May 2010

Carlos Lee not backing down

I will have a full story posted later on the website about the incident, but here are the raw reactions of Astros left fielder Carlos Lee and Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter after benches emptied in the third inning Thursday.

Lee pounded his bat in the ground after popping out to shortstop with runners at first and second base and appeared to be yelling at himself in frustration. Carpenter stared at Lee jogging down the line and began yelling back before being separated.

Lee: “I wasn’t trying to show him up. I never looked at him. I got [mad] because I got a pitch to hit and I popped it up. I was mad at myself. I don’t know what he said to me, but he said something and was looking at me, staring at me. For what?”

Carpenter: “It wasn’t a big deal. I don’t know why it turned into a big deal. Things happen. I said something, he said something. He kept coming at it. He’s the one that caused everybody to come out, not me. I was just telling him there’s no need for it.”

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa: “Well, routinely now, hitters pop up a pitch they think they should do [something] with, and they start making noises, and that really is disrespectful to the pitcher. Most of the pitchers just turn around and ignore it. Carp doesn’t. And I think Carp’s in the right. I think respect should go both ways. He gets you out, he gets you out. Just zip it and go back. He gives it up, you zip it and let the guy go around the bases. Most pitchers, they let the guys jabber. I don’t think Carlos Lee is anything special as far as a guy who disrespects, but it’s so common now.”

Batting practice pictures

Alyson Footer, the Astros senior director of digital media, isn’t with the club on its trip to St. Louis, so I felt compelled to take some batting practice photos and post them on my blog. I don’t quite have Alyson’s skills, but I don’t want anyone to have withdrawal symptoms.

So here goes:

 

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Lance Berkman, Bobby Meacham and Brad Mills watch Cardinals batting practice

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Geoff Blum plays catch with the arch inthe background. I would say he’s in the shade for effect, but it’s amateur photography.

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Carlos Lee tries to drag the infield. Why a LF is doing this, I have no idea.

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Humberto Quintero takes a swing during BP with his back pocket sticking out. This is an ongoing problem.

Bourn to appeal suspension

Astros general manager Ed Wade said center fielder Michael Bourn plans to appeal the two-game suspension and fine handed to him Tuesday by Major League Baseball, which means the Gold Glove winner would be available to play tonight against St. Louis.

Bourn has been suspended for two games and fined an undisclosed amount for his aggressive actions, including making contact with umpire Alfonso Marquez, during the bottom of the ninth inning of Saturday’s game against the San Diego Padres at Minute Maid Park. Bob Watson, vice president of on-field operations for Major League Baseball, made the announcement.

“I called Michael this morning to make him aware of the suspension and fine and he was going to contact the Players’ Association to file an appeal,” Wade said. “They’ll schedule a hearing out of New York at some point in time, either face-to-face or by some type of video conferencing, and until that point comes Michael will be available.”

Wade believes the punishment was too severe.

“I talked to Bob Watson last night and he made me aware we were probably heading in that direction,” Wade said. “We feel the contact was coincidental and Michael did not intend to bump Alfonso Marquez. We disagree with the severity of the punishment and hopefully it gets reversed or reduced at some point in time.”

 

Can one win mark a turnaround?

Maybe Sunday’s come-from-behind walk-off win over the Padres is the one that will get the Astros going. At 10-21, they need something, anything to help them get on track. Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence and Lance Berkman – who were a combined .199 for the season prior to Sunday – came alive and went a combined 7-for-14 with two homers. It was like the old days, when opposing pitchers had trouble getting through the heart of the Astros’ order.

The task gets tougher for the Astros, though. They open an eight-game road trip Tuesday night in St. Louis, a place where they just haven’t played well since winning the NLCS in 2005. From there, they go to San Francisco – which has already swept the Astros – and close out with two games in Los Angeles, which is another place they don’t play well.

Astros general manager Ed Wade admitted before Sunday’s game his team’s offensive struggles were baffling.

“Is there some avenue, some solution, we haven’t tried yet short of something drastic, which you don’t try to do at this point in the season? No,” Wade said. “There’s no one ready down in Triple-A to come up and be a three-, four-, five-hole hitter, and not a lot is available on the market, and the ones that are available right now you can line up your five or six top prospects and take a run at them. We’ve got to live through this.”

Meanwhile, Astros manager Brad Mills admitted he’s had trouble sleeping the last few weeks because of the team’s troubles. What’s the solution? “I’ve tried Excedrin PM, Tylenol PM, NyQuil and now Sleepytime Tea.”

Mills may have trouble sleeping, but he’s certainly not giving up on his players. He had a team meeting near the start of the season to tell the guys he wasn’t going to give up on them and not to quit working hard.
 
“That’s what I want these guys to understand,” he said. “We just have to keep working and never give up. They’ve been working and doing things. Are they working too hard at times? That’s in the process, where you struggle, you work to get out of it at the end.”

Padres throw Stauffer at Astros

The Padres scratched right-hander Kevin Correia for Sunday’s game against the Astros in favor of right-hander Tim Stauffer, who’s 2-1 with a 0.49 ERA in nine relief appearances. He will face Astros ace Roy Oswalt, who has six quality starts in six outings this year but has only a 2-4 record to show for it.

Houston has lost 11 of 12 games and needs a win today to avoid a sweep and salvage a seven-game home stand during which it’s won only one game.

Here are the lineups:

ASTROS

Michael Bourn CF

Jeff Keppinger 2B

Lance Berkman 1B

Carlos Lee LF

Hunter Pence RF

Pedro Feliz 3B

Tommy Manzella SS

Humberto Quintero C

Roy Oswalt P

PADRES

Tony Gwynn CF

Will Venable RF

Chase Headley 3B

Scott Hairston LF

Matt Stairs 1B

Nick Hundley C

Jerry Hairston Jr. SS

Lance Zawadzki 2B

Tim Stauffer P

Berkman reacts to Cushing

Astros first baseman Lance Berkman chimed in on the suspension of Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing following the Astros’ game against San Diego on Friday. Cushing was suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

Berkman believes baseball players who test positive for performance-enhancing drugs are maligned more than football players.

“The man’s a beast, I know that,” Berkman said. “I don’t know. I didn’t see what he tested positive for. It said he violated the steroids policy. I will say what will be interesting will be to see the reaction because generally when that happens to a football player it is kind of ho-hum.

“You write a story about it and he serves his four games and nobody will ever say anything else about it. If that happens to a baseball player, they want to strike him from the record book. It’s a totally different reaction, and I’m not sure why that is, but I will be following this just to see. I personally love the guy and love the way he plays. It’s a little disappointing, but I’m not going to pass judgment on him. We’ll see how the story goes.”

According to Major League Baseball drug policy, a player receives a 50-game suspension for a first positive performance-enhancing drug test, a 100-game suspension for a second positive test and a lifetime ban for a third positive test.

Lee might retire after 2012

Left-fielder Carlos Lee, who’s in the fourth year of a six-year, $100-million deal, said Thursday he will strongly consider retiring when he his contract expires. Lee has a limited no trade clause after this season, but considering he’s owed $18.5 million in each of the final three years he’s unlikely to be traded.

“That was one of the reasons I signed here, was to come here and kind of establish myself with a long-team deal and finish up here,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m going to play after this contract is up. I’m ready to go home.”

Lee, who lives in his native Panama in the offseason, has two sons and two daughters that he wants to spend more time with.

“We spend so much time away from our family,” he said. “I can’t spend any other time with my kids. I get home at 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock and they’re sleeping and they get up at 6:30 in the morning to go to school and I see them 10, 15 minutes. I want to be able to spend time with my kids while they’re still young and healthy. I want to enjoy them.”

Where do the Astros go from here?

J.R. Towles may have played his last game in an Astros uniform, and Roy Oswalt might wish he had. Towles admitted he was upset upon learning Tuesday he was being sent to Double-A, which could pretty much signal his time in Houston is done. He said he’s not sure where he stands in the organization, but it can’t be good.

The Astros, not surprisingly, are in need of a veteran catching presence, and Kevin Cash will bring that behind the plate. He’s won World Series rings with the Red Sox and Yankees. He’s not much of a hitter, so perhaps he will fit right in.

Houston’s offensive woes are mind-boggling. The Astros are hitting .235 as a team with nine home runs and only 49 walks in 26 games. They’ve been held to two or fewer runs seven times in their eight-game losing streak and 15 time this season.

How is it possible that Carlos Lee (.198, no home runs), Hunter Pence (.215) and Lance Berkman (.200) are all struggling at the same time? Berkman missed the first 12 games and hardly got any at-bats in Spring Training, so perhaps there are some timing issues. As for Lee and Pence? Who knows.

You can’t help but feel badly for Roy Oswalt, who is pitching great to start the season. He held Arizona to five hits and one extremely long solo homer Tuesday to fall to 2-4 despite a 2.47 ERA and six quality starts in as many outings. He’s posted a 3.12 ERA in his four losses, and the club has scored only three runs during his 26 innings of work in those losses.

That would be enough to make anybody go a little crazy, or perhaps think of requesting a trade. It’s probably too early for that kind of stuff, but Oswalt left Minute Maid Park on Tuesday trying to hide his anger and frustration. He had plenty of company.

Astros release former No. 1 pick Sapp

Astros general manager Ed Wade said the club has released former first-round Draft pick Max Sapp.

Sapp, a catcher drafted in 2006 out of Bishop Moore High School near Orlando, nearly died following the 2008 season following a severe battle with meningitis.

He missed all of the 2009 season and couldn’t get on the field this year. He was a career .224 hitter in 210 career Minor League games.

“It became apparent that he would physically be unable to perform,” Wade said.

Sapp received a $1.4 million signing bonus when he signed.

 

Astros announce Minor League Players of the Month

The Houston Astros player development department has named the following Players of the Month for April:

Triple A Round Rock: LHP Andy Van Hekken posted a 1-1 record, a 1.66 ERA, struck out 23 and walked only four in four starts in April to earn Round Rock Pitcher of the Month honors. OF Jason Bourgeois was named Offensive Player of the Month after hitting .328 with two home runs, nine RBIs and a league-leading 11 stolen bases. 1B Chris Shelton received the Defensive Player of the Month after recording a .990 fielding percentage through 22 games at first base this season.

Double A Corpus Christi: After posting a 0.71 ERA with one save in April, RHP Henry Villar was named Pitcher of the Month for the Hooks. Villar allowed only four hits and a .100 opponent batting average in the month. 1B Koby Clemens was named Offensive Player of the Month after hitting .263 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs. Clemens currently ranks first in the Texas League in home runs and tied for second in RBIs. SS Wladimir Sutil‘s. 971 fielding percentage while playing shortstop in April earned him the Defensive Player of the Month for Corpus Christi.

Class A Advanced Lancaster: JetHawks Pitcher of the Month LHP David Berner owned a 1.20 ERA with 16 strikeouts in seven relief appearances in April. 2B Albert Cartwright hit .333 with six doubles, three triples and a homer en route to receiving the Offensive Player of the Month award. The Defensive Player of the Month was SS Brandon Wikoff, who posted a .974 fielding percentage with 45 assists and only two errors in the month.

Class A Lexington: Pitcher of the Month RHP Tanner Bushue, the Astros second-round selection in the 2009 draft, finished the month 1-1 with 26 strikeouts and a 2.81 ERA in five starts for Lexington. OF J.D. Martinez was named Offensive Player of the Month after hitting .365 with seven doubles, two homers and 19 RBIs in 23 games. In his brief two-year career, Martinez has posted a .353 average with 75 RBIs in just 95 games. OF Jacob Goebbert received Defensive Player of the Month honors after not recording an error in 31 total chances in 22 games in the outfield.

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