March 2011

Castro to miss most of the 2011 season

Astros catcher Jason Castro will miss nearly the entire 2011 season after being diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, in addition to the medial meniscus tear he suffered while stepping awkwardly on first base on Wednesday.

“The recovery for ACL and meniscus is about six months plus conditioning,” general manager Ed Wade said. “There’s going to be things as a catcher he’s not going to be able to do. We’re looking at sometime in September before he’ll be back playing.”

Castro was scheduled to undergo surgery in Houston early Friday morning to repair the injuries. Castro, 23, is a former first-round pick who entered camp as the Astros’ No. 1 catcher, and his loss puts a cloud over which catchers will be on the Opening Day roster.

Humberto Quintero has been the backup for the past two years, and J.R. Towles — last year’s Opening Day catcher — is in camp and will be getting more reps at catcher instead of being tried out at other position on the diamond. Non-roster players Carlos Corporan, Brian Esposito and Rene Garcia are also in camp.

“I think the first thing we have to do is evaluate the catchers we have in camp,” Wade said. “We’re fortunate to have J.R. and Quintero and Corporan who have big league experience. We’ve got Garcia and Esposito here. We’ll evaluate what we’ve got, but as is always the case if there’s opportunity to do something to improve the club we’ll try to do that.”

Castro hit .205 with two homers and eight RBIs in 67 games in his Major League debut last year. He moved steadily through the Minors since being drafted with the eighth overall pick from Stanford University in 2008.

“I feel bad for Jason, obviously,” Wade said. “Millsie talked to him last night briefly after I called him to let him know what Dr. [David] Lintner had to say. It goes without saying that Jason is going to be down about something like this. You just have to provide him support and we’ll do everything to get him back at the appropriate time, and hopefully this is the only setback he’s got in what turns out to a long big-league career.” 

 

Game 5: The race for fifth starter begins

The Astros won their second Grapefruit League of the spring, beating the Florida Marlins 5-3 on Thursday afternoon at windy Osceola County Stadium. It was another day of some stellar pitching performances.

Here’s the breakdown:

What went right: The Astros jumped on the Marlins for two runs in the first inning and two more in the second inning. Brett Wallace continued his strong spring with a two-run single in the first, and Humberto Quintero and Clint Barmes added RBI hits in the second to make it 4-0. Quintero had an RBI in the sixth, going 2-for-2. Drew Locke went 2-for-2 with his first two hits of the spring.

“It felt good,” Locke said. “I’ve been working a lot in the cage with Barney [hitting coach Mike Barnett] and I finally felt comfortable up there. I think I was rushing things, trying to do too much up there. I kind of fixed a couple of things and had a couple of good swings. I got that first hit out of the way and now I can just relax up there.”

Nelson Figueroa made his first start and threw two scoreless innings, allowing two hits and one walk, and Enerio Del Rosario, Fernando Rodriguez and Gustavo Chacin each threw a scoreless inning. Figueroa pounded the zone and threw 31 pitches in his audition for the No. 5 starter’s spot.

Wallace started a nice 3-6 double play at first base, and Koby Clemens, who replaced Wallace later in the game, made a nice pick off a relay throw from Matt Downs.

What went wrong: There were a few hiccups on the mound, which is to be expected to you run so many arms out there. Aneury Rodriguez, a Rule 5 pickup, gave up three hits, one walk and one run in two innings, and Wesley Wright and Henry Villar each allowed a run and a hit in one inning, but nothing to be concerned about.

Michael Bourn hit into a pair of double plays, which is quite unusual.

What they said: “Figgie was Figgie, and he threw the ball extremely well and the guys that followed him up were just consistent. A couple of them work themselves into some jams but they were able to battle through it and get themselves out of jams, and it’s good to see Chacin come in and do a good job and Henry at the end do a good job. We got some real good performances from some people.” - manager Brad Mills.

What’s next: Friday should be fun. Lance Berkman is scheduled to make his return to Osceola County Stadium when the Cardinals travel to face the Astros. Ryan Rowland-Smith will make his first start of the spring, with Brandon Lyon, Jeff Fulchino, Fernando Abad, Mark Melancon, Casey Fien, Ross Wolf and Patrick Urckfitz also scheduled to throw.

Injury update: Catcher Jason Castro was diagnosed with a torn medial meniscus and will undergo surgery Friday morning in Houston. It’s unknown how long he’ll be out, but my best guess is the range of one to two months. We’ll know more tomorrow after Dr. David Lintner gets in the knee and looks around. … Outfielder J.D. Martinez did some running and other drills on Thursday, but still hasn’t been cleared to play. He’s going to be at least a couple of more days before he gets in a game.

Sorry, no photos today. The Castro developments kept me occupied and off the back fields in the morning. You can bet I will have some on Friday, with an emphasis on the Puma’s return.

Castro headed for surgery

Astros catcher Jason Castro, who injured his right knee stepping awkwardly on first base in Wednesday’s game against the Tigers, flew to Houston on Thursday and was scheduled to have surgery at 7:30 a.m. CT Friday. The procedure will be performed at The Methodist Hospital by team medical director Dr. David Lintner.

It’s unknown how long Castro will be sidelined, but he remained optimistic as he left Osceola County Stadium and headed to the Orlando airport.

“There’s nothing that can change it,” he said. “I’m trying to stay positive and really looking to start the rehab process and get back to playing.”

Players who have undergone similar surgeries have been out of action anywhere from four to six weeks, which means there’s a chance Castro could begin the regular season on the disabled list. The Astros have five healthy catchers remaining in camp, including Humberto Quintero and J.R. Towles.

Quintero appeared in 88 games last year as the backup, and Towles was the Opening Day catcher a year ago, but was sent to the Minor Leagues lost most of the year with a finger injury. Non-roster invitee Carlos Corporan could get more playing time.

Wade said likes the catching depth in camp, but he’d be open to bringing in another catcher to add to the mix.

“We always look to try to improve the club if we could,” he said. “If there’s an opportunity to do something, we’d be open to it. It’s so early right now, so we’ll just have see what.”

Astros earn split, lose Castro for a few days

The Astros earned their first win of the Grapefruit League season on Wednesday, beating the Detroit Tigers 6-3 in Lakeland, Fla. Meanwhile, the split-squad Astros dropped a 6-5 decision to the New York Yankees in Tampa, giving up five runs in the ninth.

More on the Yankees game below, but here’s the breakdown on the Astros-Tigers game:

What went right: The Astros got some sharp pitching performances, led by J.A. Happ throwing two scoreless innings in his spring debut. Happ looked effortless as always and stayed ahead in the count, which enabled him to use all his pitches.

Ross Wolf followed Happ with two scoreless innings, allowing one hit, and drew the praise of manager Brad Mills. Wilton Lopez did his usual thing, throwing a scoreless fifth, and David Carpenter – the right-hander acquired in the Pedro Feliz trade with the Cardinals – tossed two perfect innings.

“How about Wolf mixing the pitches in and out and throwing only 17 pitches, and Lopez and Carpenter threw the ball real well,” Mills said. “To see those kids come in and contribute this early in camp is outstanding.”

At the plate, T.J. Steele went 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored and made a pair of nice defensive plays in center field. Hunter Pence went 2-for-3, and Tommy Manzella was 2-for-3 and made a terrific barehanded defensive play behind second base and threw out Victor Martinez.

Oswaldo Navarro hit a three-run home run in the eighth inning in his only at-bat to break the game open.

After getting just one extra-base hit in their first two games, the Astros had four of them against the Tigers – Navarro’s homer, Steele’s double, a triple by Pence and a double by Manzella.

What went wrong: The biggest negative development was the injury to Jason Castro, who sprained his right knee trying to beat out a ground ball in the seventh inning. He was removed from the game and will undergo an MRI on Thursday. He’s listed as day-to-day.

Sergio Escalona allowed two hits and one earned run in one inning, and Jorge De Leon gave up one hit, one walk and two earned runs in one inning.

What they said: “Steele in center, how good was that? He made two absolutely outstanding catches. We got some extra-base hits today, besides the home run. We had a triple and a couple of doubles and it was nice to throw those in there. We were able to execute. [Brian] Dopirak had trouble getting some guys in from third, but at the same time the wind didn’t help him out, either. Those little things, Steele bunting a guy over and Austin Wates bunting a guy over, that keeps an inning going. That was huge.” - manager Brad Mills.

What’s next: Nelson Figueroa, one of five candidates for the fifth spot in the starting rotation, makes his first start of the spring when the Astros play host to the Florida Marlins on Thursday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium. He’s expected to pitch two innings. Henry Villar, Enerio Del Rosario, Fernando Rodriguez, Aneury Rodriguez, Lance Pendleton and Wesley Wright are also scheduled to throw.

Injury update: Catcher Jason Castro sprained his right knee in the seventh inning and will undergo an MRI on Thursday. … Right-hander Alberto Arias, who’s had a setback in his comeback from last year’s surgery, was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Wednesday.

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The Astros lost a tough game, 6-5, to the Yankees in Tampa, but pthey layed eight solid innings before imploding in the ninth. The Astros had 12 hits in the game – two by Jason Michaels, J.B. Shuck and Bill Hall. Bud Norris started and gave up one run in two innings, and Casey Fien, Arcenio Leon, Jose Valdez and Cesar Carrilloo each threw a scoreless inning in relief. Jordan Lyles pitched two innings and gave up one hit and two walks, but no runs.

Douglas Arguello gave up the five runs, but only two were earned because of errors by Jiovanni Mier and Mike Kvasnicka, who was pulled over from Minor League camp. Lance Pendleton threw four consecutive balls to walk in the winning run, but was put in an impossible position.

Astros general manager Ed Wade said he saw plenty to be happy about. He liked the situational hitting and was pleased to see Michael Bourn get a bunt base hit and Shuck register two bunt hits.

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Astros left fielder Carlos Lee will make his annual voyage to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on Wednesday and will miss workouts on Thursday and Friday. Lee is a cattle rancher and shows livestock each year at the rodeo.

And finally, a few photos taken prior to Wednesday’s game in Lakeland:

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Above: Astros players await batting practice Wednesday in Lakeland.

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Above: Non-roster first baseman Brian Dopirak warms up. He has 156 career homers in the Minor Leagues — including 39 in Class A in 2004 — and is trying to reach Majors for first time.

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Above: Drew Locke takes a swing in the cage during batting practice.

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Above: Jeff Bagwell and Hunter Pence watching batting practice (Bagwell is standing on a platform). 

Astros-Tigers lineups from Lakeland, Fla.

Greetings from Lakeland, Fla., where the Astros and Tigers will play today. The Astros are taking another squad to Tampa, Fla., today to play the Yankees, with Bud Norris on the mound.

Here’s the scene in Lakeland, where the Tigers have called their Spring Training home for 75 years:

 

 

 

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Here are the lineups:

ASTROS

CF T.J. Steele

2B Angel Sanchez

RF Hunter Pence

1B Brian Dopirak

3B Chris Johnson

DH Koby Clemens

C Jason Castro

LF Drew Locke

SS Tommy Manzella

LHP J.A. Happ

TIGERS

CF Austin Jackson

LF Casper Wells

RF Magglio Ordonez

1B Miguel Cabrera

DH Victor Martinez

SS Jhonny Peralta

3B Brandon Inge

2B Danny Worth

C Alex Avila

P Phil Coke

Game 2: Arms shine for the Astros

The Astros (0-2) lost to the Braves in Grapefruit League action for the second time in as many days, dropping a 3-0 decision in their home opener at Osceola County Stadium.

Before I get into the breakdown of the day’s events, do yourself a favor and read this feature on Astros Minor League outfielders T.J. Steele, Jon Gaston and J.B. Shuck. They are the future, and they have a cool story to tell.

What went right: Pitching, pitching and more pitching. After giving up 15 hits and eight walks in eight innings Monday, eight Astros pitchers scattered eight hits, allowed one walk and gave up three earned runs. Starting pitcher Brett Myers threw two scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out one batter.

“My arsenal is not as full as hopefully it would be at the end of the spring, but I was going out there and working a couple of pitches and just tried to locate my fastball more than anything and throw some changeups,” Myers said. “Hopefully, I’ll get some swings and misses and get some quick outs.”

Ryan Rowland-Smith, Mark Melancon, Jeff Fulchino and Gustavo Chacin each enjoyed 1-2-3 innings. Wesley Wright also threw a scoreless inning, allowing one hit.

“I was just trying to work down in the zone,” Rowland-Smith said. “A couple of pitches I was down and a couple of pitches I was up, and I wasn’t too happy about it. You know, as long as I’m throwing strikes and pounding the zone, the more I do that the quicker I get a feel out there for what I’m doing and get ready to go.”

What went wrong: The Astros were held to just three hits, including two singles, by the Braves. The only extra-base hit came on a triple by Hunter Pence in his first at-bat of the spring. Jason Bourgeois and Clint Barmes went 0-for-3 at the top two spots in the order.

“I felt like I saw the ball really well the first day,” Barmes said. “I just missed some balls. My timing was a little off, but for the most part I was happy with the way I saw the ball. I barreled a foul ball, but trying to break it in against three different pitchers, I was pretty happy with the way I felt today. I didn’t get the results I wanted, but I’m not necessarily worried about that right now. It’s still early. All in all, I felt like today was a good day.”

The Braves scored on a bloop hit in the third against Brandon Lyon, and Patrick Urckfitz gave up two runs and three hits in one inning.

What they said: “It’s always good to get back out on the field and see where you’re at with your swing and definitely get back into game action. I’m not looking for too much results on the first day. If you’re expecting a lot of your first day, you’re going to be in trouble. I was looking for something and I feel I got that in the latter part of my at-bats and I feel good going forward.” – Astros second baseman Bill Hall, who was 0-for-2 in his spring debut.

What’s next: The Astros will play their first of six split-squad games Wednesday with games in Lakeland, Fla., against the Tigers and Tampa, Fla., against the Yankees, both at 12:05 p.m. CT. Left-hander J.A. Happ (Detroit) and right-hander Bud Norris (Yankees) will make their first springs starts for the Astros.

Injury update: Astros left-hander Fernando Abad, who’s competing for a spot in the bullpen, was sent home from the team’s Spring Training complex Tuesday morning after showing up with a body temperature of 101 degrees. Infielder Anderson Hernandez (back) and outfielder T.J. Steele (elbow) were cleared to play Tuesday, though neither did. The Astros are holding back outfielder J.D. Martinez (quadriceps strain) until they can reevaluate him Thursday.

Sorry, no pictures today. Rain kept the Astros from working out in the morning and kept me inside. But my trusty camera will be in Lakeland, Fla., tomorrow for the game against the Detroit Tigers.

Tuesday morning tidbits

The great, albeit hot, weather we’ve experienced entire spring gave way this morning to the first rain of camp. That put a damper on the Astros’ early-morning workouts, but the skies should clear in time for today’s 12:05 p.m. CT game against the Braves.

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Here is the lineups:

ASTROS

CF Jason Bourgeois

SS Clint Barmes

RF Hunter Pence

LF Carlos Lee

2B Bill Hall

DH Brian Bogusevic

1B Koby Clemens

C Humberto Quintero

3B Tommy Manzella

RHP Brett Myers

BRAVES

LF Jordan Schafer

CF Nate McLouth

DH Chipper Jones

2B Dan Uggla

RF Jason Heyward

3B Joe Mather

1B Freddie Freeman

C J.C. Boscan

SS Diory Hernandez

RHP Tommy Hanson

Also scheduled to pitch: Brandon Lyon, Jeff Fulchino, Wesley Wright, Mark Melancon, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Gustavo Chacin, Patrick Urckfitz. 

  • Left-hander Fernando Abad, who was scheduled to pitch on Tuesday, was sent home ill and will likely throw tomorrow.
  • Manager Brad Mills said he might try some other guys at the No. 2 hole, though Clint Barmes might have the tools to be there on Opening Day. One name he mentioned was Brett Wallace, who had three hits on Monday.
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