April 2011

Mills explains lineup shuffle

With first baseman Brett Wallace still nursing a sore hip from his Friday collision with Brewers slugger Prince Fielder, Astros manager Brad Mills stirred up his lineup for Saturday’s game against the Brewers. Carlos Lee, who has hit fourth for much of the season and has struggled his year, was moved down to fifth and played first base.

Jason Bourgeois batted second and played left field, and Angel Sanchez was back in the lineup, making his first start at second base and batting third. Hunter Pence was moved into the fourth spot in the lineup. Clint Barmes, who batted second in his season debut on Friday, hit eighth.

“The whole thought is Bill Hall’s got the day [off] and we’re trying to get Sanchez back in there. He’s swinging the bat really well for us, and this way we get some speed and some guys that are getting on base in front of Hunter and Carlos,” Mills said. “It is new, but I don’t know how we’re going to use this going forward.”

Mills stressed this lineup was just for Saturday.

Here’s the lineup:

CF Michael Bourn

LF Jason Bourgeois

2B Angel Sanchez

RF Hunter Pence

1B Carlos Lee

3B Chris Johnson

C J.R. Towles

SS Clint Barmes

LHP Wandy Rodriguez

Barmes returns to Astros lineup

Clint Barmes makes his Astros debut tonight when the Astros open a three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers at 7:05 p.m. CT at Minute Maid Park. Barmes, acquired in a trade from the Colorado Rockies in November, broke his hand when he was hit by a pitch in a March 25 game Spring Training game against the Yankees — five weeks ago tonight.

In case you missed it, the Astros activated Barmes following Thursday’s loss to the Cardinals and designated infielder Joe Inglett for assignment.

Barmes, as expected, is starting at shortstop and hitting second, which means Angel Sanchez isn’t starting. Sanchez started the first 25 games of the season at shortstop and has batted .300 with with 15 RBIs, which is tied for second on the team. Sanchez’s 30 hits are third on the team behind Brett Wallace and Hunter Pence, both of whom have 31 hits.

What Barmes brings to the club offensively remains to be seen, but his presence should be a huge boost for the defense. Barmes is a career .254 hitter with with 61 homers and 285 RBIs and is two years removed from hitting 23 homers and driving in 76 runs with the Rockies.

The Astros, who are trying to snap a two-game losing streak, will send ace Brett Myers (1-0, 3.31 ERA) to the mound for his sixth start of the year. Myers is 9-0 with a 2.10 ERA in 16 career starts at Minute Maid Park with the Astros. The game is a rematch of Saturday’s game in Milwaukee, with Shaun Marcum starting for the Brewers.

Here is the Astros lineup:

CF Michael Bourn

SS Clint Barmes

RF Hunter Pence

LF Carlos Lee

1B Brett Wallace

2B Bill Hall

3B Chris Johnson

C Humberto Quintero

RHP Brett Myers

Mills wants Lee to work through slump

Astros manager Brad Mills said it’s too early to consider any drastic lineup changes involving left-fielder Carlos Lee, who entered Thursday in an 0-for-15 slump in the clean-up spot, or first baseman Brett Wallace, who’s batted primarily fifth and is seventh in the National League in hitting.

Mills has faith Lee is going to break out of slumber and cites his stature and the fact he snapped out of an early-season slump last year as reasons to keep him put. Lee has hit fourth in the batting order in all 25 games and was hitting .198 with two homers and 13 RBIs entering Thursday.

“If you look at his numbers from June on last year, I think they were pretty good,” Mills said. “Is that going to happen this year? We don’t know, but we think there’s a pretty good chance because it happened last year and his track record of being so good in years past.

“I’ve got all the confidence in the world in Carlos. He’s got a great attitude this year and we’ve been happy the way he’s played left field and a lot of the plays he’s made and the real good, solid at-bats he’s had. With his track record and what he’s done for the organization and for the teams he’s been on, there’s no doubt it’s a good time for him to work through this.”

Wallace extended his hitting streak to seven games Wednesday, during which he was hitting .552 (16-for-29), and remains in the fifth.

“There might be at some point down the line we might want to move him if that continues, but right now let’s let him be Brett Wallace and get three hits in a game like he’s done the last couple of days,” Mills said.

Astros’ lineup Thursday vs. Cardinals

Not much new report with manager Brad Mills’ starting lineup for Thursday’s series finale against the Cardinals. The lineup is pretty much the same, with Angel Sanchez starting his 25th consecutive game of the season at shortstop. That streak figures to end tomorow when Clint Barmes is expected to return from the disabled list.

Carlos Lee, who’s in an 0-for-15 slump, is in the lineup in the No. 4 hole as usual.

Here’s the Astros lineup:

CF Michael Bourn

SS Angel Sanchez

RF Hunter Pence

LF Carlos Lee

1B Brett Wallace

2B Bill hall

3B Chris Johnson

C Humberto Quintero

Wednesday’s post-game notes

It was a tough loss for the Astros on Wednesday. They were down 6-0 and scored three times in the eighth and twice in the ninth to get within 6-5 before Hunter Pence struck out swinging to end the game with the tying run at second base.

“The guys really gave me a golden opportunity, a great opportunity to get a big hit and I wasn’t able finish it off for them and pick it up,” Pence said. “He got me, and I’ve got to find a way to become better for it.”

You can read my entire game story by clicking here:

Here are the post-game notes:

  • Wednesday was the 900th game at Minute Maid Park. The Astros are 503-397 all-time in the venue.
  • The Astros turned five double plays on Wednesday, the most for the club in one game since it turned six on May 17, 2003 vs. the Phillies at Minute Maid Park.
  • LHP J.A. Happ extended his scoreless inning streak against the Cardinals to 12 2/3 innings before allowing a solo homer to Matt Holliday in the fourth inning Wednesday.
  • RF Hunter Pence now has 12 RBIs in 12 home games this year. He entered Wednesday tied for sixth in the league in RBIs at home.
  • 1B Brett Wallace extended his hitting streak to seven games by going 3-for-4 on Wednesday and has now hit safely in 15 of last 16 games with an at-bat. He’s hitting .443 (27-for-61) in that span.
  • SS Angel Sanchez extended his hitting streak to five games by going 2-for-5 Wednesday, which ties his season high. He’s hitting .409 (9-for-22) in those five games.
  • C J.R. Towles has now reahed base safely in all nine of his starts this season, hitting safely in eight of those nine games. Astros catchers are hitting .329 (27-for-82) this season.
  • SS Clint Barmes played in his third rehab game Wednesday, going 1-for-4 with a run scored and a walk for Double-A Corpus Christi in an 8-2 win at Midland. He’ll play for the Hooks again on Thursday and is expected to be activated on Friday to make his Astros debut.

Astros-Cards lineup for Wednesday

Here are Wednesday’s Astros-Cardinals lineup:

ASTROS

CF Michael Bourn

SS Angel Sanchez

RF Hunter PEnce

LF Carlos Lee

1B Brett Wallace

3B Chris Johnson

C J.R. Towles

2B Joe Inglett

P J.A. Happ

CARDINALS

2B Nick Punto

3B David Freese

1B Albert Pujols

LF Matt Holliday

RF Lance Berkman

C Yadier Molina

SS Tyler Greene

CF Jon Jay

P Kyle Lohse

Berkman reacts to his return

Lance Berkman returned to Minute Maid Park on Tuesday wearing the uniform of the rival Cardinals. Berkman even returned to first base, where he got the start with Albert Pujols nursing an injury.

Berkman arrived at the ballpark early zipped past the Astros clubhouse on a golf cart on his way to the visiting clubhouse on the other side of the ballpark.

“It’s hard to verbalize the wide range of emotions you feel when you come back to a place you were for a long time,” said Berkman, who still lives in Houston with his family. “I’ve had a lot of good memories here and there were a lot of good people I interacted with over the years, so it’s certainly different seeing it from this side.”

Berkman was asked about the comments that Astros Hall of Fame announcer Milo Hamilton made on a Houston radio station Monday morning when he questioned Berkman’s workout routine during his final two years with the Astros.

Hamilton, during his weekly appearance on KBME (790 AM) in Houston, expressed regret Berkman wasn’t able finish his career with the Astros and said if he had the same workout commitment during his final two years in Houston, he’d still be here. Berkman battled knee problems last year after undergoing surgery in March and was having his worst offensive season when he waived his no-trade clause and approved a deal to the Yankees last July.

Berkman signed with the Cardinals in the winter and entered Monday hitting a sizzling .377 with six homers and 15 RBIs. Berkman said he had no hard feelings for Hamilton, but he took exception to the comments.

“I want to be careful with my words, but first of all there were some things that were said simply not true,” Berkman said. “I think the comment was made that I didn’t rehab my knee. That’s a blatant falsehood. You can go confirm with the training staff. I came every day and did exactly what I was supposed to do. I do take exception to the questioning of the effort.

“I feel like I’ve done the best that I can and did the best I could over the time I had here in Houston to represent the organization well on and off the field, and that includes effort level and playing hurt and maybe playing some games when I shouldn’t have been out there. In trying to do the best I could do and maintain the feel that both Craig [Biggio] and Jeff [Bagwell] were able to create, and I felt a responsibility in that regard to pass that along.

“One thing that can’t be denied – and that responsibility is on me – that if I had played better, we wouldn’t be having this press conference.”

Check out more that Berkman had to say later tonight at http://www.astros.com

Are you ready for the return of Puma?

The Astros meet the Cardinals for the first time this year on Tuesday night and there should be plenty of anticipation in the air because of the return of Lance Berkman.

Berkman, one of the Astros’ five greatest offensive players, was traded to the Yankees last July and signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Cardinals in the winter after the Astros told him they weren’t interested in bringing him back.

Berkman, who is hitting .377 with six homers and 15 RBIs with a 1.173 OPS, spoke to MLB.com on Sunday about his return to the ballpark he called home for more than a decade.

“I’m not crazy about going back in there,” he said. “I feel like I’ve kind of turned the page, and part of me just wants to be done with it. But I know I’m going to have to go back in there and face a lot of questions and things like that.

“But it boils down to it’s still just a baseball game. Now that I’m on the other side, you’ve got to try to win and do the best you can for the team you’re playing for.”

Much has been made of Berkman reporting to the Cardinals in terrific shape and has prompted Astros fans to wonder if he worked harder this offseason than he did in his last couple of years with the Astros when his numbers declined.

We know that Berkman couldn’t get over the injury hump last year, beginning when he injured his knee in the spring and wound up starting the season on the disabled list following surgery.

“I just feel healthier than I have in a while,” Berkman said. “My legs feel good, my knees aren’t bothering me. I think that has a lot to do with having a good base to hit from. Other than that, my swing feels really good. I hope I can keep it going.”

Berkman didn’t venture a guess on what kind of reception he’d get from the fans, but it should be overwhelmingly positive. He was the offensive anchors of two of the greatest teams in Astros history and was always a good influence anywhere he went in Houston, where he still lives.

“I’m not going to put too much emphasis or stock on this series,” he said. “We go back in there twice more, and they’re games that we need to win. We need to play well. I’m trying to look at it from, it’s not about me going back in there, it’s about we’re going in there to play them.

“Clearly you can see that this is going to be a competitive division, so all these games are important and you’ve got to try to win as many as you can.”

And coming home knowing he’s playing well only helps, Berkman says.

“You just don’t want them to be able to say, ‘Well, we were right to get rid of him,’” he said. “So that’s the only thing from that standpoint. It will be nice to walk in there and feel like I’m swinging the bat pretty well.”

When asked about his best memory with the Astros, Berkman didn’t single out any particular play or home run.

“I think more than anything else, it’s the teammates I’ve had over the years that I’ve really enjoyed,” he said. “I think part of the reason that it’s not nearly as difficult for me as it could have been is because most of the guys that I’m close to are gone.

“It’s really not the same place. It’s not the same team. It’s a totally different environment. It’s a totally different atmosphere from when I was there for most of my career.

“Those are the things that I remember fondly. I miss those people, not necessarily the place, although the place does have a lot of good memories for me.”

Hall hoping adjustments pay off

Bill Hall struck out all three times he came to the plate Sunday, which certainly didn’t put him in select company considering how well Brewers starter Randy Wolf pitched against the Astros. Hall, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee, Jason Michaels and Chris Johnson combined to go 0-for-17 in the third through seventh spots in the order.

Hall has swung the bat batter in recent days, going 1-for-3 in Friday’s series opener and 3-for-4 in Saturday’s game. He’s hitting .225 (16-for-71) with one homer and seven RBIs. He also has more strikeouts (26) than he does total bases (25).

“I felt like I swung the bat well for the most part,” Hall said of his weekend series against the Brewers. “I’m looking to carry this forward. I made some mechanical changes to my swing and kind of figured out why I was in between on a lot of pitches, fouling balls off. I know what I was doing wrong, and if I keep the same swing path for the rest of the year I’m going to be right where I need to be.”

Hall wasn’t getting his hands in position early enough, which was causing him to hit foul balls and not be able to stay on top of the ball.

“I couldn’t keep the barrel of my bat up,” he said. “I made a correction on the day after I hurt my ankle [Wednesday in New York]. In BP, I kind of figured it out. In New York, I had a really good BP, and hitters know their swing path and I kept working on it and was putting the barrel of the bat on the ball.”

Third baseman Chris Johnson, who’s hitting .181, has 20 strikeouts in 72 at-bats and 20 total bases.

Astros-Brewers lineups for Sunday

Happy Easter from Milwaukee, where the Astros will try to win their second consecutive road series in today’s finale against the Brewers. In case you missed it, the Astros outlasted the Brewers 9-6 in 10 innings Saturday in a wildly entertaining game.

Sunday’s game features a pair of lefties, with former Astro Randy Wolf (2-2, 3.18 ERA) starting for the Brewers against Wandy Rodriguez (1-2, 5.48 ERA). Rodriguez is coming off a strong outing in New York, where he won his first game of the season by allowing three hits and one run in seven innings. He went 2-0 with a 0.84 ERA in three starts against the Brewers last year and is 7-6 with a 3.94 ERA against them lifetime.

Wolf beat Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay in his last start, throwing six scoreless innings. He’s 6-5 wiht a 3.44 ERA in 16 career starts against the Astros.

With Wolf on the mound, manager Brad Mills has gone to his all-right-handed lineup:

ASTROS

CF Jason Bourgeois

SS Angel Sanchez

RF Hunter Pence

1B Carlos Lee

2B Bill Hall

LF Jason Michaels

3B Chris Johnson

C J.R. Towles

LHP Wandy Rodriguez

BREWERS

2B Rickie Weeks

CF Carlos Gomez

LF Ryan Braun

1B Prince Fielder

3B Casey McGehee

SS Yuniesky Betancourt

RF Brandon Boggs

C Wil Nieves

LHP Randy Wolf

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