TORONTO -- Former Major League pitcher and Astros radio color analyst Steve Sparks threw knuckleballs to Houston hitters in the batting cages before Thursday's contest against the Blue Jays in preparation for Toronto starter R.A. Dickey.
Sparks, a former knuckleballer who enjoyed a nine-year career in the big leagues, did the same thing last season when the Astros visited Toronto and manager Bo Porter said his players appreciated it.
"Anytime you are facing a knuckleballer and you have the opportunity for someone to throw knuckleballs to you in pregame you should take advantage of it," Porter said.
The strategy worked out well for the Astros last year as the club scored five runs on seven hits against Dickey in an eventual 12-6 loss. Sparks predicted that Marc Krauss would have a big game after he threw to him in the cages last year and he did, as Krauss went 2-for-3 against Dickey with a homer and four RBIs.
This time, Sparks has another player in mind.
"He said that [Chris] Carter is his pick to click," Porter said.
Williams remains day to day with groin strain
TORONTO -- Right-hander Jerome Williams remains day to day with a right groin strain, which he sustained during Wednesday's 7-3 loss to the Blue Jays, Astros manager Bo Porter said.
Williams, who injured the groin during a sixth-inning at-bat against Edwin Encarnacion, came to the park Thursday feeling better than he did Wednesday night, but a trip to the disabled list remains a possibility if he's unable to make more progress over the coming days.
"He's much better than the trainers anticipated," Porter said. "He actually has a little bit more strength than they thought. We'll go day-to-day and see how he feels [Friday] and make an assessment as we move forward on whether or not he's going to be able to rebound quickly or if he's going to need more time."
The injury is not serious, but the area in which Williams hurt himself is why the Astros are not looking to rush him back.
"Anytime you talk about a groin, it's tricky," Porter said.
Williams, who signed with the Astros during the offseason after three years with the Angels, has a 9.00 ERA with one hold in three appearances.
Qualls likes idea of award for relievers
TORONTO -- It's tough for relievers, who have much smaller workloads than starting pitchers, to claim hardware at the end of the season -- such as the Cy Young Award or MVP -- which is why Houston's Chad Qualls is excited about the announcement that Major League Baseball will begin honoring each league's top reliever with a new award.
The awards will be named after two former greats in Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, and will replace MLB's Delivery Man of the Year Award, which went to the top reliever in baseball. Qualls believes the change will put more spotlight on relief pitchers, who don't get as much attention as their fellow teammates come award season.
"It's pretty cool, the game has evolved with more use of the bullpen," Qualls said.
Qualls feels MLB chose the right guys to name the awards after, too.
"Mariano is one of the best closers to ever throw," he said. "Those guys did it for a long time and the number of games they shut down, and the numbers they attained, is hard to even think of."
Along with Rivera and Hoffman, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, John Franco and Billy Wagner will vote on the awards.
The nine voters will rank the top three pitchers in each league based solely on regular-season performance, and each of their ballots will use a 5-3-1 weighted point system.
Chris Toman is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.