OAK@HOU: Villar swipes second for first career steal

HOUSTON -- The Astros didn't give rookie shortstop Jonathan Villar much time to get acclimated to life as a Major Leaguer, putting him in the leadoff spot for his big league debut on Monday against the A's at Minute Maid Park.

Villar, the 12th-ranked prospect in the Astros' system according to MLB.com, had a bunt single in his second at-bat, then stole second and scored on Chris Carter's two-out single in a 4-3 loss to the A's. He also struck out twice in his four at-bats.

Villar, 22, was called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City following Sunday's game after hitting .278 with 16 doubles, eight triples, eight homers, 41 RBIs and 31 stolen bases in 90 games this season. Manager Bo Porter said Villar will be given every chance to show what he can do at the position.

"It's sink or swim," Porter said. "You look at the skill sets, and the skill sets will tell you he has an opportunity to be successful. We're in a position we can give him the opportunity, and if there are struggles we can stick with the struggles, because we believe at the end of the day the skill sets are going to show through."

Villar is the fourth player to start at shortstop this season and will give the Astros a much-needed speed presence. Tyler Greene came to spring camp as the starter, but was cut in March when Ronny Cedeno was signed. Marwin Gonzalez has started 46 games at short, Cedeno 37 and Jake Elmore 14.

"Instead of waiting to September, we have the lion's share of the season left, and why give those at-bats to anyone else than the guy we believe is going to be the starting shortstop next year?" Porter asked.

Villar said on Monday he wouldn't be nervous for his debut, saying he played alongside Major League players and in front of big crowds in winter ball in his native Dominican Republic.

"For me, it's the same game," he said with a smile. "Maybe I get two or three base hits, I don' t know. Maybe two stolen bases."

Trade talks involving Norris ongoing

TB@HOU: Norris tosses seven innings of one-run ball

HOUSTON -- With starting pitcher Matt Garza heading to the Rangers from the Cubs, Astros right-hander Bud Norris becomes one of the next biggest prizes on the trade market. The non-waiver Trade Deadline is July 31.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said on Monday the team remains in conversations about Norris, but he didn't sound as if a trade was imminent.

"Lot of chatter and no activity on our side right now," he said before the Garza deal was official. "I'm hearing there was a big trade today, and if that's true, that may start a series of different type of talks now that one of the big chips has been moved."

Norris, 28, is 6-9 with a 3.91 ERA in 20 starts this year and has been the Astros' most consistent starting pitcher. Luhnow hasn't been shy about trading veteran players for prospects in the last 18 months, and the fact Norris makes $3 million and is eligible for arbitration again this winter could make a trade more likely.

"There's quite a bit of interest in several of our players," Luhnow said. "A lot of teams are in it. We're getting phone calls from a lot of different teams, and we're fielding them and having conversations. I can't handicap if we're looking as if we're going to get a deal, but I'll be happy either way."

Elmore to start playing more outfield

SEA@HOU: Elmore smothers a smash to help save a run

HOUSTON -- The arrival of Jonathan Villar as the starting shortstop means Jake Elmore will need to bring a few extra gloves to the ballpark. Elmore went 1-for-3 in Monday's 4-3 loss to Oakland and started in left field -- his fifth appearance there this year.

"I feel good out there," he said. "I take balls off the bat in the outfield pretty much every day. I take ground balls early, and then I go out to the outfield and take them off the bat. I played a lot of outfield in college, center field and left. It's about you getting out there and keeping everything in front of you. Obviously, that's easier said than done, but I feel pretty confident."

Elmore had started at shortstop in 13 of the Astros' previous 17 games, but he struggled defensively at times. He entered Monday hitting .274, including .368 against lefties with a .429 on-base percentage. He was recalled from Triple-A on June 25.

Elmore, 26, has been an on-base machine in the Minor Leagues, with a career .387 mark in parts of six seasons. This year with Triple-A Oklahoma City, he was hitting .300 with 42 runs scored, 13 doubles, 30 RBIs, 16 stolen bases and a .383 on-base percentage in 69 games. He played primarily second base for the RedHawks, but had seen time in the outfield, shortstop and third base.