February 2010

Lyon no longer worried about shoulder

Astros pitcher Brandon Lyon admitted he was worried about his shoulder when he came to Houston two weeks ago to have an MRI. He had been experiencing temporary weakness and feared the worst, before his mind was put to ease with the revelation a cyst needed to be drained.

“At the time, I was [concerned],” Lyon said via phone from his home in Utah. “I’ve never had anything like that, so I was a little worried. When I got to Houston and checked it out, I was relieved it wasn’t anything major. I definitely feel good about that.”

Lyon, who signed a three-year, $15-million deal in December, had the cyst aspirated and is back on his throwing program. The cyst, which was the size of 1 1/2 grapes, was pressing on a nerve and causing discomfort.  The cyst was evident on the MRI Lyon took before he signed with the Astros, but it grew over time.

“The only thing we can maybe attribute it to is overdoing it a little bit,” Lyon said. “That’s the only thing I know and can come up with. In the MRI in December it was there, but it started to enlarge in a month to where it became a problem.”

Lyon will report to Spring Training as scheduled with pitchers and catchers next week, but will be about 10 days behind his fellow pitchers because of the interruption in his throwing program. He should be ready for the start of the regular season.

“The problem and what has caused me to be behind is the strength I’ve lost over the last couple of weeks in my back,” he said. “It drained out one my muscles completely in my back and shoulder. I didn’t have any strength doing exercises. I’m building that back up to get it to the way it was before.

“It doesn’t come back overnight. That’s the only problem with it now. I’m getting the strength back and starting the throwing program like I stared day one in the off-season.”

Lyon, whose wife gave birth to the couple’s third child and first daughter Jan. 15, is eager to get to Kissimmee, Fla., for his first Spring Training with the Astros.

“I’m definitely excited to put some names with the faces and meet up with everybody,” he said. “I’m working for another great season.”

Astros sign Bazardo, Englebrook and Fulchino

The Astros on Wednesday announced they had agreed to terms with three right-handed pitchers on their 40-man roster on one-year contracts with the corresponding Major League values: Yorman Bazardo ($400,000) Evan Englebrook ($400,000) and Jeff Fulchino ($425,000). .

Bazardo, 25, went 1-3 with a 7.88 ERA in 10 games, including six starts, for Houston in 2009. He spent the majority of his season at Triple-A Round Rock, where he posted a 9-6 record and a 3.20 ERA in 23 games, including 20 starts. He was named a Pacific Coast League All-Star and finished third in the league in ERA. Bazardo has appeared in 25 Major League games with Florida (2005), Detroit (2007-08) and Houston (2009) and has a 3-4 career record with a 6.86 ERA.

Englebrook, 27, went 3-1 record with nine saves and a 4.25 ERA in 30 relief appearances between Double-A Corpus Christi and Round Rock last season. He spent the most of the year at Corpus Christi, posting a 2-0 record and a 3.16 ERA in 21 games. Englebrook was added to the Astros’ 40-man roster following the 2009 season.

Fulchino, 30, was named the Astros Rookie of the Year after posting a 6-4 record and a 3.40 ERA in 61 relief appearances for Houston in 2009. Last season, he led all Astros relievers in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts (71). Fulchino has appeared in 74 career Major League games with Florida (2006), Kansas City (2008) and Houston (2009) and has a 6-5 record and a 4.20 ERA (45ER/96.1IP).

Meanwhile, infielder Jose Vallejo underwent surgery today on the fourth and fifth fingers of his right hand at Texas Orthopedic Hospital in Houston. As part of the procedure, Dr. Thomas Melhoff reattached the flexor tendons in Vallejo’s injured fingers.

Vallejo, who injured his fingers while preparing a meal during the Christmas holidays, will be out of action for approximately six months.


Blum could see more playing time at second base

One of the benefits the Astros received from signing veteran Pedro Feliz to play third base this year is that it frees up Geoff Blum to do other things. Sure, he’ll see some playing time at third, but he’s also capable of playing shortstop, second base and first base.

Blum only appeared in one game at shortstop last year and will be down the depth chart at that position, behind Tommy Manzella and Jeff Keppinger. He won’t get much playing time at first base, either, unless Lance Berkman gets injured.

That leaves second base, where starter Kaz Matsui is going to have to produce in the final year of his contract. Matsui has been a disappointment offensively with the Astros, even though he played in a career-high 132 games last year. He hit .250 with an on-base percentage of only .302.

Blum, a switch-hitter, is more than capable of playing long stretches at second base if Matsui struggles or gets injured, and general manager Ed Wade said last week he and manager Brad Mills won’t hesitate to use Blum at second.

“Millsie and I have talked, and my opinion to him is we need to put the best lineup on the field we can put out there,” Wade said. “Our hope is Kaz is playing the majority of the time, but we’ve got alternatives. If there’s a point in time it looks like giving either Geoff Blum or Keppinger more at-bats over there [will help the offense] or if Edwin Maysonet makes the club and is playing well, we have to be opened-minded about putting our most productive lineup on the field.”


Is Tommy Manzella the next Adam Everett?

Is Tommy Manzella the next Adam Everett? This won’t be the first or the last time the two men have been/will be lumped into the same all-field, little-hit category. The Astros are hoping Manzella has a lot of Everett in him, meaning he’ll make all the plays at shortstop and shore up the defense. But they also hope he makes more strides offensively, too.

Everett, whom the Astros acquired in a trade with the Boston Red Sox in 1998, played seven seasons in Houston and was a key starter on the 2004 team that became the first Astros club to win a playoff series and the 2005 World Series team. He hit .248 with 35 homers in those seven seasons in Houston, but his master glove work made up for any offensive shortcomings.

Manzella, a third-round pick in 2005 out of Tulane, is of a similar mold. He’s bigger than Everett, but has been a Major League-ready shortstop for at least a few years. He’s a career .268 hitter with 21 homers and 205 RBIs in 521 Minor League games (Everett was a career .258 hitter with 23 homers and 164 RBIs in 472 Minor League games).

Last year at Triple-A Round Rock, Manzella hit .289 with nine homers and 56 RBIs. He was called up at the end of the season, but basically spent the whole season in Round Rock after splitting 2008 between Round Rock and Double-A Corpus Christi and 2007 between Corpus Christi and Class A Salem. His offense has improved each year, hitting .289 at Corpus Christi in 2007 and .299 in 2008. He hit .219 at Round Rock in 2008 and .289 in 2009.

Everett reached the big leagues at the age of 24 in 2001 and played in only nine games. He was handed the starting shortstop job on Opening Day in 2002, but spent most of the season in Triple-A New Orleans. He didn’t play a full year in Houston until the 2004 season when he was 27.

Manzella will turn 27 shortly after Opening Day and is getting his first real shot at the Majors a little later than Everett got his. Manzella knows his offense is the key to how long he sticks in the Majors, but the Astros certainly are believers in his future considering they tabbed him as their starting shortstop months ago.

Sure, the Astros could have went out and signed a free-agent shortstop once they walked away from Miguel Tejada, but they felt they could spend money wiser elsewhere and be in good hands with Manzella.

Time will only tell how Manzella winds up stacking up against Everett, but he appears a little further along offensively than Everett. This much is for sure: it should be a treat watching him play shortstop when the season starts.

Which players are you most excited about seeing this spring?

I’m back in town, but still on vacation technically until Thursday. In the meantime, Spring Training is casting a rather large shadow over me and everyone else who’s going to be in Florida in a little more than two weeks, so it’s time to look ahead. No more mention of Miguel Tejada or Jose Valverde.

The Astros figure to have several intriguing storylines this spring, from a new manager in Brad Mills and several new members of the coaching staff, to key new faces in Brandon Lyon, Matt Lindstrom, Brett Myers and Pedro Feliz. Then there’s younger players that are expected to make an impact, including a pair of rookies who could start: shortstop Tommy Manzella and catcher Jason Castro.

There are other interesting players who aren’t going to make headlines at camp: Chia-Jen Lo, Fernando Abad, Gary Majewski, Cory Sullivan, Jason Bourgeois, etc. I am going to be tracking the progress of all, but I am most intrigued by Manzella and Castro, and that’s simply because they could play huge roles. In fact, the club is banking on Manzella to do just that in April and Castro at some point this year to be a factor.

Which players are you, the fans, most excited about seeing?