September 2010

Astros finish up on the road tonight

The Astros play their final road game of the 2010 season tonight in the series finale against the NL Central division champion Reds at Great American Ball Park. Houston is 34-46 on the road this season (13-10 since Aug. 22), but will be sending ace Brett Myers to the mound for his final start of the season.

Myers (14-7), who can set a career high if he wins, will try to finish a remarkable season. He’s pitched at least six innings in all 32 of his starts this year and can become the first pitcher since Curt Schilling in 2002 to do it all of his starts in a season. Myers is 6-0 with a 2.07 ERA in his last nine starts.

Here’s the Astros’ lineup:

CF Jason Bourgeois

2B Jeff Keppinger

RF Hunter Pence

1B Carlos Lee

3B Chris Johnson

LF Brian Bogusevic

SS Tommy Manzella

C Humberto Quintero

P Brett Myers

 

Astros-Reds lineups for Wednesday

Here are the lineups for Wednesday’s Astros-Reds game

ASTROS

CF Jason Bourgeois

2B Jeff Keppinger

RF Hunter Pence

LF Carlos Lee

3B Chris Johnson

1B Brett Wallace

SS Angel Sanchez

C Jason Castro

RHP Nelson Figueroa

REDS

RF Willie Bloomquist

2B Chris Valaika

1B Yonder Alonso

3B Juan Francisco

CF Chris Heisey

LF Laynce Nix

SS Paul Janish

C Corky Miller

P Johnny Cueto

 

Astros still have growing pains

So the Astros won’t finish at .500. Sunday’s loss guaranteed the local nine would finish with a losing record for the second consecutive year and for the third time in four years, but there’s not much the Astros can do in the final week of the season that could spoil the strides they made in the second half.

Sunday’s 9-3 loss to the Pirates was reminiscent of the first two months of the season, when the club didn’t do enough offensively to make up for its mistakes. J.A. Happ pitched a terrific game and wound up with a loss because of a costly fielding miscue and a woeful performance by the bullpen.

In addition to the error by catcher Jason Castro, who couldn’t handle a late throw by third baseman Chris Johnson, the Astros weren’t sharp on defense in the eighth inning, when the Pirates scored four runs to put the game away. Houston is 2-5 on its final road trip with one stop left in Cincinnati.

“It’s been a frustrating trip so far,” Johnson said. “We know what kind of team we have and we know we should be winning some of these games. But we’re not doing the little things. We’re throwing the ball around on defense and not coming up with timely hits. You lose when you do that.”

In the sixth inning Sunday, the Pirates were trailing 1-0 and had runners at first and third base with one out. Ronny Cedeno hit a ground ball to third base, where Johnson fielded it and turned his attention to Garrett Jones heading for home. Johnson threw home, but Castro couldn’t handle the ball and was charged with an error. It led to the Pirates scoring two unearned runs to take the lead for good.

“I hate to say it because it’s not an excuse, but it’s on the learning curve,” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “When you go through it a few times – that’s the first time maybe for C.J. this year – but it’s not the first time some of other infielders, so it’s part of the learning curve we’re going through unfortunately.”

Castro was charged with the error, but Mills said Johnson should have gotten rid of the ball right away instead of hesitating and allowing Jones to get so close to Castro.

“There’s no doubt we have to tighten up some things,” Mills said. “It’s kind of something that was happening early in the year when we weren’t scoring enough runs to make up for those mistakes. That’s kind of the way it was today.”

 

Astros lineup Sunday vs. Pirates

Here is Sunday’s Astros lineup:

CF Jason Bourgeois

SS Angel Sanchez

RF Hunter Pence

1B Carlos Lee

2B Jeff Keppinger

LF Jason Michaels

3B Chris Johnson

C Jason Castro

LHP J.A. Happ

 

Astros got it right with this coaching staff

It’s rather unusual to see a Major League coaching staff get multi-year deals, but the Astros felt so good about what they had in manager Brad Mills’ staff that they announced Saturday they had extended the contracts of the field staff by two years, though 2012.

The Astros will have to wait a couple of more weeks before hitting coach Jeff Bagwell tells them whether he wants to return, but Mills and general manager Ed Wade have put together a terrific coaching staff in Brad Arnsberg (pitching coach), Dave Clark (third-base coach), Bobby Meacham (first-base coach), Al Pedrique (bench coach) and Jamie Quirk (bullpen coach).

Not only do they have the respect of the players, but the group puts in long hours poring over advance scouting reports and in the video room before the players even arrive at the ballpark.

“I knew from basically July on we wanted to keep this group together,” Wade said. “I talked to [owner] Drayton [McLane] and [president of baseball operation] Tal [Smith about doing two-years and they see the same things I’ve seen and they’re very supportive of extending beyond this organization’s norm.

“If you look at coaches’ contracts, there’s not a lot of multi-year deals out there. There are some, but not the vast majority. To be able to do that with the entire unit sends a message to them that we appreciate the kind of work they’ve done and a message to the players, too, that there’s continuity and stability. With a younger group, that’s an important message to try to deliver.”

Don’t be surprised to see the Astros pick up Mills’ option for 2012. He’s under contract next year, but with his staff getting contracts through 2012, it only makes sense the manager gets the same deal.

 

Bourn could be done for the season

The Astros’ lineup for Friday’s game in Pittsburgh once again didn’t include Gold Glove center fielder Michael Bourn, who’s nursing a strained side muscle. Bourn suffered the injury Sunday and hasn’t made enough progress to do any baseball-related drills.

Bourn admitted there’s a chance he might not play in the team’s final nine games of 2010.

“It’s a chance,” Bourn said. “I hope I’m able to, but at the same time I’m not going to rush it either. I’m going to play it by ear. I’m going to get up in the morning and not try to do anything strenuous.”

Here is the lineup:

CF Jason Bourgeois

SS Angel Sanchez

RF Hunter Pence

LF Carlos Lee

2B Jeff Keppinger

3B Chris Johnson

C Humberto Quintero

1B Brett Wallace

P Brett Myers

Astros watch Loux again

For the second time in a week, Arizona Diamondbacks first-round pick Barret Loux, who was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball, threw for a handful of scouts on Thursday afternoon in College Station, Texas.

The Astros, Marlins, Rangers, Cubs, Twins, Giants, Brewers, Phillies and Mariners were on hand to watch the right-hander throw between 50 and 60 pitches for about 25 minutes. They are among the teams interested in signing Loux, who was drafted by Arizona before reportedly failing a physical.

“Things went about the same, similar velocity on fastball and breaking pitches,” Loux said in an e-mail to MLB.com. “Found myself breaking my hands later than I should so control wasn’t quite as good as normal, but overall a decent bullpen.”

Astros area scout Rusty Pendergrass and Midwest supervisor Ralph Bratton were on hand, according to KRIV-TV in Houston.

Loux was drafted No. 6 overall and reportedly failed a physical because of arm problems. Major League Baseball declared Loux a free agent and available to sign with any club beginning Sept. 1, awarding Arizona compensatory draft picks. The Astros had interest in the Houston-area product before he was picked by Arizona.

Loux, who went 11-2 with a 2.83 ERA in 16 starts last season as a junior at Texas A&M, last week threw for about 15 times at Texas A&M, where he’s finishing up his degree.

 

Francona heaps praise on Mills

Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona, a close friend of Astros manager Brad Mills, called his former bench coach on Tuesday night to congratulate him for beating the Nationals, only to find out a late meltdown by the bullpen cost the Astros the game.

“When we lose, and it’s not possible, I want everyone to lose,” Francona said. “I want everyone to play extra innings and lose. The exception, I wanted Houston to win [Tuesday] night. I gave Millsie a nice of congratulations and then found out when I called him, they gave up eight late and so I even screwed that up.”

Mills spent six years as bench coach under Francona in Boston before being hired to manage the Astros last offseason. He was also on Francona’s staff in Philadephia before general manager Ed Wade let both of them go. Wade has said repeatedly getting rid of Francona in Philadelphia was his biggest professional mistake.

Francona isn’t surprised Mills has done so well in his first year as Astros manager. The Astros have one of the best records in baseball since the All-Star break, despite losing Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman. Mills has guided his young team through an 0-8 start that ballooned into a 41-59 into a team is making a run for second place in the NL Central.

“No, I’m not amazed,” Francona said. “Not ‘I told you so’ but all of his qualities are coming out. He started out slow, they’re getting beat up, he just kept fighting. He helped create a culture and they’re five games under .500 and they could’ve quit. All of sudden, there’s reason for optimism, guys are enjoying coming to the ballpark in September and they’re not even .500. That’s Millsie.”

Francona continued: “They lost the first eight games of the year. Some veterans weren’t happy. He did a great job. I think he’s kind of included player development and it’s his personality, he’s finally a got a chance to do it. Good for him. I don’t think that’s a surprise at all.”

Francona will bring the Red Sox to town twice next year. Once in the regular season and for two exhibition games at Minute Maid Park prior to the start of the regular season.

Astros put Triple-A club in Oklahoma City

The Astros and the Oklahoma City RedHawks on Monday announced that the Astros will be returning as the Triple-A affiliate of the RedHawks after entering into a two-year player development contract. The Astros were the original Major League Baseball affiliate of the Oklahoma City Triple-A franchise from 1962 through 1972.

The Astros were forced to look for a new Triple-A affiliate after the Texas Rangers and Nolan Ryan scooped up Round Rock last week.

“We are very excited to have our Triple-A affiliation coming home to Oklahoma City,” Astros owner Drayton McLane said.”There’s a rich tradition of baseball in Oklahoma City, with strong ties to the Astros, so we expect great things in Oklahoma City.”

Tal Smith, Astros president of baseball operations said: “Oklahoma City is a perfect fit for our Triple-A affiliate and we are looking forward to working alongside our new partners at Mandalay Baseball, one of the premier owner/operators in Minor League Baseball, to bring a new level of energy and excitement to the RedHawks franchise.”

The RedHawks play in downtown Oklahoma City in Bricktown Ballpark, which opened in 1998 and is considered one of the best Minor League venues. The park seats 13,066 and is a short flight from Houston, making easy for players to shuffle between the Major League club and Triple-A.

“It’s a beautiful facility,” Astros general manager Ed Wade said. “We’re sure it’s going to be run well. Mandalay Baseball just bought the franchise and Mandalay has a great reputation in the industry. Their profile is very high and very positive. We think it would be, from a standpoint of facilities and Mandalay managing it, a great circumstance to find ourselves in.”

The RedHawks averaged 5,478 fans in 67 dates in 2010, which ranked 11th in the 16-team Pacific Coast League. Round Rock was second in the league with an average of 8,408 fans.

Mandalay Baseball Properties purchased the RedHawks earlier this month.

“We are thrilled to have the Astros returning to Oklahoma City as the RedHawks’ affiliate,” said Art Matin, Mandalay’s CEO and president said. “The combination of the close proximity to Houston, fan base and history of the Astros in Oklahoma City, TV coverage, other opportunities to draw a connection between the Astros and the RedHawks, and the success the Astros have enjoyed under Drayton McLane’s ownership, make the Astros the logical Major League Baseball affiliate for the RedHawks. We anticipate a long and mutually rewarding relationship between the RedHawks and the Astros.”

Members of the leadership team of the Astros will be joining representatives of MBP at the RedHawks Reception in the Venetian Ballroom at The Skirvin Hilton in Oklahoma City from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 22.

Mandalay Baseball also owns or operates the following Minor League clubs:

  • Dayton Dragons (Class A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds)
  • Erie SeaWolves (Double-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers)
  • Frisco RoughRiders (Double-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers)
  • Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees)
  • Staten Island Yankees (Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees)
     

Bourn to miss a few days with injury

Astros center fielder Michael Bourn said he will miss at least “a couple of days” after being forced to leave Sunday’s win over the Reds in the seventh inning with a mild right lower oblique strain. The club is listing him as day to day.

“He’s probably going to have to take a rest at least [Monday] and maybe a couple of days,” Astros manager Brad Mills said.

Bourn, who has reached base in 27 consecutive games in which he’s had a plate appearance, grabbed for his lower back when he fouled off a pitch in his at-bat in the seventh inning. Mills and assistant athletic trainer Rex Jones came to the plate to check on him, but he convinced them to let him stay in the game.

“He saw me and I said ‘Let’s go ahead and get out of here,’ and he was very demonstrative against coming out of the game,” Mills said. “That led me to think that maybe it wasn’t an oblique, it was something else. After the next swing, it wasn’t tough to make a decision.”

Bourn fouled off the next pitch and again grabbed his lower back before heading for the dugout.

“I just felt it the first time and I thought I could still go, but after the second time I knew I couldn’t go,” he said. “I told them I couldn’t do it anymore. They told me it would be day to day and I suspect it’ll be a couple of days at least.”

Bourn is hitting .346 with a .421 on-base percentage since Aug. 21.

 

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