June 2010

Astros kids are alright

Don’t give up on the Astros just yet. No, I’m not predicting an unbelievable second-half surge that leads them into the playoffs, but this team is worth watching. Jason Castro is worth watching, and so are Chris Johnson and Jason Bourgeois.

The Astros are younger and more exciting than they were 10 days ago, thanks to the arrival of Castro, Johnson and Bourgeois, who were brought up when Kevin Cash, Casey Daigle and Cory Sullivan were designatd for assignment on June 23.

Johnson is hitting .414 in his seven starts since being recalled, including a pair of four-hit games. The Astros had no four-hit games before Johnson, and eventually Michael Bourn on Monday, did the trick. For the season, Johnson is batting .333 with eight RBIs in 51 at-bats and has pushed Feliz to the bench. Sure, he’s struggled on defense, but he should get better with experience.

Then there’s Castro, who has shown great patience in the plate and poise behind it in his Major League debut. He’s hitting .231 with one home run, but he’s handled the staff nicely — guiding Wandy Rodriguez to back-to-back wins — and has thrown out four of the seven runners who have tried to steal against him.

Bourgeois has bounced around between a couple of organziations, but perhaps he’s found a home in his native Houston. He’s hitting .312 in limited action, but he gives the Astros an exciting speedster off the bench.

There’s no doubt all three of these guys are going to go through growing pains, but the fact they’re here and getting the chance to show what they can do is enough reason to come to the ballpark.

“I love it,” Astros closer Matt Lindstrom said. “I think it’s what we need right now, a good balance of veterans and young guys who are hungry, that will push us a little bit. Obviously they’re very talented and we’re excited to have them contribute. Hopefully we can expect this [during] the next three months and see where we go.”

 

Astros wrap up Interleague play

The Astros wrap Interleague Play on Sunday night by sending Roy Oswalt to the mound against the Texas Rangers. The Astros are 3-11 in Interleague play, having gone 1-2 against Tampa Bay, 0-3 at the Yankees, 1-2 at Kansas City and 1-4 against the Rangers heading into Sunday’s series finale at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

The Astros are 12-12 this month: 10-3 against National League teams and 2-9 against the American League.

Oswalt (5-9, 3.08 ERA) is two wins shy of tying Joe Niekro’s club record of 144 wins. He’s 4-1 in five road starts this year with a 1.50 ERA and has tossed at least seven innings and allowed no more than two runs in each of his five starts away from home.

Here are the lineups:

ASTROS

CF Michael Bourn

LF Jason Bourgeois

1B Lance Berkman

DH Carlos Lee

RF Jason Michaels

2B Geoff Blum

3B Chris Johnson

C Jason Castro

SS Oswaldo Navarro

—-

RHP Roy Oswalt (5-9, 3.08 ERA)

—-

RANGERS

SS Elvis Andrus

3B Michael Young

2B Ian Kinsler

DH Vladimir Guerrero

LF Josh Hamilton

RF Nelson Cruz

1B Justin Smoak

C Matt Treanor

CF Julio Borbon

—-

RHP Tommy Hunter (3-0, 2.31 ERA)

—-

 

Castro off to quick start behind plate

Rookie catcher Jason Castro started three consecutive games upon making his Major League debut before being out of the lineup Friday against the Rangers. Astros pitchers posted a 1.33 ERA in the three games Castro started behind the plate. Castro said having the ability to study video has been a help.

“I’ve done a lot and really for the first time in my career I have the resources and ability to scout the other team,” Castro said. “We put a lot of work with [pitching coach Brad Arnsberg] and have gone over some footage and talked about plans of attack with each hitter and things like that. It’s been extremely beneficial and really helped me so far. I continue to put that to work in and see similar results.”

Castro will see a familiar face on the mound Saturday. Right-hander Josh Banks will make his first start for the Astros after having his contract purchased from Triple-A Round Rock, where he spent the first two months of the season with Castro.

Banks was 8-5 with a 2.97 ERA in 15 starts for the Express, 13 of which came with Castro behind the plate. Castro made his Major League debut Tuesday.

“He knows me pretty well as far as thinking-wise and gets a lot of different signs and that makes it a little bit easier,” Banks said. “Whoever’s catching, you still have to get on the same page and get as many outs as you can.”

Castro has been impressed with Banks.

“He works really well mixing pitches and spotting up with his fastball and pitching,” he said. “He knows what he’s doing out there and he can really pitch. Hopefully we can get together and get a good game plan going and he can execute with all his pitches. That’s why he’s been successful all this year.”

Banks took the rotation spot of Felipe Paulino, who went on the DL.

“I’ll try and go out there and do the best I can and keep the game in the game,” Banks said. “Whatever happens up there, it’s unfortunate the situation with Paulino going down. It is what it is. I was hoping to keep throwing the ball well and when they needed somebody get the call.”

Paulino to DL; Banks up from Round Rock

Astros right-hander Felipe Paulino was placed on the 15-day disabled list Thursday with shoulder tendinitis, general manager Ed Wade said. The Astros purchased the contract of right-hander Josh Banks from Triple-A Round Rock and will start him Saturday against Texas in Arlington.

The move is back-dated to June 21, and he’s eligible to return July 6.

Paulino is 1-8 with a 4.40 ERA in 14 starts this year for the Astros and has had some of the worst run support in the league. He last pitched Sunday against the Rangers, giving up 10 hits, three runs (two earned) and struck out six batters in six innings.

Banks, a non-roster invitee to Spring Training who has spent the entire season at Round Rock, is 8-5 with a 2.97 ERA in 15 starts. In 97 innings, he’s allowed 92 hits, 40 runs (32 earned), 24 walks and struck out 34 batters.

Banks, 27, is 4-7 with a 5.38 ERA in 26 career Major League games with the Blue Jays and Padres, including 18 starts. He appeared in six games for the Padres in 2009, going 1-1 with a 7.15 ERA. The Astros signed him to a Minor League contract on Jan. 8.

 

Astros lineup Thursday vs. Giants

If the Astros can beat the Giants on Thursday afternoon, they would have their first series win since taking three of four games at the Rockies from June 7-10. it would also be their first series win against the Giants at home since a four-game sweep Aug. 11-14, 2008.

To get it done, the Astros will need a rebound effort from left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (3-10, 6.09 ERA), who leads hte league in losses. He’s allowed 14 earned runs and 11 hits in eight innings in his past two starts, and he’s lost six of his last seven starts.

The Giants will counter with left-hander Matt Cain (6-5, 2.16 ERA), who has thrown a complete game in three of his previous six starts. His ERA is the fourth-lowest in the NL, and he’s 1-2 wiht a 3.64 ERA in his career against the Astros.

Here are the lineups:

ASTROS

CF Michael Bourn

2B Jeff Keppinger

1B Lance Berkman

LF Carlos Lee

RF Hunter Pence

SS Geoff Blum

3B Pedro Feliz

C Jason Castro

P Wandy Rodriguez

GIANTS

SS Edgar Renteria

2B Freddy Sanchez

RF Aubrey Huff

LF Pat Burrell

1B Buster Posey

1 Bengie Molina

C Aaron Rowand

P Matt Cain

Postgame notes from Astros-Giants

Here are some tidbits from the Astros’ 6-3 win over the Giants on Wednesday:

  • The Astros snapped a five-game losing streak overall and also snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Giants, which dated to Aug. 2, 2009.
  • Astros starter Brett Myers set an Astros franchise record by throwing at least six innings in 15 consecutive starts to begin the season. The last Astros pitcher to throw at least six innings in 15 consecutive starts at any point in the season was Roy Oswalt, who did so in 17 straight starts from Aug. 2, 2008 through April 27, 2009. Roger Clemens was the most recent Astros pitcher to have a 15-game streak in one season (2005).
  • Myers improved to 4-0 at home this season with a 2.68 ERA in eight starts. Entering the game, he was one of five Major League starters to be undefeated at home (minimum seven starts). Houston has won Myers’ last seven starts at Minute Maid Park.
  • Myers went 2-for-3 with an RBI, marking his second career multi-hit game (Sept. 11, 2003 at Atlanta).
  • Right-hander Matt Lindstrom converted his sixth save in his last 10 chances. He is 16-for-20 in save chances this season.
  • Right-hander Brandon Lyon owns a 1.75 ERA in his last 27 games, including 24 scoreless outings.
  • Second baseman Jeff Keppinger’s three RBIs are his most since a career-high four on May 19 against Colorado. He has four games this season at least three RBIs.
  • In his first at-bat with the Astros, Houston native Jason Bourgeois recorded his first hit since Sept. 25, 2009 vs. Philadelphia. He made his first start since Sept. 6, 2009 against the Giants.
  • The Astros committed three errors, which ties a season high for a game. Chris Johnson had two of those, giving him three errors in two games.

 

Manzella out 6 weeks, plus lineup vs. Giants

The Astros try to snap their five-game losing streak and nine-game losing streak against the Giants tonight at Minute Maid Park when Barry Zito (7-3, 3.13 ERA) faces Brett Myers (3-4, 3.34 ERA) in the middle game of the three-game series.

Houston received some bad news prior to Wednesday’s game when it was revealed starting shortstop Tommy Manzella will miss six weeks with a fractured left index finger, an injury suffered diving for a ball in the sixth inning Tuesday. Oswaldo Navarro was called up from Triple-A Round Rock to take his place.

Here are the lineups:

ASTROS

CF Jason Bourgeois

2B Jeff Keppinger

1B Lance Berkman

LF Carlos Lee

RF Hunter Pence

3B Chris Johnson

SS Geoff Blum

C Jason Castro

P Brett Myers

GIANTS

CF Andres Torres

2B Freddy Sanchez

RF Aubrey Huff

3B Juan Uribe

LF Pat Burrell

1B Pablo Sandoval

SS Edgar Reneteria

C Bengie Molina

P Barry Zito

 

New-look Astros bring enthusiasm

There’s a good chance the Astros will be starting three rookies in most games the rest of the season. Call it throwing in the towel or looking towards the future, but the bottom line is the Astros had to shake things up. One player said Tuesday it felt like Opening Day all over again, coming to the ballpark and knowing Jason Castro, Chris Johnson and Jason Bourgeois would be in uniform.

The Astros were getting little offensive production from their catchers and had top prospect Castro waiting in the wings. Pedro Feliz has been a huge disappointment at third base since signing as a free agent and with Johnson tearing it up at Triple-A Round Rock, the move made sense. Tommy Manzella has been starting at shortstop since Opening Day and appears to have settled down defensively, while the Astros hope he can make more strides on offense.

Despite the high-price contracts of franchise icons Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt and left-fielder Carlos Lee, the future is the Astros is in their young players. Players like Castro and Johnson and Double-A pitcher Jordan Lyles, who will pitch in the Futures Games this year.

“Obviously when you’re in the situation we are, having gone through a little more than a third of the season and you’re still sucking wind, you get to the point where you’re like, ‘Hey, let’s try something,’” Berkman said. “I think, that’s kind of where we are now at this point.”

Berkman admits he feels old, but not necessarily because he’s surrounded by fresh-faced youngsters.

“I don’t think we’ve had as many young guys as this probably since the early ’90s when Craig [Biggio] and Jeff [Bagwell] and those guys started infusing the organziation with the next wave of new talent,” Berkman said. “You had those playoff teams, good teams in mid ’80s and a few good teams in there and that wave came and went and you’ve got some new guys coming in. I don’t think this is dissimilar. In any organization, you’ve got cycles and it’s time for some of these new guys step in and see what they can do.”

Castro coming, and not a moment too soon

If you follow me on Twitter — and I don’t know why you wouldn’t if you want the latest Astros news — you may remember during Sunday’s game I threw out the stats of catcher Jason Castro and third baseman Chris Johnson. Castro was having a solid season and getting better, and Johnson was simply smoking the ball.

While I was looking at Round Rock’s stats and watching the Astros lose their eighth game in a nine-game span, I couldn’t help but think. Why not? Why not bring Castro and Johnson up and see what they can do? So when the Astros announced after the game they had called up Castro, Johnson and outfielder Jason Bourgeois, it was met with much anticipation in the press box.

“I think we have to see what some of these guys can do,” manager Brad Mills said. “If they are the ones to go further to go beyond this year then we need to find those answers and we need to find out about it.”

Exactly.

Castro, the first Draft pick of the Ed Wade-Bobby Heck regime to reach the Majors, will get the “lion’s share” of the time behind the plate, according to Mills. In other words, he’s the starter. He’s not coming up here to sit the bench. There are 92 games left in the season, and the Astros need to find out if he can play at the Major League level. Scouts like his defense, the club raves about his game-calling ability, but can he hit? We’ll find out.

Pedro Feliz has been a disappointment at third base, both offensively and defensively. So why not give Johnson a shot? The signing of Feliz in the offseason was a sign the club wasn’t exactly sold on Johnson, especially when you consider they were committed to giving Tommy Manzella the job at shortstop.

Mills said Johnson would get a lot of playing time at third, so it will be interesting how much Feliz plays the rest of the way. Here’s hoping Johnson, unlike last year when he was called up and didn’t play, gets a bulk of the starts so the Astros know what they have going into 2011.

I’d keep Manzella in the lineup, too. He’s making strides on offense and has settled down defensively. Perhaps he winds up starting against left-handers more, but what’s to lose by getting him another 300 at-bats this season?

Bourgeois was tearing it up at Triple-A and may be a late-bloomer. We know he can fly and he gives Mills a different kind of weapon off the bench. Keep in mind Cory Sullivan, who was designated for assignment, was a left-handed hitter and Bourgeois hits right-handed. But Bourgeois can do things Sullivan can’t.

Simply put, this youth movement is exciting. The Astros will never admit to rebuilding, but the arrival of Castro could be a watershed moment in the franchise’s future. And that future is now.

Lone Star Series begins

The 10th annual Lone Star Series begins Friday at Minute Maid Park when the Astros and Rangers battle. Texas holds a 28-26 edge all-time against the Astros, having won the season series the last three years (2007-09) with a 12-6 advantage in those games. The Astros are 13-14 all-time against the Rangers at Minute Maid Park.

Here are Friday’s starting lineups:

ASTROS

CF Michael Bourn

2B Jeff Keppinger

1B Lance Berkman

LF Carlos Lee

RF Hunter Pence

3B Geoff Blum

C Humberto Quintero

SS Tommy Manzella

P Wandy Rodriguez

RANGERS

SS Elvis Andrus

3B Michael Young

2B Ian Kinsler

RF Vladimir Guerrero

LF Josh Hamilton

1B Justin Smoak

C Matt Treanor

CF Julio Borbon

P Scott Feldman

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