"We're still taking it day by day," Luhnow said.
Relief pitcher Francisco Cordero, who's been out since Aug. 2 with right foot sesamoiditis, has a rehab stint mapped out at Triple-A Oklahoma City with hopes he can return by the start of next month.
"He's doing his throwing program and he's not quite ready to throw off the mound," Mills said. "But that's coming very shortly."