For the 2010 Houston Astros, many things have changed while other basic matters remain the same.

The Astros began the new season Monday with a new manager in Brad Mills and several youthful faces on the 25-man roster.

However, despite all of the changes that have taken place during spring training, what hasn’t changed is the fact the organization again must rely on the trio of Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee to have a successful season this year.

As Sunday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle put it “a new manager, a fresh mentality and an injection of youth have the Astros believing 2010 will be one of turnarounds, new beginnings and, more importantly, success.”

Looking back at the 2009 campaign, which was their second losing season in three years, the Astros finished fifth in the six-team National League Central, a division in which they once excelled.

Their pathetic finish cost manager Cecil Cooper his job with 15 games still to play. Berkman, who began the season on the disabled list because of some minor knee surgery, is still very upbeat about the upcoming season.

“I think guys are excited about this year,” Berkman told the Chronicle last weekend. “We’re eager to prove that we’re a better team and organization than we played last year.”

At least this season the team didn’t break spring training camp predicting the playoffs or a 90-win projection this time around. Mills put it quite succinctly when he said, “Our goal is to play to our capabilities.”

Mills and his staff brought a fresh approach to spring training that has yielded good vibes in the clubhouse and set no expectations beyond players simply reaching their potential. “It feels like we’ve got a great energy about us,” commented All-Star outfielder Hunter Pence. “We’re enthusiastic and optimistic. The confidence level is great.”

Although this is his first shot at being a major league manager, the 53-year-old Mills knows a thing or two about a winning mentality, after spending the previous six seasons as the bench coach for the Boston Red Sox under Manager Terry Francona.

“I just want to give these guys a freedom to be who they are,” Mills explained. “We have a lot of good talent, and I’m not just talking about position players, but pitchers, and we’ve got some young guys with a lot of talent.”

Oswalt, who went 8-6 in 2009 and finished with a career-worst 4.16 ERA said, “It’s a little more exciting this year, new guys, new faces,” the ace right-hander said. “The manager brings a lot of fire to the team. It should be fun. This year should be a lot more exciting in the clubhouse.”

But the Astros have a long way to go  to contend in the NL Central Division after ranking 14th in the NL in runs (3.97 per game) and 13th in runs allowed (4.75 per game). Throw in the fact that Houston’s leading hitter Miguel Tejada, who hit .313, signed with the Baltimore Orioles in the off-season.

Tejada’s replacement, unproven rookie Tommy Manzella, is a defensive whiz with the glove but has had only five major league at-bats going into the 2010 season. Mills decided to go with light-hitting J. R. Towles over rookie Jason Castro as the starting catcher. Towles won the job by hitting .308 in spring training.
Lee and Michael Bourn carried the offense last season as Lee topped 100 RBIs for the fifth straight season and Bourn led the National League with 61 stolen bases.

And like last season, the starting pitching looks questionable beyond Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez, who comes off career highs in wins (14) and strikeouts (193). The Astros acquired Brett Myers from Philadelphia to fill the No. 3 spot in the rotation. Brad Norris, a rookie last season, should nail down the No. 4 spot with 37-year-old Brian Moehler and Felipe Paulino battling for the fifth and final spot.

The Astros signed free agents Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom to compete for the closer’s role after Jose Valverde and LaTroy Hawkins signed elsewhere. Lyon was slow to recover from surgery to have a cyst drained from his right shoulder and Lindstrom won the closer’s job by not allowing a run in his first 8 2/3 innings of the spring.

The final move to fill the Astros’ 25-man roster was made Saturday when Houston purchased the contract of Cory Sullivan who, along with Jason Michaels will back up all three outfield positions. The 30-year-old Sullivan, who bats and throws left-handed, played four seasons for the Colorado Rockies before hitting .250 for the New York Mets last season.

The Astros opened the 2010 season Monday at Minute Maid Park with a three-game series with the San Francisco Giants. After an off-day Thursday the home stand will continue with a weekend series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

KWICKIES…Tiger Woods returns to competitive golf Thursday in the opening round of the Masters Tournament. Believe it or not, some folks are picking Tiger to win it. This Korner is hoping he merely makes the cut after Friday’s second round.

And while on the subject of pro golf Anthony Kim parred the first playoff hole Sunday to win the Shell Houston Open on Redstone’s Tournament Course in Humble after finishing the 72 holes tied at 276 with Vaughn Taylor. Kim collected a check for $1.044 million while Taylor earned $626,000.

In a somewhat surprising move the Philadelphia Eagles traded starting quarterback Donovan McNabb to the Washington Redskins for a pair of draft picks. The Eagles will receive a second-round pick in this month’s NFL draft and either a third or fourth-round pick next year. McNabb, a six-time Pro Bowl quarterback, led the Eagles to five NFC championship games and one Super Bowl in 11 seasons with Philadelphia. Former University of Houston quarterback Kevin Kolb will become the starting quarterback for the Eagles with Michael Vick as his back-up.

The Lamar baseball team dropped the final game of a three-game series, 5-1 at Vincent-Beck Stadium in Beaumont, missing an opportunity to sweep No. 21 Southeastern Louisiana last weekend. The loss leaves the Cards with a 4-8 record in the Southland Conference and 17-11 overall.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Singletary has some sound advice for his fellow National Football League coaches who may not like the change in the post-season overtime rules—“If you don’t like the rule, don’t let the game get to the point where the rule matters.”

JUST BETWEEN US…The West Orange-Stark Mustangs track team appears to be ready to defend their state championship later this spring with an outstanding performance last weekend, breaking two records at the 83rd annual Texas Relays run at the University of Texas in Austin. The foursome of Justin Thomas, Mark Roberts, Phillip Jones and Trey Franks set a new Texas Relays and West Orange-Stark school record with a sizzling 1:26.06 effort in the 800-meter relay. The old WO-S record of 1:26.20 was set in 2002 by Kerry Franks, Brandon Johnson, Desmond Spears and Jarman St. Julien. The Mustang quartet of Thomas, Franks, Jones and James Haynes set another meet record with a season-best time of :41.40 in the 400-meter relay. Franks, the defending Class 3A state champion in the 100 meters won that event with a blazing :10.48 clocking, which was his season’s best. Jones also garnered first-place by skimming over the 110-meter hurdles in :14.30 seconds. The ‘Stangs will get ready for the District 21-3A Track & Field Championships which will be held at Silsbee High School April 13-15.