HOUSTON -- Setback is never a word fans want to hear about No. 1 Draft picks, especially for hometown favorites like the Astros' Mark Appel.
Though minor, the word nevertheless described the situation for Appel, who is leaving Class A Advanced Lancaster to participate in extended spring training sessions in Florida, general manager Jeff Luhnow said on Friday.
"First and foremost, Mark is not injured," Luhnow said of the club's No. 2-rated prospect. "Mark has pitched four years at Stanford and was very used to a seven-day routine. Even last year in short-season in Quad Cities, he pitched about every seven days.
"He had his appendectomy and missed almost all of Spring Training, so he never got into the routine of pro ball. We thought he could catch up by jumping right into the rotation at Lancaster. That hasn't been the case."
Appel has a 6.23 ERA in 13 innings of work this season and had allowed two home runs, as many as he served up in nearly three times as many innings during stints with Class A Short Season Tri-City and Class A Quad Cities last season.
"It's a little unsettling, and the results aren't what he's capable of at this point," Luhnow said. "His stuff just wasn't as crisp as it normally is."
Appel's velocity had also dipped since Spring Training, raising injury concerns. Luhnow said there had not been a need to run tests or an MRI exam on Appel, who had not complained of any pain.
"The feeling was after I spoke to him, we'll take half a step back, have him pitch in some extended games and have him get more used to the pro routine," Luhnow said.
"It's a delay in him getting to a full-season club, but I want to reiterate that he is healthy. There's plenty of time for Mark to come back and have a successful season with us."
This is the first case this season of any significant issue affecting the Astros' four-man tandem Minor League rotations, which use two starting pitchers in each game. It theoretically reduces workload in a given start but also cuts down time between outings.
Astros send Albers to DL, call up Cisnero
HOUSTON -- The Astros' offseason pitching acquisitions keep going down.
The organization announced Friday that reliever Matt Albers had been placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 22 because of tendinitis in his right shoulder. The righty joins veteran Scott Feldman on the DL. Jose Cisnero was called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City in Albers' place.
"He hadn't thrown in a few days, and in talking to the doctor and talking to Matt we felt like the best idea was to be cautious and give him as much time as possible," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "We do have two off-days next week, so that gives us a little bit of comfort."
Albers had missed three straight games prior to Friday, but manager Bo Porter had said he hoped to avoid an official stint on the disabled list.
After Albers was evaluated by trainers and received treatment on the shoulder, that apparently was not possible.
"I'm a little concerned, yeah," Albers said. "Going on the DL, that's never a good feeling. Hopefully it's just some discomfort and inflammation and we deal with it early enough to not miss significant amount of time."
Albers, 31, had been the Astros' best bullpen arm this season, posting a sub-1.00 ERA and allowing only one run in 10 innings.
But as he was compiling those numbers, Albers said, his arm was only getting more tender with each outing.
"It's just gradually gotten worse," he said. "Just starts off with some soreness, no big deal, and progresses to the point where it'll continue to get worse unless I take some time off. It got to a point where it wasn't comfortable to pitch."
Cisnero struck out 18 hitters in 11 innings during six appearances with the Redhawks after showing some positives strides in Spring Training.
"He was off to a great start in Triple-A," Luhnow said. "He's been working on his secondary stuff, and it's coming along pretty well. He's also gotten up to 96 [miles per hour]. He can go one inning or he can pitch three innings, so it gives us some flexibility in the bullpen and a live arm.
"We're excited about his return."
Cisnero spent a couple of months in Houston last season, compiling a 2-2 record while surrendering 23 runs (20 earned) but fanning 41 batters in 43 2/3 innings.
"Last year for a good stretch he was arguably one of our better relievers, and he hit a snag where he really just lost his fastball command," Porter said. "He's worked extremely hard in getting the mechanics back, and we can't wait to get a look at him."
Crain shut down after developing bursitis
HOUSTON -- With the Astros' bullpen only getting thinner on veteran arms, it could use a presence like that of Jesse Crain.
Unfortunately for Houston, Crain may not arrive as soon as hoped, as he has developed bursitis unrelated to the biceps injury from which he was already recovering.
According to general manager Jeff Luhnow, Crain will not be with the big league club as soon as originally expected.
"The early-May timetable is no longer early May," Luhnow said. "I won't give another timetable at this point because I don't know. I assume in about a week's time, maybe 10 days, we'll know more and have a better idea when he'll return."
Luhnow said Crain was not throwing off the mound because of the complications, stunting his progress from the biceps issue that caused him to miss the end of last season with the Rays and all of this year's Spring Training.
"We feel like he's made a good comeback from his surgery in the offseason, but the bursitis is affecting him, so we had to get him off the mound," Luhnow said. "He is on some anti-inflammatories. He's responding well to them, and we expect he can be throwing again soon."
Crain received a one-year, $3.25 million contract from the Astros in the offseason, presumably to be in the mix for the closer role in Houston.
The righty was an All-Star for the White Sox last season, setting down 46 hitters via strikeout and posting a 0.74 ERA in 38 games, not to mention a 29-inning scoreless streak.
It's unclear how much, if any, Minor League rehab Crain will need before returning to the club once he can pitch again.
Grave photo belies DeShields' bright outlook
HOUSTON -- Though the image of Delino DeShields' face after being hit by a pitch was gruesome, the Astros prospect's recovery has been almost the exact opposite.
General manager Jeff Luhnow confirmed as much on Friday, saying that DeShields, rated the organization's No. 7 prospect by MLB.com, could be back in the lineup by next weekend.
"DeShields is progressing, and he might be in lineup in the next 10 days," Luhnow said. "I think that's a possibility. We need to be cautious any time someone gets hit in the head, so we're going through concussion protocol with him."
DeShields was beaned in the face with fastball of more than 90 mph last Friday, landing him in the hospital with a non-displaced maxillary sinus fracture and swelling on his face of grotesque proportions. The picture went viral and added an air of uncertainty to DeShields' return.
Given the scope of the injury, Luhnow said the healing process had been remarkable.
"We're not concerned at this point about the fracture," he said. "It seems to be healing well. You can't really even tell that it's there anymore. As long as he can tolerate the activity we'll push him through, he should be fine."
Luhnow would not confirm or deny that DeShields sustained a concussion, saying only that the proper tests and protocol were being used.
DeShields was hitting .259 with two home runs and four RBIs as the starting center fielder for the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks.
Finding a position for him has been the challenge, as he had rotated between middle infielder and the outfield in the Houston farm system.
DeShields was a standout in Class A in 2013, batting .317 with a handful of homers and more than 50 stolen bases and RBIs for Class A Advanced Lancaster.
• Oklahoma City manager Tony DeFrancesco, who received a diagnosis of cancer during Spring Training, attended Thursday's game against the A's and is nearly finished with his treatment program at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
"He has about a week left of treatments, and then he'll go home for 10 days or so to rest and then be re-evaluated," Luhnow said. "The expectation is he will be fully cured and back with OKC by the middle of May. We're keeping our fingers crossed."
• Porter addressed Paul Clemens' ejection for throwing at Jed Lowrie during Thursday's game, responding to a question about whether he ordered Clemens to throw at the A's shortstop.
"When you play this game, we all understand the written and unwritten rules that come with playing the game. I think there is a code in baseball that everybody appreciates and respects and understands. The game takes care of itself. I don't think any of us would want to sit here and talk about conversations that take place in the dugout or in the clubhouse. It's almost like, 'What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.'"
Chris Abshire is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.