July 2010

Location not an issue for Oswalt

When it comes to a preferred destination, Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt isn’t being too picky, as long as he gets a chance to play for a contender.

Oswalt, who has been the center of trade speculation since he asked for a trade two months ago, reiterated Monday the stance he’s had since May in that he’d be willing to play in any region of the country – East Coast and West Coast included – if it meant he’d be in a pennant race.

“Location doesn’t matter,” he said.

Oswalt, scheduled to start Friday against the Brewers at Minute Maid Park in his latest attempt to tie the club’s all-time wins record, has been pursued heavily by the Phillies and Cardinals, both of whom he’d be willing to waive his no-trade clause to finish the season.

Oswalt, who is 6-12 with a 3.42 ERA, is owed the remainder of the $15 million he was scheduled to make this year, along with $16 million next year. He has a $16 million club option for 2012, but has said money won’t be an issue if he finds a deal he likes.

Phils, Cards the focus in Oswalt talks; Towles, Steele suffer setbacks

Not a whole lot new to report Thursday night, so I’ll keep it simple.

The Astros are continuing to have lots of discussions with several clubs, though nothing of substance. They continue to have dialogue about Roy Oswalt, who has requested to be traded. Every team in contention has kicked the tires on Oswalt, but as MLB.com accurately reported Wednesday the focus at this point is on the Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals in the bid for Oswalt’s services.

Meanwhile, Oswalt is focusing on breaking Joe Niekro’s record while addressing trade speculation. He starts against the Reds on Saturday in an effort to try to tie Joe Niekro’s franchise record of 144 wins. Oswalt is 23-2 all-time against the Reds.


J.R. Towles, who began the season as the Astros starting catcher before he was sent down to Double-A Corpus Christi, will have his broken right thumb examined by team physician Dr. Tom Mehlhoff on Friday in Houston. He broke it during a head-first slide on May 13 and it’s not progressing the way the team had hoped.

“He’s still having some soreness and pain and discomfort in his hand and we had to back him off,” said Astros assistant general manager Ricky Bennett, who is in Corpus Christi watching the Hooks.

Bennett also said speedy outfielder T.J. Steele, a fourth-round pick in 2008 who had a nice season in 2009, could be lost for the rest of the year. Steele was hitting .228 with two homers and 18 RBIs in 241 at-bats for Double-A Corpus Christi before he suffered a bone bruise in his left hand while swinging the bat. He’s been out since July 5.

Steele had an MRI in Corpus Christi on Wednesday.

“His wrist issue hasn’t been resolving and he’s got some tendinitis or something else going and there is a possibility he won’t play for the rest of this season at this point,” Bennett said.

Oswalt reacts to latest trade rumors

Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt, who asked the team to try to trade him to a contender earlier this year, told reporters Wednesday morning he hadn’t been approached by the team about any possible deals

“I don’t know anything about it,” he said. “I really don’t. I saw it on TV this morning actually. I’ve seen a bunch of other things on TV news and whatever. Until I get told something, I don’t know.”

Oswalt, 32, is having a terrific season, with a 6-11 record that is the result of poor run support. He has made 19 starts and has a 3.12 ERA. He’s scheduled to make his next start Saturday at Minute Maid Park against the Reds and needs one win to tie the franchise record of 144 career victories.

Originally scheduled to pitch the first game after the All-Star break, Oswalt asked management to push him back in the rotation to allow him to have an additional start home with a shot break the record. He’ll now have one chance to tie and possibly one to break it at home.

Frustrated with a lack of run support and the Astros’ slow start, Oswalt’s agent, Bob Garber, called McLane in May and requested he be traded to a contender. Oswalt hasn’t been clear about which teams he would approve being traded to, short of saying he wanted to a chance to play for a contender.

“Until they come up to me, there’s really nothing I can do,” Oswalt said. “I don’t want to go up to them and ask them every time something comes across the ticker. So until they come to me, I’ll just wait and seen.”

When asked specifically about the possibility of playing for the Phillies, Oswalt said: “It would have to work for both of us. If it don’t work for of us, no. But if it does, maybe.”

Oswalt trade rumors heating up

Despite reports right-hander Roy Oswalt could be the target of a deal involving the pitching-thirsty Philadelphia Phillies, no deal with the Astros ace appeared imminent Tuesday night.

Oswalt, who is scheduled to start Saturday in an attempt to tie the club’s all-time wins record, has been the center of trade rumors since he made it public he had requested a trade to a contender.

The Phillies, who sent Kyle Kendrick to the Minors on Monday and are in need of a starting pitcher for Saturday, are involved in talks to acquire a starting pitcher, according to an ESPN.com report.

Astros general manager Ed Wade, who spent several years as GM in Philadelphia and while in Houston pulled off the blockbuster deal that sent Brad Lidge to Philly, has a policy not to comment on trades.

Oswalt had left the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field before reporters entered Tuesday night, and he didn’t return a message from MLB.com.

Oswalt, who is 6-11 with a 3.12 ERA, is owed more than $7 million for the rest of this year and will make $16 million next year, which makes dealing him difficult. He also has a no-trade clause and would have to approve any potential deals, but he has said several times recently he wants to play for a contender.

Free agency could be reality for Berkman

Considering the struggles he’s had at the plate this season, Astros slugger Lance Berkman said Tuesday it wouldn’t surprise him if the club decided not to pick up his option for 2011 and allowed him to become a free agent.

Berkman, who entered Tuesday hitting .250 with 12 homers and 43 RBIs, stands to make $15 million next season if the Astros pick up the option. If they decide to not pick it up, they’ll pay him a $2 million buyout.

“I don’t get any indication they are going to pick it up,” Berkman said. “I think the chances are that I probably will be a free agent at the end of the year. It’s not concerning, but it’s certainly a position I’ve never been in before in my career.”

Astros general manager Ed Wade said he has informed Berkman’s agent, Mike Moye, no decision on Berkman’s option would be made until the off-season. Berkman would like to remain in Houston and hopes the club will chalk up his struggles to missing most of Spring Training and the first two weeks of the regular season after undergoing knee surgery.

“There were some extenuating circumstances where they may feel like I’m not a declining player, but just some circumstances that have kept me from performing the way I’m used to performing,” Berkman said. “It’s all in their court. That’s the power of a team option.

“They can make that determination. They haven’t given me any indication one way or another what they were thinking as far picking it up or not picking it up, but if I’m just sitting here looking at what I’m seeing and knowing the kind of year I’ve had, I would say they probably won’t pick it up, but I don’t know that for sure.”

Why was Keppinger moved down in order? I have an answer

Astros manager Brad Mills wasn’t happy with the way his club performed offensively in Sunday’s loss to the Pirates, so much so he spent much of the charter flight to Chicago following the game trying to figure out ways to get the bats going.

Mills unveiled a new lineup Monday night, moving steady Jeff Keppinger down in the order to strengthen the bottom of the lineup while flip-flopping Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee. Pence took over the No. 4 slot, with Lee hitting fifth in front of Keppinger, who has batted second most of the year.

The move was made, basically, so the Astros wouldn’t have their three weakest hitters bunched together at the bottom of the order. With Sanchez hitting second, he can make outs more useful by putting down bunts, hitting behind runners, etc.

I’ll let Mills explain it: “Kepp has done a great job for us all year, but we’re not being able to utilize what he’s been for us,” Mills said. “His on-base percentage is huge, and you want that from your No. 2 guy, but we’re not able to score him. He’s scored 37 runs and he’s been here all year.

“It’s a situation I’m hoping that we’ll be able to use his bat, because he is swinging the bat well, to drive in some runs. Hitting sixth and having a good hitter behind Carlos will get him some better pitches. Now Hunter is swinging the bat better, and I wanted to be able to split up Lance [Berkman] and Carlos. What this does is stretch out our lineup a little bit.”

The Astros tied a season high with five runs and seven hits in the first inning Monday.

Biggio believes Bagwell will do great things

Before we get to the topic at hand, I would like to remind my readers this will be my last blog entry for a few days. I’m going to take some time off during the All-Star break, so play nicely until I return.

Craig Biggio, who spent 15 years as a teammate of Jeff Bagwell, had split emotions Sunday. He was saddened to hear friend and former teammate Sean Berry had lost his job as Astros hitting coach, but he was thrilled that Bagwell was taking his place.

“I’m happy for Baggy,” Biggio said. “He’s going to a great job and great things for some of these kids. Both of us feel sorry for Sean because he is a friend and this is the business side of things. It’s something [Bagwell] wasn’t looking at doing. I think he’s going to be really good at it. It’s what we do for a living, and he loves the game.”

Bagwell and Biggio are ranked 1-2 on the most of the club’s offensive record books, with Lance Berkman beginning to put his name in the mix in a few categories. Bagwell is the club’s all-time leader in homers with 449 and RBIs with 1,529, and Biggio said that will carry a lot of weight with the younger players.

“Baggy’s a great hitter,” Biggio said. “The kids have to be able to buy into the program you’re selling. Obviously, it was very successful for him and he’s an excellent hitter, a disciplined hitter. Whether you’re at the amateur level or in college and now kids in the pros, nobody walks anymore. Nobody’s concerned with on-base percentage.

“When we were in our heyday, we took walks, stole bases and got into scoring position. These are going to be the same things Jeff is going to address with a lot of these younger hitters, how to take a walk and take what the pitchers give you and get on base.”

Biggio, who played with Bagwell from 1991-2005, doesn’t envision following Bagwell back into a Major League dugout anytime soon. He recently guided St. Thomas High School in Houston to a private school state baseball championship, with both of his sons playing on the team.

For now, he’s content to let Bagwell put the uniform back on.

“They’re going to benefit from him,” Biggio said. “Sean’s a good friend and did a great job. The change was made and the kids are going to listen and work hard like they did for Sean and hopefully get the results on the field. For me, I know where I’m going to be for the next year, but who knows what the future is going to bring. I’m just excited for Jeff to have this opportunity and he’s going to do great.”

Berry relieved of duties, Bagwell hired

The Astros have relieved hitting coach Sean Berry of his duties, general manager Ed Wade announced today.

Berry will be replaced by former Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell, who has been serving as a special assistant to the general manager since his retirement in 2006. Berry, who had been the Astros hitting coach for the past five seasons, has been offered an opportunity to remain in the Astros organization.

Bagwell, who will not be in uniform for today’s 1:05 p.m. game, will begin his duties as hitting coach after the All-Star Break.

As part of his role as a special assistant, Bagwell has spent time working with minor league and Major League hitters in Spring Training and has visited several minor league clubs during the regular season to provide additional instruction. Bagwell has also assisted the baseball operations staff with player evaluations and minor league player development programs.

During his Astros career (1991-2005), Bagwell set franchise records with 449 home runs and 1,529 RBI. A four-time All-Star, Bagwell won National League Rookie of the Year honors in 1991 and the N.L. MVP Award in 1994.


Oswalt reacts to Lee trade

Now that Cliff Lee is off the market, could Roy Oswalt be the next big-name pitcher to be dealt ahead of the July 31 deadline? Oswalt was asked Friday if he thought he expects to hear about more trade possibilities now that Lee has been dealt.

“This is my first time [going through this],” he said. “I don’t know.”

Rangers president Nolan Ryan told MLB.com last month he was interested in acquiring Oswalt, who earlier this year requested the Astros trade him to a contender.

“That’s a good pick-up for them,” Oswalt said. “Lee’s a good pitcher, and adding a quality starting pitcher should make them better.”

Oswalt is 6-10 with a 3.08 ERA in 18 starts this year and is coming off a one-hit shutout thrown against the Pirates on Thursday at Minute Maid Park. Scouts from the Phillies, Mets, Twins, Rays and Dodgers were among those on hand to watch Oswalt pitch Thursday, but nothing appears imminent.

“They told me they’d come to me first and tell me what they have on the table, and they haven’t told me anything,” Oswalt said Friday.

Oswalt still has the remainder of his $15 million salary this year and is set to be paid $16 million next year, making him a much more difficult commodity to trade than Lee.


Oswalt at his best as trade deadline approaches

Based on the way he’s pitched in the first half of the season, Roy Oswalt‘s trade value has never been higher. Sure, if the Astros are going to trade Oswalt there are other things that will play into it, such as the amount of money he’s owed, his desire to pick where he wants to go and the prospects the Astros will get in return.

But when you talk about the way he’s performed on the mound, he’s been terrific.

Oswalt threw his second career one-hit shutout by beating the Pirates on Thursday to complete a three-game sweep. It was his 19th career complete game and seventh shutout, and was the first Astros’ one-hitter since 2008 (Wandy Rodriguez).

Oswalt made 18 starts in the first half of the season and went 6-10 with a 3.08 ERA, and 15 of those were quality starts. He entered Thursday with the third-lowest run support in the league, which is why he’s 6-10 instead of 10-6 and going to the All-Star Game.

Oswalt said this is the best first half he’s had in the last few years.

“I feel like it is,” he said. “I had a pretty good year in ’05 at the beginning of the season, but overall the last three or four years it’s probably the best I’ve felt.”

There were numerous scouts on hand to watch Oswalt, including those from the Phillies, Twins, Dodgers, Mets and Rays, all of which could be potential trade targets. Oswalt has asked the Astros to trade him to a contender, and non-waiver deadline is three weeks away (July 31).

“That’s the business part of it,” Oswalt said. “The best part of it is when you step across the white lines you don’t have to worry about it. You go out thre and play the game and give 100 percent and that’s all you can ask for yourself.”

What should help to drive up Oswalt’s trade value even more is how well he’s pitched in second halves in his career. He’s 73-58 in the first half in his career, and 70-22 in the second half.

Oswalt has three scheduled starts for the Astros prior to the trade deadline, so if he is dealt he could still have a shot at getting the club’s all-time wins record. He’s sitting on 143 wins, which is one shy of Joe Niekro‘s club record of 144.

“I’ve been here for 10 years now and there’s a lot of great pitchers who have come through here,” he said. “You start talking about names like Nolan [Ryan], [Mike] Scott, [Joe] Niekro and [Larry] Dierker. That’s some pretty good quality names there. Any time you get mentioned in same sentence as them it’s pretty special.”

Oswalt is scheduled to open the second half of the season July 16 against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. Could it be one of his his last with the Astros?