Top Prospects: Asher Wojciechowski, RHP, Astros

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- When Asher Wojciechowski suffered a strained right lat last month, he figured the injury might cost him a few weeks. But the recovery process has turned out to be slow going for the 25-year-old right-hander, who won't be ready for the start of the season after enduring multiple setbacks.

Wojciechowski, the Astros' No. 14 prospect according to MLB.com, flew back to Houston in late February to receive a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection designed to speed up the healing process. Although he felt like the procedure helped, he's aggravated the injury both times he's started throwing since his return. The last time came on Sunday, when he was struck by tightness and soreness after about 10 pitches.

"I feel good, and then I try to throw, and it's not ready and I have to take a few steps back, start the process of starting to feel good again," Wojciechowski said. "And then it's the waiting game to know if I can throw or not."

Wojciechowski doesn't know exactly how long that will take, as he has to let the soreness calm down first. In the meantime, he's getting laser treatment, using heating pads and doing whatever else he can to spur his rehab.

After reaching Triple-A Oklahoma City last season, where he posted a 3.56 ERA in 22 games, the former first-round pick knows that the disabled list is his likely destination to begin 2014.

"Right now, I'm just trying to get healthy and let my lat heal and go from there," Wojciechowski said. "I don't want to rush it. I've been trying to be patient. I just want to make sure it heals all the way."

Tale of two outings for Cosart vs. Cards

STL@HOU: Cosart fans the side in a scoreless first

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Jarred Cosart put his potential on display in Friday afternoon's start against the Cardinals at Osceola County Stadium, but he also showed plenty of room for improvement.

The right-hander struck out the side in the first inning, getting Matt Carpenter swinging, Jon Jay looking and Matt Holliday swinging. He was able to get ahead in the count and throw all of his pitches to all parts of the strike zone.

But then the second inning brought two walks, two singles -- one on a bunt Cosart wasn't able to field -- and a double. The Cardinals pushed across three runs.

"I think it was basically his fastball command," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "When you have a power arm, sometimes that can happen, and a lot of times it's probably better to go to your breaking stuff to get you back to your zone. He threw some really good breaking balls at the end of the first inning, and then the second inning it kind of got away from him, and his pitch count got up."

Cosart wound up throwing 74 pitches, 45 for strikes, in 3 1/3 innings. The 23-year-old gave up five runs on five hits with two walks and four strikeouts.

Coming off a rookie season in which he posted a 1.95 ERA over 10 starts but walked more than he struck out, Cosart has been working on an altered delivery. He now keeps his hands down near his waist, instead of up near his neck. It's become comfortable from the windup, but out of the stretch, Cosart hasn't quite found his timing.

"It's still coming along, but I feel I'm really close to completely having it figured out," Cosart said. "I thought today was better than last time, even though results-wise, obviously, it wasn't where you want to be when the season starts."

Appel working back toward full strength

Top Prospects: Mark Appel, RHP, Astros

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros pitcher Mark Appel, the club's No. 2 prospect in MLB.com's rankings, wants to be ready for the start of the season after an appendectomy delayed his spring preparations.

The right-hander took a step in that direction by throwing a side session on Wednesday, and he plans to complete another on Saturday before progressing to live batting practice, followed by game action.

"I really don't know what the trainers and decision-makers are going to do, but my goal is to be ready to pitch at least five innings by the time the season starts," said Appel, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft out of Stanford. "I think I can get there. If they think that's too aggressive and they want me to hold back, then there's not much I can do about that."

Appel added that he trusts the Astros' training staff and knows the goal is to keep him from further injury. That being said, he aims to help the Major League club "as soon as possible."

"I believe I can, if I'm feeling healthy and pitching well," he said. "I'm feeling healthy now, and so now it's getting to where I can pitch well and pitch five, six, seven, eight innings -- whatever the team needs me to do.

"So that buildup process can sometimes take a couple weeks, a month or so, but it's not any concern of mine, because it is a long season and I'm sure wherever I start out, I'll be able to be back in the regular rotation, if not right at the start of the season, then within a week or two."

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow agreed that Appel likely will be good to go at the start of the season, but he might not be able to take on a full innings load immediately.

"Is he realistically going to be pitching four to five innings?" Luhnow said. "Possibly. Realistically, he'll be able to pitch in games, but how deep remains to be seen."

Appel is a non-roster invitee to big league camp this spring after making his pro debut last year, with 10 effective starts at two of Houston's Class A affiliates. But after throwing only one side session, he underwent the emergency appendectomy at the end of January.

The 22-year-old took about three weeks off after the procedure and found that when he started to play catch again, the scar tissue made using his abdominal muscles a painful task. Once he got through that, he began building up his arm, using all of his offerings during Wednesday's 30-pitch bullpen session, which caused him no pain.

Appel plans to throw live batting practice early next week, then make his Grapefruit League debut sometime during the Astros' three-day homestand that begins next Thursday against the Phillies at Osceola County Stadium.

"It's just continuing to work on those pitches, get them back to where I was towards the middle of the season last season at Stanford," he said. "I know I'll be there sooner than later. It's just a matter of time of getting the work in and getting to face some hitters. Our coaches are always like, 'It's riding a bike. Once you get back out there, you'll be fine.' So I'm not worried at all, but just real excited to start pitching again."

Worth noting

• Shortstop Nolan Fontana, the Astros' No. 18 prospect, got into his second big league game of the spring on Thursday and went 1-for-2 with a triple.

"Nice short swing," manager Bo Porter said of the 22-year-old. "I've watched him since last year. He's an offensive player. Takes good at-bats, good swings at the ball."

• Porter used Marwin Gonzalez at second base, third base and left field in Thursday's game. He said Gonzalez's versatility "gives us flexibility and adds value to what he brings to a ballclub."

Gonzalez has played second, third and short the past two seasons for the Astros, but he played some outfield in the Minors with the Cubs and in winter ball. Porter said he can handle all three outfield positions.

• Outfielder Delino DeShields fouled a ball off his left shin while batting in the ninth inning, leaving him hobbling around for a minute. However, DeShields was able to stay in the game and draw a walk, and he didn't require a pinch-runner.

• Righty Mike Foltynewicz, the Astros' No. 6 prospect in the MLB.com rankings, threw 2 1/3 innings of relief in his fourth outing of the spring. He gave up one run on three hits, with one walk and two strikeouts, and now has a 2.16 ERA over 8 1/3 innings.