June 2010

Who should represent Astros at All-Star Game?

We’re about a month away from the All-Star Game in Anaheim, and it appears unlikely the Astros will have anyone voted into the starting lineup, which isn’t surprising. Fans can still cast their votes for starters up to 25 times at MLB.com and Astros.com until July 1, but no Astros were in the running when the latest NL vote total was released last week.

So who should represent the Astros in the All-Star Game?

When it comes to position players, no one is really having an All-Star-type season. Jeff Keppinger, who isn’t on the ballot at second base, leads the team with a .292 batting average, 18 doubles and 21 multi-hit games, so perhaps he’ll get picked as a reserve. Right-fielder Hunter Pence, an All-Star a year ago, is hitting .260 with 10 homers and 28 RBIs and would be somewhat of a more jazzy pick than Keppinger. But the competition in the outfield will be fierce.

Former All-Stars Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee haven’t put up the numbers, and neither has Pedro Feliz.

Pitchers, of course, aren’t picked by the fans, so it could be up to the players, managers and coaches in the league to decide who the Astros’ All-Star rep will be. Roy Oswalt has been terrific this year, posting a 3.16 ERA in 13 starts (11 quality starts). But his 4-8 record from a lack of run support could cost him. Brett Myers (4-4, 3.18 ERA) has pitched into at least the sixth inning in all 13 of his starts, and he has a good relationship with NL manager Charlie Manuel of the Phillies.

But there are so many terrific pitching candidates in the NL, it might be hard to justify taking Oswalt or Myers. The bottom line is the Astros have to have at least one All-Star representative, and it’s anyone’s guess at this point who it might be.

 

Astros vs. Yankees on Sunday, plus pictures of new Yankee Stadium

The Astros close out their series at Yankee Stadium this afternoon. I’ve posted the lineups, followed by a few pictures I took of the ballpark, which is very nice. Enjoy.


misc 013.jpgASTROS

ASTROS

CF Michael Bourn

2B Jeff Keppinger

RF Hunter Pence

DH Carlos Lee

LF Cory Sullivan

3B Pedro Feliz

1B Geoff Blum

SS Tommy Manzella

C Kevin Cash

RHP Brian Moehler (0-2, 6.12 ERA)

YANKEES

SS Derek Jeter

CF Curtis Granderson

1B Mark Teixeira

2B Robinson Cano

DH Nick Swisher

C Jorge Posada

LF Brett Gardner

RF Chad Huffman

3B Ramiro Peno

RHP Phil Hughes (8-1, 2.71 ERA)

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Rodriguez struggles a concern

Wandy Rodriguez was the Astros’ best pitcher last year, leading the team in wins, strikeouts, games started and innings pitched while posting a career-low 3.02 ERA. Fast-forward to 2010, when Rodriguez is struggling mightily like he did prior to his breakout season of a year ago.

Roy Oswalt has pitched great to start the year, Brett Myers has been a fantastic addition and Felipe Paulino is showing signs of turning the corner, but Rodriguez has to give the Astros reason for concern. He’s 3-9 with a 5.60 ERA, so you can’t blame it on run support. He struggled with command Saturday against the Yankees, walking five batters, four of which scored.

In 72 1/3 innings this year, he’s allowed 91 hits, 30 walks and struck out 50 batters. He’s allowed nearly half the amount of hits and walks he did all of last year in 205 2/3 innings, and is well below his walk-to-innings pitched ratio.

So what do to? Nothing. Rodriguez still is able to dominate from time to time like he did last year, so the Astros will keep sending him to the mound and hoping he finds his location. Maybe the Rodriguez of 2009 will come through over his final 20 starts of the season. If not, the Astros will have to consider his future in the offseason.

Foltynewicz, Astros reach deal on bonus

The Astros have reached an agreement on a signing bonus with first-round Draft pick Mike Foltynewicz worth $1.3 million, his advisor Bobby Witt told MLB.com on Friday.

Foltynewicz, the hard-throwing right-handed pitcher the Astros selected with the 19th overall pick Monday in the First-Year Player Draft, could be in Houston next week to sign the contract and begin his professional career.

“Some of the other things regarding school and other stuff have to be worked out,” Witt said. “As far as the Astros and terms, they have been agreed upon.”

The Astros, as policy, won’t acknowledge a deal is in place until a contract is signed.

Foltynewicz, 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, sits in the low 90s mph with his fastball and has touched 96 with a good changeup. He’s the first pitcher taken in the first round by the Astros since left-hander Brian Bogusevic in 2005, but Bogusevic has since been moved to the outfield.

“My goals are to try to get to the pros as soon as I can, within two or three years,” he said after being drafted. “I feel real confident about that. I’m a real hard worker and I’m going to listen to everything that everyone has to say. I’ll take criticism the right way, learn from it and I want to try to get up soon.”

Foltynewicz went 9-1 with a 0.38 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 72 2/3 innings this year for Minooka Community High School in the Chicago area.

Astros vs. Yankees on Friday

The Astros make their first trip to new Yankee Stadium on Friday, the day that marks the seven-year anniversary of the six-pitcher no-hitter thrown by the Astros at the old Yankee Stadium in 2003. Astros owner Drayton McLane, general manager Ed Wade and assistant general manager David Gottfried joined the club on the trip to New York.

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who is nursing a groin injury, isn’t in the lineup for the Bronx Bombers. Here are the lineups (followed by injury updates):

ASTROS

CF Michael Bourn

2B Jeff Keppinger

1B Lance Berkman

 LF Carlos Lee

RF Hunter Pence

DH Jason Michaels

3B Pedro Feliz

SS Tommy Manzella

C Kevin Cash

—–

RHP Brett Myers (4-3, 3.01 ERA)

YANKEES

SS Derek Jeter

CF Curtis Granderson

1B Mark Teixeira

2B Robinson Cano

RF Nick Swisher

DH Jorge Posada

C Francisco Cervelli

3B Ramiro Pena

LF Kevin Russo

—-

LHP Andy Pettitte (7-1, 2.47 ERA)

Here are some injury updates

– RHP Chris Sampson, on the disabled list with right rotator cuff tendinitis, is scheduled to throw a 15-20 pitch simulated game Sunday at Double-A Corpus Christi. If all goes well, he’ll pitch 15-20 pitches in a game Tuesday for the Hooks.

– RHP Matt Lindstrom didn’t pitch Thursday because of back spasms.

– LHP Tim Byrdak rejoined the team Friday in New York after going to Houston to be examined by a doctor for the back/hamstring issue that put him in the disabled list in May. Manager Brad Mills said he would be available on Saturday.

– RHP Bud Norris is scheduled to pitch Saturday in a Minor League rehab outing for Triple-A Round Rock. He’s been on the DL since May 24 with bursitis and biceps tendinitis.

Foltynewicz leaning towards Astros

Mike Foltynewicz, the hard-throwing right-handed pitcher the Astros selected with the 19th overall pick Monday in the First-Year Player Draft, said Tuesday he’s more likely to sign with the Astros than go to the University of Texas.

“I want to get my professional career headed out in the right way and right now I’m definitely going to considering starting my professional career,” he said.

Foltynewicz, 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, sits in the low 90s mph with his fastball and has touched 96 with a good changeup. He’s the first pitcher taken in the first round by the Astros since left-hander Brian Bogusevic in 2005, but Bogusevic has since been moved to the outfield.

“My goals are to try to get to the pros as soon as I can, within two or three years,” he said. “I feel real confident about that. I’m a real hard worker and I’m going to listen to everything that everyone has to say. I’ll take criticism the right way, learn from it and I want to try to get up soon.”

Foltynewicz went 9-1 with a 0.38 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 72 2/3 innings this year for Minooka Community High School in the Chicago area.

He throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider, curveball and a changeup. His can get up to 96 mph with his four-seam fastball in early innings, and will sit at 91-94 mph. His two-seamer is 88-91 with good movement, and he has a 12-to-6 curveball that ranges from 71-74 mph.  His changeup is 84 mph with some movement.

“I’ve had a curveball all my life and last summer I started working on the slider more, just another pitch to get in there,” he said. “That’s been working great for me. It looks like my fastball coming in, but just has that break to the left. Both those pitches are really great for me. I can throw them for strikes.”
 

Astros face long road trip

The Astros finally got things rolling at home this week by going 5-2 on their home stand against the Nationals and Cubs, winning five of the final six games after getting pounded by Washington on Memorial Day. Now they have to try to get things ironed out on the road.

The Astros have lost nine of 11 road games since sweeping the Cardinals May 11-13 and will play 20 of their next 26 games away from home. That’s the price they paid for having so many home games early. Houston opens a 10-game trip to Colorado, the Yankees and Kansas City on Monday and returns home for six games before another 10-game trip. Ouch.

“It’s going to be interesting,” manager Brad Mills said. “That’s a lot of travel. We’re going to be playing a lot and then we have an off day [June 14], which is nice because it’s been a while. It’s going to be kind of a fun road trip with using a designated hitter in the American League ballparks and so forth.”

The Astros will use a DH in New York and Kansas City, and Mills said he’s not prepared to name a DH just yet. Carlos Lee is the most obvious choice, and Lee said after Sunday’s game he’d rather play in the field than be the DH. Still, he will likely end up as the DH in most games.

It all gets underway Monday when Houston sends Wandy Rodriguez (3-7, 5.07 ERA) to the mound against Jason Hammel (2-3, 6.09 ERA). Here are the rest of the pitching matchups for the Rockies series:

Tuesday: Brian Moehler (0-2, 6.49 ERA) vs. Jeff Francis (1-2, 3.70 ERA)

Wednesday: Felipe Paulino (1-7, 4.01 ERA) vs. Aaron Cook (2-3, 5.00 ERA)

Thursday: Roy Oswalt (3-8, 3.22 ERA) vs. Jhoulys Chacin (3-4, 3.77 ERA)

Paulino has put it all together

I was among those who wanted to see Felipe Paulino out of the rotation after he put up a 5.40 ERA in April and really struggled in some starts. I was tired of hearing about his great stuff and the run support being poor. At some point you just have to win some games.

The Astros preached patience, and they really didn’t have very many other options anyway. They stuck it out with Paulino, and they are looking smarter by the day. He’s put together three solid starts in a row and is pitching with confidence and poise.

On Friday against the Cubs, he gave up five hits and one run in eight innings. He struck out seven and walked one batter unintentionally. Walks have been a problem this year, but he was around the plate all night, throwing 120 pitches (81 strikes).

The Astros’ starting pitching is looking pretty strong. Roy Oswalt has been terrific, Wandy Rodriguez is coming off a solid start, Brett Myers has been consistent and now Paulino is finding his groove. If Bud Norris can get healthy, better days are ahead.

 

Astros finally getting some breaks

A ball bounces over the head of left fielder Carlos Lee and leads to two runs in the ninth inning. Prior to this week, that would have done in the Astros. They would have went down quietly in the ninth and been saddled with another less.

But there’s been a different feeling at Minute Maid Park the last few days. Blown leads late in games are being turned into victories, and somewhere along the line there’s a hint of momentum and — dare are we say? — confidence.

“That’s important going forward,” first baseman Lance Berkman said. “We’ve got to believe that no matter what the circumstances in the game are we have a chance to win it and we’ve got a good feel over the last three games and just keep it going.”

After losing 14-4 in the series opener against Washington, the Astros won the final three games of the series, twice rallying in the bottom of the ninth after closer Matt Lindstrom blew saves in the top of the inning.

Thursday’s wasn’t really Lindstrom’s fault as much it was bad luck. A blooper by Willie Harris bounced over Lee’s head and resulted in an RBI and eventually the go-ahead run in the ninth, but the Astros got a huge break in the bottom of the inning when Cristian Guzman misplayed a two-out fly ball off the bat of Berkman to allow the tying run to score. Lee hit a two-run homer, and the Astros were winners.

Again.

“We knew we had three more outs and we were going to give it our best, but and we came out with the victory,” center fielder Michael Bourn said.

They are 20-34 at the one-third mark of the season and on pace to go 60-102. They’re tied with slumping Arizona for the worst record in the National League, but perhaps they’re getting things together. Berkman, Lee and Hunter Pence combined to go 5-for-14 on Thursday with two homers and are all swinging the bat better.

Maybe what we’ve seen the last three days is the real Astros.

 

 

Could Lee, Berkman and Pence be breaking out?

There is no bigger reason for the Astros’ shortcomings on offense this year than the struggles of their 3-4-5 hitters: Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence. No matter what the order, the three sluggers have scuffled for most of the season and the Astros’ offense has followed along, but there are signs they could be coming around.

Berkman went 1-for-4 with a run scored Wednesday, one day after going 3-for-5 with three RBIs. In his last 22 games, he’s hitting .288 with three homers and 16 RBIs to raise his batting average to .241 from .175.

Lee went 1-for-3 on Wednesday with a two-run homer. He’s hitting .281 with four homers and 12 RBIs in his past 16 games, raising his batting average to .208 from .189.

Pence went 1-for-4 with a two-run triple Wednesday and his hitting .410 with eight RBIs in his last 10 games. He hit .302 with six homers and 16 RBIs in May and is off to a quick start in June.

If all three guys can continue to heat up with the weather, maybe the summer will be bearable, after all.

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