KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Pete Harnisch hasn't had batting practice in seven years, since he was a senior in high school, so he thoroughly enjoyed slugging a couple of inside fastballs over the leftfield fence Sunday at the Houston Astros' training facility.
Harnisch, 24, fussed at himself when he didn't handle some other pitches.
"It's been a while," he said. "I'm going to need some time, a lot of extra work in the cages, even hitting a ball off a tee."
Harnisch, 24, a sturdy righthanded pitcher who was 11-11 with a 4.34 ERA for Baltimore last year, came to the Astros in the trade that sent first baseman Glenn Davis to the Orioles.
He says he is happy to be with Houston and he isn't buying the talk the Astros are doomed because of the players lost to free agency or dealt away, such as Davis.
"I saw what happened in Baltimore," said Harnisch, 16-22 lifetime, who led the Orioles in starts (31) and innings (188) in 1990. "Everyone said the Orioles weren't going to do anything. The more the public put the team down, it got into some of the players' minds to the extent it wore on us too much.
"We were trying to say, 'Good things will happen.' But we still didn't totally feel it."
A marketing major at Fordham University, Harnisch understands the value of positive thinking. Harnisch says the 1991 Astros are a team on the rise, a team of opportunity. "A lot of young players are going to get a chance to show what they can do," he said.
Harnisch's attitude and hard work is appreciated by Astros manager Art Howe, a resourceful man who is willing to meet this year's challenge headfirst.
"I like the bulldog in him," Howe said of Harnisch. "He's going to help us as a pitcher.
"Just watching him in the batting cage, I see the want in his eyes. He's competitive. He hit a couple out today, which is good. With the designated hitter rule in the American League, he never saw a bat.
"What I told him is that he can help himself and the club by doing the best he can. Bunting is the obvious way to help right away. In our league, that's the way to stay in a game. A pitcher can win for himself by moving runners."
Howe's theory is that when a pitcher comes from the American to the National League, he learns to appreciate more about the way he pitches as he learns to be a hitter.
"Hitting isn't all that easy," Howe said. "The more he bats himself, Pete's going to find out how important it is to throw strikes."
Astros owner John McMullen watched practice and insisted those criticizing him and the team for allowing so many free agents to get away don't realize the economics of the game.
"If salaries keep going like they are, there will only be 11 or 12 teams that can keep operating," McMullen said.