June 2011

Astros’ lineup Thursday vs. Rangers

J.R. Towles returns to the Astros’ lineup tonight to face the Rangers. It’s just Towles second start in two weeks and first since he took a foul ball off his face mask last Friday, cutting his chin.

Here’s the lineup:

CF Michael Bourn

2B Jeff Keppinger

RF Hunter Pence

1B Carlos Lee

LF Jason Michaels

3B Chris Johnson

SS Clint Barmes

C J.R. Towles

P Wandy Rodriguez

Astros at the season’s midpoint

The Astros hit the halfway mark of the season with a 28-53 record, which means they’re on pace to finish with 106 losses. That would easily surpass the franchise records for most losses in a season, which is 97 set in 1965 and matched in 1975 and 1991.

Of course, the Astros were on pace for 100 losses for much of last year before they turned it around in the second half following the trades of Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt. This year’s club could be facing selling off some commodities as well, but it’s hard to envision a strong second half like we saw last year.

Through 81 games, here are stats to consider:

  • The Astros have hit 45 home runs and are on pace to hit 90 for the season. That would be their fewest since hitting 79 in 1991. They hit 249 home runs in 2000 — the first year of Minute Maid Park.
  • The Astros have 300 RBIs, putting them on pace for 600. That would actually surpass their total of 577 of a year ago.
  • With 66 stolen bases, the Astros are on pace for their most since stealing 166 in 1999.
  • The Astros are on pace to set a club record in strikeouts. They’ve struck out 597 times through 81 games, and the club record is 1,138 in 1999. They are on pace to walk just a tad bit more than last year’s 415.
  • Closer Mark Melancon leads the pitching staff with five wins, which means the Astros have a chance of not having a 10-game winner. The team record for fewest wins to lead the club is 10, which was done most recently in 1995 when Doug Drabek, Shane Reynolds and Greg Swindell each had 10 wins. A pitcher has won at least 14 games in each year since.
  • Hunter Pence has nine homers and 53 RBIs in 75 games, so we can loosely assume he’s on pace for 18 homers and 106 RBIs. He’s hit 25 in each of the previous three seasons. The last time the Astros failed to have a player hit 20 home runs was in 1992, when Eric Antony slugged 19.

Finally, here are my midseason Astros awards:

MVP — Hunter Pence. He’s hitting .314 with nine homers and 53 RBIs and has been the Astros’ most consistent hitter all season.

Pitcher of the Year — Wandy Rodriguez. This could have gone to Bud Norris or Mark Melancon, but when healthy Rodriguez has been pretty darn good. He’s 5-4 with a 3.21 ERA in 13 starts.

Rookie of the Year — Jordan Lyles. Lyles is 0-3 with a 4.75 ERA in six starts. Aneury Rodriguez and Francisco Rodriguez are also rookies.

Most Improved — Bud Norris. Not that he was bad last year, but he continues to make strides and has been pretty solid with a 4-6 record and 3.36 ERA.

Rangers’ Ryan favors realignment

Rangers president Nolan Ryan held court with the Houston media prior to Wednesday’s game against the Astros at Minute Maid Park and said he would be in favor of the Astros joining the American League West if baseball decides to realign.

The Astros, according to reports earlier this month, are one of the teams being discussed as a candidate to change divisions, and perhaps even switch to the American League, if realignment is part of a new labor agreement between Major League Baseball this winter.

Ryan likes the idea of having at least one Central Time Zone in the same division as the Rangers as well as the three West Coast teams.

“We’re at a disadvantage with our television audience of having to go west so I would be in favor of adding somebody from our time zone,” Ryan said. “I think having the Astros and the Rangers in the same pennant race would really stimulate interest in baseball in the state of Texas. If it is in the best interests of the Rangers, we’d be for it.”

As far as the Astros’ impending ownership change to a group led by Jim Crane, Ryan said Crane is going to have to be patient. Ryan and his group outbid a group led by Crane and Mark Cuban to try to by the Rangers last year. Crane’s group is expected to be approved by Major League Baseball in late July or early August.

“With so many players, you’re going to have your ups and downs,” Ryan said. “You don’t do that overnight. You just have to keep as many players as possible in the pipeline because all sorts of things will happen like injuries and those types of things.”

Astros call up Carpenter

The Astros have called up right-handed reliever David Carpenter from Triple-A Oklahoma City and have claimed outfielder Luis Durango off waivers from the San Diego Padres, general manager Ed Wade announced Wednesday. Durango was placed on the Astros 40-man roster and optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City.

To make room for Durango on the roster, the club has transferred right-hander Alberto Arias to the 60-day disabled list. The Astros have also optioned catcher Brian Esposito to Oklahoma City. Carpenter will join the Astros in Houston in time for tonight’s 7:05 p.m. game vs. the Texas Rangers.

Carpenter, 25, has split time with Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City this season, going 0-1 with a 1.91 ERA and 38 strikeouts in a combined 33 relief outings. In his 19 outings at Triple A, Carpenter has tossed 19.0 consecutive scoreless innings with 21 strikeouts. Originally selected by St. Louis in the 12th round of the 2006 June Draft as a catcher, he was acquired by Houston from St. Louis on Aug. 19, 2010 in exchange for infielder Pedro Feliz.

Durango, 25, hit .243 with 15 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 61 games for the Padres’ Triple A affiliate this season. He has appeared in 37 Major League games with San Diego from 2009-10, hitting .305 with four RBI and seven stolen bases. The Panama native was originally signed by the Padres as a non-drafted free agent on Sept. 21, 2003, and represented Panama in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

Esposito did not appear in a game for Houston after having his contract purchased from Triple A on Saturday. He has split his season between Triple-A and Double-A, combining to hit .217 (20×92) with a homer and eight RBI. The Astros 40-man roster is now at 40.


Bourgeois can’t catch a break

Jason Bourgeois has been one of the few bright spots for the Astros this season, hitting .353 in 102 at-bats with 17 stolen bases, which ranks among the league’s leaders. The problem for Bourgeois has been staying healthy.

The Astros placed the fleet-footed outfielder on the 15-day disabled list following Tuesday’s loss to the Rangers with a strained right quadriceps muscle, the same injury that has been nagging him the past few days. Bourgeois missed 25 games on the DL from May 8-June 3 with a strained left oblique, and he later dealt with a sore ankle that required him to get an MRI.

His first injury occurred just as he was beginning to get more playing time, as well as climbing to the top of the league in stolen bases where he was tied with teammate Michael Bourn for a time. Bourgeois didn’t figure to make his way into the team’s starting outfield rotation, but he definitely warranted more playing time. That’s a moot point if he can’t stay healthy.

“I was running at about 85-90 percent to get by until it starts healing up, but today it grabbed at me pretty good,” Bourgeois said. “My game is my legs, so I need them. It’s kind of hurting me right now.”

Bogusevic is hitting .257 with three homers and 27 RBIs for Oklahoma City. He hit .222 (6-for-27) in a stint with the Astros earlier this year.

In other injury news, catcher Humberto Quintero — out since May 28 with a high ankle sprain — will begin an eight-game Minor League rehab stint on July 1 at Oklahoma City. If all goes well, he’ll return to the Major League club following the All-Star break.

Astros lineup vs. Rangers

The Astros (28-51) try to break a three-game losing streak tonight at Minute Maid Park against the Rangers, who took two of three games from Houston last week in Arlington. Jordan Lyles pitches for the Astros against left-hander C.J. Wilson in a rematch from the June 21 game in Arlington.

Here is the Astros’ lineup:

LF Jason Bourgeois — Hitting .436 against left-handers this year.

CF Michael Bourn — Has hits in 21 of his last 25 games.

RF Hunter Pence — Sixth in the league in RBIs and batting average.

1B Carlos Lee — Hitting .310 since May 1.

2B Jeff Keppinger — Hitting .480 in 25 at-bats against LHPs this year.

3B Chris Johnson — Has hit safely in 13 of last 14 games.

SS Clint Barmes — His .986 fielding percentage fourth in Majors at SS.

C Carlos Corporan — This will be his 13th start in 16 games.

RHP Jordan Lyles — Still awaiting his first Major League win.

Astros lineup for Sunday

Astros’ lineup for Sunday’s game against the Rays

CF Bourn

2B Keppinger

RF Pence

LF Lee

3B Johnson

1B Wallace

SS Barmes

C Corporan

LHP Happ

Astros lineup Saturday vs. Rays

Matt Downs, who hit a two-run, pinch-hit home run in the ninth inning Wednesday at Arlington to beat the Rangers, is in the starting lineup for tonight’s game against the Rays at Minute Maid Park.

Here is the lineup:

CF Michael Bourn

2B Jeff Keppinger

RF Hunter Pence

LF Carlos Lee

SS Matt Downs

1B Brett Wallace

3B Chris Johnson

C Carlos Corporan

RHP Bud Norris

Mills: Downs worthy of more playing time

Astros manager Brad Mills said Friday versatile infielder Matt Downs is worthy of more playing time. Downs hit a game-winning homer in the ninth inning Wednesday to beat the Rangers and entered Friday hitting .282 with five homers and 19 RBIs despite just 12 starts.

“We want to give him more playing time going forward,” Mills said. “He’s earned that right to be able to do it. We’re going to have to kind of measure things a little bit and pick our spots to give him more playing time, but at the same time for him to be able to have the success off the bench he’s had, he’s going to need some playing time to stay fresh and stay ready.”

Downs was hitting .389 (7-for-18) with two homers and eight RBIs in a pinch-hit role entering Friday, making him a valuable commodity off the bench. That makes it harder to put Downs in the lineup on a consistent basis.

“You don’t want to get greedy,” Mills said. “What I mean by greedy is not getting him those [regular] at-bats and picking your spots late in the ballgame to get him those at-bats at crucial times of the ballgame. That is getting a little greedy. A the same time, he’s a guy that deserves a little more playing time.”


Lyles not satisfied with strong outing

Jordan Lyles, the youngest player in the Major Leagues, was denied his first big league victory Tuesday when the Astros bullpen coughed up its 15th blown save of the year, which is a Major League high. Lyles pitched well once again, allowing seven hits and three runs in seven innings in his fifth start.

The Astros led, 4-3, when Lyles left the game and the Rangers eventually won, 5-4, in extra innings on Mitch Moreland’s walk-off homer in the 11th. Lyles allowed solo homers to Michael Young in the second and Nelson Cruz in the fourth, and an RBI triple by Endy Chavez in the seventh.

Despite delivering his third quality start, Lyles had a hard time seeing beyond the Astros’ 14th loss in 18 games.

“First of all, we got a loss, so no, not really,”  he said. “But I stayed away from crooked numbers. If I’m going to give them up [home runs], glad no one is on base. That was the positive side.

“The one to Michael I just left over the plate. Great hitter. Makes me pay for that and he did. The one to Cruz initially I didn’t think I got it down enough, but I saw the replay and it wasn’t too bad of a pitch, I think. It’s more of a good hitter putting a good swing on it.”

Astros manager Brad Mills was understandably impressed with his young pitcher.

“He did a great job,” he said. “I know he gave up a couple of home runs, but it was sure nice to see him jump right back in there after he gave up the home runs. A lot of young guys can kind of let that get to them, but he didn’t. He came right back after hitters and really did a good job through seven. He battled and kept his pitch count down and really gave us a chance to win the game.”

Lyles said the Rangers’ lineup posted his biggest challenge to date.

“It’s a great lineup,” he said. “By far the best I’ve seen. Just make sure you stay a little bit more focused than you would with a regular lineup because they’ll put up a four spot in no time. You can’t let up any time with any lineup, but this one will make you pay for it in short time. You’ve just got to stay a little bit more focused and just make your pitches and attack the lower half of the strike zone and hopefully they hit it at someone.”

In his previous start against the Pirates, Lyles allowed a three-run homer in the first inning and then retired 15 in a row. He said he came out determined to have a clean first inning.

“I wanted to attack the first inning and not go out there and feel my way through it,” he said. “I wanted to get ready in the bullpen and attack from strike zone, from the first batter.”

Lyles is relatively new to the Astros’ late-inning struggles, but he said all the right things post-game to reporters and showed poise.

“No one wants to lose,” he said. “Guys are going out there trying the best to get guys out, but sometimes it just doesn’t fall the way you want it to. Sometimes they don’t hit it at people. Just baseball, and we’ll bounce back. We’re not going to change anything we’ve been doing. I think we’ve been playing pretty good. Make a couple of pitches here, a couple of more extra hits and we can turn it around.”