August 2009

Brocail feels better after tip from Oswalt

Even after more than 20 years in professional baseball, relief pitcher Doug Brocail still seeks advice. Brocail summoned teammate Roy Oswalt to play catch with him Wednesday with hopes he could find out why he was having trouble getting his arm in the proper slot.

About 10 throws into the pitch-and-catch session, Oswalt pegged it. He told Brocail he needed to get his front side (left side) and his left arm higher during his delivery, which would, in turn, cause him to get his back side and throwing arm higher.

“He got me up and out,” said Brocail, who’s been limited to 8 1/3 innings because of three different stints on the disabled list this year. “I’ve been so lost mechanically. When I came back and was sore and when I blew out my leg I have been throwing with a really low arm slot.

“About the 10th throw with me yesterday, he walked me through it and got me to a comfortable position. He got me way back on top of the ball, and the ball was coming out of my hand about seven or eight mph harder than I’ve been throwing all year.”

Oswalt could tell a difference right away.

“Pitchers go through different funks where they don’t really know what they’re doing,” he said. “You can kind of feel the ball isn’t coming out of your hand right. There’s got to be a reason a lot of times, more than just the obvious. Doug was telling me that he felt he wasn’t getting over the top of the ball because his arm wasn’t up high enough.

“Usually that stems from your front side. Everything operates from your front side. Instead of just telling somebody to get your arm up higher, which is not really the answer you’re looking for, you can correct something to allow them to get their arm up.

“I noticed his forearm, his lead arm, was down, and instead of throwing on top of the ball he was throwing around the ball. You can tell a lot of stuff by the spin of the ball, and I could tell the ball had a tilt to it instead of an over-the-top spin. That stems from not coming over the top of the ball.”

Brocail, who’s currently on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain, said he felt “phenomenal” today and wants to get on the mound and throw in the bullpen Friday or Saturday. He said he would have to go on a Minor League rehab before returning, hopefully by the start of September.

“We haven’t talked that far, but I’d like to get back out there,” he said. “I need innings. I haven’t done anything for the team all year, and hopefully this will get me over the jump and put myself in better position to throw the baseball.”


Astros manager Cecil Cooper tried to talk shortstop Miguel Tejada into taking a day off when the two visited in the manager’s office before Thursday’s game, but Tejada convinced Cooper to keep writing his name in the lineup card. Tejada has started all but two games this year and leads the league in multi-hit games and hits.

“I’m the kind of guy, I like to play every day,” he said. “I don’t think I can help the team sitting on the bench. It doesn’t matter how tired I am, I can do the job. This time of year, everybody’s tired. As soon as I put on my uniform, I felt good to play nine innings.”

Cooper said he will have to settle for trying to give Tejada occasional innings off.

“He didn’t one, so we’re going to roll until I feel like he really needs it,” Cooper said. “He needs it, but he probably won’t get it.”




Oswalt is all set for Tuesday start

After throwing about 40 pitches in the bullpen Sunday morning, Roy Oswalt said he was ready to make his first start in two weeks. Oswalt, who hasn’t pitched since straining his left lower back on July 28 in Chicago, will start Tuesday against the Marlins in Miami.

“The biggest thing is command right now,” Oswalt said following his bullpen session. “It’s OK, but you can tell when you get in a game if your command is going to be better. As far as pain, I don’t have any pain.”

Oswalt (6-4, 3.61 ERA) is feeling so good he says he could have started Sunday. He hasn’t faced the Marlins this year, but is 5-4 with a 3.24 ERA in 11 career starts against Florida. That includes a 2-3 record and a 3.46 ERA in six starts at Dophin Stadium.

Meanwhile, first baseman Lance Berkman said his left calf felt better Sunday. Of course, Berkman was saying this in the morning when the most strenuous thing he had done was walk to the kitchen.

Bazardo to the rescue

The Astros would have called up right-hander Yorman Bazardo to start Tuesday against the Giants instead of Felipe Paulino had Bazardo not been out of options. But Paulino got the start, got beat up and was sent back to Triple-A Round Rock after Friday’s 6-3 win over the Brewers.

Bazardo’s contract was purchased by the Astros, and he will be in uniform on Saturday. A Minor League free agent who was cut by Philadelphia in Spring Training, Bazardo is 9-6 with a 3.20 ERA in 23 games, including 20 starts. He’s thrown three complete games.

Astros manager Cecil Cooper said Bazardo will work in the bullpen.

Bazardo, who has appeared in 15 Major League games with Florida and Detroit, had most of his success in Round Rock in May, going 4-0 with a 1.49 ERA in six starts. He had a 5.40 ERA in April and pitched well in June and July. His lone August outing wasn’t good: five hits and five runs in five innings.

With Wandy Rodriguez returning to the rotation and Sunday and Roy Oswalt scheduled to rejoin the rotation Tuesday, Bazardo might not get much of a chance to start. That’s unless Mike Hampton falters.


Astros slowly getting healthy

The news was very good for the Astros in the health department on Friday. Wandy Rodriguez, Roy Oswalt and LaTroy Hawkins each threw successful bullpen sessions and are close to returning.

Rodriguez, who left his last start Saturday in St. Louis with a hamstring strain, will start Sunday’s series finale against the Brewers. Oswalt, who hasn’t pitched since straining his lower back July 28, will return to the rotation Tuesday against Florida, assuming all goes well with his scheduled bullpen Sunday.

And then there’s Hawkins, who appears like he’ll be able to come off the disabled list when scheduled on Wednesday. Good thing, too, because Doug Brocail went on the DL for the third time this season Friday, this time with a shoulder strain. Could we have seen the last of Brocail? I hope not, but considering his age (42) and medical history (15 DL trips) he could be done.

That brings us to Lance Berkman. Big Puma is still nursing a sore left calf, but said Friday he feels he could play. The Astros, however, are taking a more cautious approach, but based on his comments Friday, it appears Berkman could return by Monday.

If Rodriguez, Oswalt and Berkman return, stay healthy and perform like they did before they got injured, the Astros still have a chance. They’re five games out with 53 to play, so there is no time to waste for the local nine.

Astros announce Minor League Players of Month

The Astros Player Development Department has named the following Players of the Month for July:

Triple A Round Rock: RHP Casey Daigle posted five saves and a 2.53 ERA (3ER/10.2IP) in 11 games in July to earn Round Rock Pitcher of the Month honors. OF Brian Bogusevic was named Offensive Player of the Month after hitting .277 (28×101) with 10 RBI. IF Jason Smith received the Defensive Player of the Month after recording a .996 fielding percentage in 54 games on the infield this season.
Double A Corpus Christi: After posting a 3.96 ERA (16ER/36.1IP) and a 3-2 record in July, LHP Andy Van Hekken was named Pitcher of the Month for the Hooks. OF Drew Locke was named Offensive Player of the Month for the third time this season, after hitting .318 (34×107) with 18 runs scored, six doubles, five homers and 23 RBI. IF Jhon Florentino‘s .938 fielding percentage (192TC/12E) while playing 78 games on the infield this season earned him the Defensive Player of the Month title for Corpus Christi.
Class A Advanced Lancaster: JetHawks Pitcher of the Month RHP Leandro Cespedes owned a 3-1 record and a 4.29 ERA (17ER/35.2IP) in six starts in July. OF Jon Gaston had 17 extra-base hits, including five triples and 11 home runs, while driving in 21 RBI en route to receiving his third consecutive Offensive Player of the Month award. The Defensive Player of the Month was IF Marcos Cabral, who has posted a .974 fielding percentage (421TC/11E) in 83 games on the infield this season.
Class A Lexington: Pitcher of the Month LHP Patrick Urckfitz finished the month with a 1-0 record and a 0.77 ERA (1ER/11.2IP) in 10 relief appearances for Lexington. OF Jay Austin was named Offensive Player of the Month after hitting .290 (31×107) with nine extra-base hits, eight steals and 10 RBI in 26 games with the Legends. IF Andy Simunic received Defensive Player of the Month honors after recording a .973 fielding percentage (184TC/5E) in 51 games on the infield this season.
Short-Season A Tri-City: RHP J.B. MacDonald was named Pitcher of the Month for Tri-City after going 1-0 with a 1.23 ERA (2ER/14.2IP) in eight relief appearances. OF Brian Kemp hit .286 (28×98), posted a .386 on-base percentage and scored 18 runs to earn the club’s Offensive Player of the Month honor. The Defensive Player of the Month went to IF Barry Butera after he compiled a .988 fielding percentage through 33 games on the infield this season.
Rookie Level Greeneville: RHP Jose Cisnero posted a 2-0 record and a 3.43 ERA (8ER/21IP), while striking out 22 hitters in five starts to earn Pitcher of the Month honors for Greeneville. Offensive Player of the Month honors were earned by IF Jose Altuve after hitting .330 (33×100) with 14 extra-base hits, a .433 on-base percentage and 10 RBI in 26 games. OF Grant Hogue was named the Defensive Player of the Month after collecting a .946 fielding percentage in 26 games in Greeneville’s outfield.
Rookie Level Gulf Coast League: RHP Juan Minaya and RHP Michael Schurz earned Co-Pitchers of the Month for the Astros Gulf Coast League affiliate. Minaya went 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA (6ER/26IP) in six starts, while Schurz finished the month 2-0 with six saves and a 2.13 ERA (3ER/12.2IP) to earn the honors. IF Enrique Hernandez was named the Offensive Player of the Month because of his .313 average (31×99) and 19 RBI in 25 games in July. Defensive Player of the Month went to IF Luis Bryan, who played in 28 games on the Astros’ infield.
Rookie Level Dominican Summer League: RHP Francisco Baso posted a 3-0 record with one save and a 0.89 ERA (2ER/20.1IP) in six games to earn Pitcher of the Month honors for the DSL Astros. The Offensive Player of the Month honor was awarded to IF Hector Rodriguez, who hit .299 (20×67) with five doubles and 14 runs scored. IF Mario Gonzalez earned the Defensive Player of the Month for the Astros after posting a .996 (254TC/1E) fielding percentage in 33 games on the infield this season.

Astros sign Corcoran

The Astros signed right-hander Rory Corcoran, who was designated for assignment by Seattle on July 24, to a Minor League deal on Wednesday. He will report to Triple-A Round Rock on Thursday. Corcoran was 2-0 with a 6.16 ERA in 16 games for the Mariners. In 82 career games with Montreal, Washington and Seattle, he’s 8-3 with a 4.17 ERA and three saves.

Astros need healthy Berkman and Oswalt

The Astros’ poor start in April coincided with Lance Berkman‘s slow start at the plate, and since Berkman went on the disabled list they have lost seven of 10 games. The good news is Berkman could return by Friday, giving the lineup a much-needed boost. They’re just not the same team without Puma.

Of course, if Berkman returns and Roy Oswalt is on the shelf, that’s bad news. Oswalt didn’t feel as good as he wanted to Monday after throwing in the outfield and his start Saturday is still up in the air. Remember when the Astros made their surge late last season? Oswalt led the way with a tremendous second half.

The bottom line is Oswalt is their best pitcher and Berkman is their best hitter and both need to be healthy for them to have any kind of shot. The Astros are back at .500, and they really can’t afford to fiddle around and fall back under the break-even mark. They were four games under .500 in mid-August in 2004 when they took off and won 36 of their last 46 games.

This team isn’t good enough to go on that kind of streak, so they need to start building now. They’re coming off back-to-back wins over 12-games winners in Adam Wainwright and Matt Cain in games started by Bud Norris and Mike Hampton. Just think of the possibilities of Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez are healthy.

At 53-53, the Astros would need to go 35-21 the rest of the way to win 88 games, which may be enough to win the division. The first-place Cubs need to go 32-26 to reach 88 wins. It’s certainly doable, but not without a healthy Oswalt and Berkman.


Paulino will start Tuesday if Oswalt can't go

Astros general manager Ed Wade said Saturday right-hander Felipe Paulino would start Tuesday against the Giants if Roy Oswalt can’t pitch. Oswalt, who has been bothered with a lower left back strain, will likely be placed on the 15-day disabled list of he can’t start Tuesday.

Paulino was scheduled to start Saturday at Triple-A Round Rock, but he was scratched in anticipation of perhaps throwing Tuesday. Paulino, who is 2-5 with a 7.04 ERA for the Astros this year, is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in five starts at Round Rock.

“He’s going to do a bullpen up there and just be on hold,” Wade said. “If we get word back from Roy on Monday he’s not going to be able to make the start on Tuesday, that probably puts us in a position of having to put him on the disabled list.”

Oswalt would miss only two starts if he’s on the disabled list. He threw 50 pitches off flat ground Saturday in St. Louis and said he felt “20 to 30 percent” better than he did after throwing lightly Friday at 50 percent effort. He threw at 75 percent effort Saturday.
Oswalt said he will get a better idea if he’s going to make the start when he pitches off the mound either Sunday or Monday.

“Throwing off flat ground is great and all, but the biggest test will be when I get on the mound,” Oswalt said. “About the only time you’re 100 percent is in the off-season, so if I get back to 90 percent I’ll be in good shape. The biggest thing is trusting it when you get out there. You don’t want to get in a situation in a game where you’re not going all out and you lose a ballgame. If I think I can get out there and get outs, I can get out there.”

Yorman Bazardo (9-5, 2.98 ERA) has been Round Rock’s top starter this year, but he’s out of options. If the Astros brought him up to make a spot start, he would have to clear waivers to make it back to Round Rock.

“From a logistical standpoint, Paulino was the obvious choice at this stage,” Wade said. “Bazardo was a consideration, but from a roster standpoint he has no options remaining, and if we were to bring Yorman up at that point in time we’re pretty much locked into keeping him. That creates a domino effect when Oswalt comes off the DL and [LaTroy] Hawkins comes off the DL. So we had to sort of look at it in the short term and long term.

“Short term because we may need to cover two starts and long term if you cover with a guy like Bazardo it could impact the structure of the pitching staff and put him in position we have to put him on waivers to get him back down. Every little roster move has ramifications, and we need to try to think these things through.”