- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2011

KISSIMMEE, FLA. (AP) - With two weeks remaining until opening day, Bill Hall doesn’t think it’s too early to light a spark under his new Houston Astros teammates.

When Cole Hamels pitched him tight in an exhibition game this week, Hall exchanged words with the Philadelphia pitcher.

“I definitely think it gave us a little more fire. It amped things up for us,” Hall said of Monday night’s incident. “We scored some runs off him and we’ve hit well since.”

The Astros, who have put up modest numbers for most of the spring, won 14-8 on Tuesday and rallied in the ninth inning for an 8-7 victory the next day.

“Sometimes in spring training, you just go through the motions of working on things and getting prepared for the season,” Hall said. “But when something like that happens, it definitely turns things up a notch. It’s OK to play with a little anger now and then.”

It is the kind of leadership the Astros want from Hall and Clint Barmes, their new middle infielders. Manager Brad Mills calls it leadership “by example, the leadership that comes from how they play the game more than anything else.”

The 31-year-old Hall signed with the Astros in December because they gave him a chance to be a regular second baseman. He wanted to be a regular something after a 2010 season in which he played every position for the Boston Red Sox except catcher and first base. He even pitched an inning.

“As I get older, being able to play all these positions is going to come in handy again, but I’m still in the prime of my career. I feel like I’m very capable of being an everyday player,” he said. “I’ve never been great at one position because I’ve never been able to stay long enough to become great; I have to do other things. So I’m excited to be at second base now and I’m going to concentrate on that and try to become the best second baseman in the game.”

After trading for Hall in January 2010, the Red Sox had no position for him going into spring training.

“I remember talking on the phone with him and saying we’re going to get you as many at-bats as we can,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “I didn’t think it would be that easy, but we were so beat up.”

Hall got 344 at-bats in 119 games with Boston. His 18 home runs ranked fourth among players with 350 at-bats or fewer.

“He’s going to strike out and hit some homers, but he’s just fun to have around,” Francona said. “He’s got some energy, he’s always smiling.”

Hall will be smiling if he can get 500 at-bats as the Astros‘ second baseman. He has reached 500 only twice in his career, most recently in 2006 when he hit 35 home runs for the Milwaukee Brewers.

“It’s very easy to get labeled in this game,” he said. “I’ve never been labeled as a bad defensive player, but always a guy that you can put anywhere and he’s not going to hurt the team. It’s kind of a gift and a curse. If I could only play one position, I might possibly be out of baseball. But these guys believe I can do some damage on an everyday basis, offensively and defensively.”

Hall has made some of the best defensive plays of the spring for the Astros. In 13 games through Wednesday, he was batting .265 (9 for 34) with a home run. Hall and Barmes have each walked six times, showing leadership in an area where the Astros were lacking last season.

And when necessary, he’s been a little angry.

“(Hamels) threw a pitch a little too close to me and he said something after that,” Hall said. “I’m not here to be pushed around. If you want to be throwing at me, that’s fine, but you’re not going to disrespect me.”

Something to keep in mind when the Astros open their season April 1 _ at Philadelphia.

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