May 2011

Keppinger’s return creates roster decisions

Jeff Keppinger, who was the Astros’ most consistent hitter last year and led them in doubles, is expected to make his 2011 debut by the end of the month, which begs the question: What will the Astros do when Keppinger returns?

It’s no secret Bill Hall has struggled, so perhaps they slid Hall back into a utility role and give Keppinger consistent at-batsat second base. Perhaps they part ways with Hall, even though that would cost them a few million dollars. But there’s no doubt Keppinger’s ability to put the ball in play is something the Astros can certainly use.

Astros outfielder Jason Michaels will be activated from the disabled list Friday, and infielder Joe Inglett will be the odd man out. That sets the stage for the next roster move upon Keppinger’s return.

Keppinger will begin a Minor League rehab assignment Thursday night for Double-A Corpus Christi, which plays in Frisco, Texas. Keppinger will play nine innings at second base Thursday and Saturday and serve as designated hitter Friday and Sunday before moving to Triple-A Oklahoma City.

“Once I get there it’s going to be based on how I’m feeling,” said Keppinger, who underwent surgery Jan. 14 to remove the sesamoid bone from his foot.  “I’m excited to be able to get out of here and play some competitive ball. My foot’s been feeling pretty good for a week and a half now, two weeks. It’s not like it was bad before, but it just ached a little bit when I did a lot of work.”

Keppinger, who hit .288 with a team-high 34 doubles and drove in 59 runs in 137 games last year, has been playing extensively in extended spring in recent days and then doing sprints and leg lifts to build up his strength. He’s had about 40 at-bats and is eager to see better pitching.

“Once you get out of there, you can actually start feeling the excitement of getting back,” he said.

Of course, Keppinger has been following the Astros during the first six weeks of the season, while talking to teammates like Jason Michaels, Chris Johnson and Bud Norris.

“I had one of the trainers down here post a boxscore every day when I come in,” he said. “I don’t have a computer – my wife took it home a week and a half ago – but I would get on the computer when they were playing. I’m ready to get back.”

Preview of Wednesday’s Astros-Reds game

The Astros will try to avoid getting swept when they face the Reds at 1:05 p.m. today at Minute Maid Park. The Astros send left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (2-3, 4.00 ERA) to the mound to face right-hander Edinson Volquez (3-1, 5.63 ERA).

Rodriguez is searching for his first home win of the season (0-1, 2.70 ERA) after beating the Pirates on the road last week. He’s 7-7 with a 4.07 ERA in 20 career starts against the Reds, including 1-1 with a 4.84 last year.

Volquez’s five career wins and 43 strikeouts are his most against any team, and his 1.37 ERA at Minute Maid Park is his best at any ballpark in which he’s made more htan on estart. He’s 5-0 with a 2.09 ERA ERA in his career against the Astros.

Here are the lineups:

ASTROS

CF Michael Bourn

C J.R. Towles

RF Hunter Pence

1B Brett Wallace

3B Chris Johnson

2B Matt Downs

LF Brian Bogusevic

SS Clint Barmes

LHP Wandy Rodriguez

REDS

CF Drew Stubbs

SS Edgar Renteria

1B Joey Votto

2B Brandon Phillips

LF Jonny Gomes

C Ramon Hernandez

RF Jay Bruce

3B Paul Janish

RHP Edinson Volquez

Tuesday’s Astros-Reds lineups

Here are the lineups for Tuesday’s game between Astros and Reds:

ASTROS

CF Michael Bourn

SS Angel Sanchez

RF Hunter Pence

LF Carlos Lee

1B Brett Wallace

2B Bill Hall

3B Chris Johnson

C Humberto Quintero

RHP Brett Myers

REDS

CF Drew Stubbs

SS Edgar Renteria

1B Joey Votto

2B Brandon Phillips

RF Jay Bruce

LF Jonny Gomes

3B Miguel Cairo

C Ryan Hanigan

RHP Homer Bailey

Astros-Reds postgame notes

Astros right fielder Hunter Pence put it best when he described Monday’s 6-1 loss to the Reds as “blah.” The most interesting thing to happen at Minute Maid Park came after the game when the team designated pitcher Nelson Figueroa for assignment and recalled left-hander Sergio Escalona from Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Here are some postgame notes from Monday:

  • RF Hunter Pence extended his hitting streak to a season-long 13 games by hitting a triple in the first inning and a homer in the eighth. He’s hitting .352 (19-for-54) during the streak with two homers and 11 RBIs, and the streak ties for the third-longest of his career. The triple was the 19th of Pence’s career at Minute Maid Park, which ranks second in ballpark history behind Lance Berkman’s 20 triples.
  • CF Michael Bourn had two hits of two different left-handed pitchers Monday. He entered the game hitting .156 (5-for-32) against left-handers.
  • SS Clint Barmes has hit safely in six of his last seven games, batting .269 (7-for-26) in that span.
  • Astros pinch-hitters went 2-for-3 on Monday. In their past 17 plate appearances, Astros pinch-hitters are 6-for-14 (.429) with three walks.

Astros-Reds lineups for Monday

Here are the lineups for today’s Astros-Reds game:

ASTROS

CF Michael Bourn

C J.R. Towles

RF Hunter Pence

LF Carlos Lee

2B Bill Hall

1B Brett Wallace

3B Chris Johnson

SS Clint Barmes

RHP Aneury Rodriguez

REDS

CF Drew Stubbs

SS Edgar Renteria

RF Jay Bruce

2B Brandon Phillips

LF Fred Lewis

1B Ramon Hernandez

3B Chris Valaika

C Ryan Hanigan

LHP Travis Wood

Blown saves costing the Astros

As an Astros fan, it’s probably hard to stomach the team’s 13-21 record considering they’ve blown nine saves this year — the most in the Major Leagues. The Astros have converted only five of 14 save chances, which translates to a league-worst 35.7 save conversion rate. Last year, the Astros blew 15 saves in the entire season.

The struggles of the bullpen, which is last in the Majors with a 5.54 ERA and .305 batting average against, were on full display Sunday when left-hander Fernando Abad gave up a three-run homer in the eighth inning to Ryan Doumit, allowing the Pirates to steal a 5-4 win.

The Astros have rallied to win three of the games in which they have blown a save, so it’s safe to say blown saves have cost them six wins. That’s the difference between being 19-15 and 13-21 – their record heading into Monday’s game against the Reds.

Although it’s unreasonable to expect any team to have not blown a save a month into the season (every team has blown at least one save), letting six wins get away can have a huge effect on the standings. A 19-15 record would put the Astros in first place in the NL Central (one of the blown saves was against St. Louis, which is currently 20-15).

Mark Melancon and Jeff Fulchino have both blown one save, but they’ve been pretty effective this year. Melancon has allowed 14 hits and struck out 12 in 16 2/3 innings, and Fulchino has allowed 15 hits and has struck out 15 batters in 16 innings.

Lyon, the team’s closer, has blown four saves and landed on the disabled list last week with biceps tendinitis and a partial tear of his rotator cuff after blowing a game in Cincinnati. Enerio Del Rosario (5.14 ERA), Wilton Lopez (5.14), Abad (7.50) haven’t been as effective as the team had hoped.

Here’s a breakdown of the Astros’ nine blown saves (games the Astros won are in italics):

  • April 1 at Philadelphia – Astros lead 4-2 going into the bottom of the ninth inning before the Phillies rally on Opening Day for three runs off Brandon Lyon to win, 5-4.
  • April 8 vs. Florida – With a 2-1 lead through seven innings, Wilton Lopez gives up two in the eighth to blow a save in a 4-3 loss to Marlins.
  • April 17 vs. San Diego – The Astros led, 6-4, through seventh innings before Mark Melancon gave up four runs (two earned) in the eighth. The Padres win, 8-6.
  • April 23 at Milwaukee – Brandon Lyon allows one run in the eighth to tie the game, but the Astros score three in the ninth to win, 9-6.
  • April 26 vs. Chicago – Jeff Fulchino gives up a run in the eighth inning of one-run game, but the Astros rally to win, 6-5.
  • April 28 vs. St. Louis – The Cardinals erupt for nine runs in the sixth inning to wipe out a 4-1 deficit, with Fernando Abad giving up four runs in two-thirds of an inning to blow the save. St. Louis wins, 11-7.
  • April 30 vs. Milwaukee – Brandon Lyon allows a run in the ninth, but Astros score a run in bottom of inning to win, 2-1.
  • May 4 at Cincinnati – Reds score three in the bottom of the night without an out off Brandon Lyon to win, 3-2.
  • May 8 at Pittsburgh – Fernando Abad gives up a three-run home in the bottom of the eighth to Ryan Doumit to allow Pirates to win, 5-4.

Astros-Reds preview for Thursday

Astros reliever Brandon Lyon, who blew his fourth save in eight tries Wednesday, was scheduled to fly back to Houston on Thursday to be examined by team medical director Dr. David Lintner.

Lyon came on in the ninth inning Wednesday and the Astros leading 2-0 and allowed all five base runners to reach, with Jay Bruce doubling down the right-field line to score Joey Votto with the winning run. Lyon didn’t speak to reporters after the game, but the team announced early Thursday he was going to Houston.

MLB.com will keep you informed with latest Lyon updates.

Here are the lineups for Thursday’s series finale:

ASTROS

CF Michael Bourn

LF Jason Bourgeois

RF Hunter Pence

1B Brett Wallace

3B Chris Johnson

2B Bill Hall

SS Clint Barmes

C Humberto Quintero

RHP Brett Myers

REDS

CF Chris Heisey

SS Edgar Renteria

1B Joey Votto

2B Brandon Phillips

RF Jay Bruce

LF Jonny Gomes

C Ryan Hanigan

3B Paul Janish

RHP Homer Bailey

Astros lineup Wednesday vs. Reds

The Astros are sticking with the hot hands. The lineup they’re using Wednesday is teh same as the one they used Tuesday, with the exception of the pitcher and the catcher.

ASTROS

CF Michael Bourn

LF Jason Bourgeois

RF Hunter Pence

1B Brett Wallace

3B Chris Johnson

2B Bill Hall

SS Clint Barmes

C J.R. Towles

P Aneury Rodriguez

Astros announce Minor League Players of the Month

The Astros Player Development Department has named the following Players of the Month for April:

Triple A Oklahoma City

RHP Jordan Lyles, Pitcher of the Month: 1-2, 3.76 ERA, 19 Ks, 6 BBs in 5 starts in April

IF Koby Clemens, Offensive Player of the Month: .284 (21-for74), 5 2Bs, 5 HRs, 18 RBIs in 20 games in April

C Carlos Corporan, Defensive Player of the Month: 17 games at C, .993 fielding percentage (1 error/136TC), 7 caught stealing/12 attempts.

Notes: Jordan Lyles, the Astros 2010 organizational Pitcher of the Year and the club’s No. 1 prospect, finished April by tossing 13 consecutive scoreless innings over two starts…he leads the club in innings pitched and ranks third among qualifying Astros minor leaguers in ERA…Koby Clemens leads the RedHawks in home runs (tied-9th in the PCL) and RBIs while playing primarily 1B this season (20 games at 1B, one game at 3B)…Carlos Corporan, one of the final cuts for the Astros this Spring Training, has thrown out 7 of 12 attempted base stealers, while committing only one error in 17 games behind the plate this season.

Double A Corpus Christi

RHP Arcenio Leon, Pitcher of the Month: 0-0, 0.00 ERA (0ER/11IP), 11 SO, .211 (8-for-38) opponents avg. in 7 relief apps. in April

IF Wladimir Sutil, Offensive Player of the Month: .418 (28-for-67), 16 R, 5 2B, 8 BB, 7 SBs, .480 OBP in April

IF Wladimir Sutil, Defensive Player of the Month: 18 games at SS, .980 fielding percentage (2 errors/100TC), 17 double plays turned this season

Notes: Arcenio Leon, currently on the Astros 40-man roster, did not allow a run and struck out 11 in his first seven appearances this season (11 innings)…Wladimir Sutil ranks among Texas League leaders in batting average (second), hits (tied-2nd), on-base percentage (fifth) and runs scored (tied-7th)…he opened his season with a 16-game hitting streak, which spanned the entire month of April…Sutil’s appeared in 18 games at shortstop this season, committing only two errors in 100 total chances.

Class A Advanced Lancaster

RHP Kirk Clark, Pitcher of the Month: 1-0, 0.93 ERA, 8  saves, 0 blown saves, .182 (6-for-33) opponents avg. in nine relief apps. in April

IF Jose Altuve, Offensive Player of the Month: .435 (40-for-92), 19 runs, 6 2Bs, 4 3Bs, 12 RBIs, 12 SBs, .485 OBP in 23 games in April

IF Jonathan Meyer, Defensive Player of the Month: 22 games at 3B, .943 fielding percentage (3 errors/5 3 total chances), 33 assists this season

Notes: Kirk Clark, an undrafted free agent signed in 2009 out of Creighton, is 8-for-8 in save opportunities this season, and currently leads all Astros minor leaguers and the California League in saves…Clark posted 29 saves for Class A Lexington in 2010…Jose Altuve leads all Astros minor leaguers in hitting and steals and ranks among CL leaders in hits (first), triples (tied-1st), batting average (second), total bases (tied-2nd) and on-base percentage (fifth)…Jonathan Meyer has started 22 of the club’s 26 games at third base, committing only three errors.

Class A Lexington

RHP Tanner Bushue, Pitcher of the Month: 3-0, 2.70 ERA, .214 (21-for-98) opponents avg. in four starts in April

C Chris Wallace, Offensive Player of the Month: .398 (33-for-83), 20 runs, 8 2Bs, 7 HRs, 24 RBIs, .468 OBP, .795 SLG in 22 games in April

IF Jiovanni Mier, Defensive Player of the Month: 22 games at SS, .950 fielding percentage (5 errors/101TC), 13 double plays turned this season

Notes: Tanner Bushue, a second-round pick in the 2009 Draft, went undefeated in four April starts while limiting opponents to just 21 hits and 5 walks in his 26 2/3 innings pitched…Chris Wallace, a University of Houston product, hit seven home runs and drove in 24 RBIs in 22 games in April…he hit three of those home runs in the same game on April 17 at Asheville, en route to being named the South Atlantic League’s Player of the Week (April 7-17)…Jiovanni Mier, the 21st overall selection in the 2009 draft, has started 22 games at shortstop this season, while committing only five errors and turning 13 double plays.

 

Astros-Reds preview for Tuesday

It’s a chilly, gray day in Cincinnati on Tuesday, but for the most part it’s pretty dry. The tarp was pulled off the field at about 3 p.m. ET time and it appears the Astros and Reds will try to get in their series opener after being washed out Monday.

The pitching matchup: Astros LHP J.A. Happ (1-4, 6.35 ERA) against Reds RHP Mike Leake (3-0, 4.40 ERA).

Here are the lineups:

ASTROS

CF Michael Bourn — Leads the Majors with 11 stolen bases (11-for-11).

LF Jason Bourgeois — In his last two starts, he’s hitting .556 (5-for-9).

RF Hunter Pence — Hitting .311 with three homers and nine RBIs in his last 11 games.

1B Brett Wallace — Leads the Majors in hitting since April 7 with a .451 batting average.

3B Chris Johnson — Has four hits in last 20 at-bats.

2B Bill Hall — His 18 career homers against the Reds are his most against any team.

SS Clint Barmes — Is 0-for-7 in two games since returning from disabled list.

C Humberto Quintero — Has hit safely in five of his last six games (.348).

LHP J.A. Happ — Is 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA in his 2 road starts this season. Despite these early results, still owns a career 2.92 ERA on the road, which is tied for second in the Majors since 2007 (min. 20 games). His career road ERA is over a run lower than his home mark (4.09 ERA).

REDS

CF Drew Stubbs

SS Edgar Renteria

1B Joey Votto

2B Brandon Phillips

LF Jonny Gomes

RF Chris Heisey

C Ramon Hernandez

3B Paul Janish

RHP Mike Leake

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