July 2011

Reaction to HR controversy

Astros manager Brad Mills was angry Tuesday night after the umpiring crew at Busch Stadium didn’t overturn a controversial home run call in the first inning. Albert Pujols’ two-run home run, which appeared to hit the top of the wall and come back into play, was upheld after the umpires consulting replay.

Here are some reactions from both clubhouses and the umpires locker room:

Mills: “The whole system, I think, has to be reviewed if everyone looks at it and says it’s not a home run. The reason being, somebody in New York is supposed to have seen it. That’s my understanding, and they should have seen the same thing everybody saw. I totally don’t understand it. The whole thing’s got to be reviewed, especially if they go back and look at it and screw it up. We’ve got to be able to protest it or something. Something’s amiss here. The whole thing’s got to be reviewed.”

CF Michael Bourn, who was closest to the play: “I didn’t think it went over. [Pujols] told me at first base it did, but I didn’t think it did. I thought it hit the top and came back. The way it bounced back to me, I thought if it went over it would have hit that concrete and kept going the other way. When it hit, it hit the thing and bounced right back to me, so that’s why I played it like that. The umpires ruled it was a home run, so what could you do about that? That was the end of it from there.”

RHP Brett Myers, who gave up the homer: “I heard it hit the wall. If it hit the concrete behind it, it wouldn’t have made the noise it made. He hit it good, there’s no doubt about it. I looked at it on a couple of [replay] angles and I don’t know how they missed it really, unless they looked at it from one angle and said ‘Oh yeah, it’s a homer, it hit the concrete behind it.’ It didn’t look like it on there.”

Umpire crew chief Jim Reynolds: “Once it crosses that pad, anything after that is a home run. So what we saw on the replay was the ball skip off the top of the pad, hit the concrete behind it and come back. Once it hit that concrete, once the replay that we looked at showed that it hit the concrete behind it, then it’s a home run.”

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa: “Normally you don’t get a rebound like that unless it hits something behind the fence, like the railing or it hits the cement or something. If it comes off the wall, you don’t get that kind of [rebound]. We had a good feeling that they made the right call. You don’t get that kind of bounce back unless it hits something really hard. You don’t even get it off a sign.”

Pujols: “It was tough for me to see, but the whole reason I thought it was a home run was because it bounced like 10 yards over his head. it had to hit something hard. I thought it hit the little concrete behind the pad. I don’t think hitting that pad it would have gone that far over his head.”

Pence likely to stay with Astros

The closer we get to Sunday’s Trade Deadline, the more likely it appears that Astros All-Star outfielder Hunter Pence will remain in Houston.

Peter Gammons of MLB.com reported earlier this week that word spread around the general managers’ world on Monday that Pence was essentially off the market, and an industry insider believes he will stay with the Astros. If the Astros were to make a deal at this point, left-hander Wandy Rodriguez appears the most likely candidate.

The Braves and Phillies have reportedly shown interest in Pence, but he would come with a high price tag considering he’s the Astros best and most popular player. And he’s under club control for two more years after 2011.

The Astros are positioning themselves to unload some payroll, and Rodriguez is owed the remainder of his $7 million salary this year, $10 million next year and $13 million in 2013. He has an option for 2014 with $13 million, with a $2.5 million buyout.

It’s unknown if the Astros would be prepared to take on some of that money to get a deal done. Houston is still paying $10 million of Roy Oswalt’s contract this year.

Preview of Astros-Cards

The Astros try to snap their three-game losing streak on Monday night against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. The Astros are playing their first night game since Tuesday in Houston and are 0-3 on their 10-game road trip through Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee.

In case you today’s Astros news story, click here and learn about first-round pick George Springer meeting with an independent league team in case he can’t reach a deal with the Astros.

Brett Wallace was out of the starting lineup Monday despite facing a right-hander, and manager Brad Mills said he’s going to pick and choose his spots for Wallace to start in the immediate future. He wants to put Wallace in situations to be successful, while giving Jason Bourgeois more time in left field.

Before we get to Monday’s lineups, here are some interesting Astros-Cardinals numbers, courtesy of STATS:

  • The Cardinals are 6-2 against the Astros this year, with a run differential that’s their best against Houston since 1963.
  • Former Astros first baseman/outfielder Lance Berkman isn’t in the lineup Monday, but he’s hit five homers and 12 RBIs against the Astros this year. That’s the most HRs and RBIs against the Astros by any one player this year.
  • The Cardinals rank 11th in the NL at 3.74 runs per day game, but they’re scoring 5.18 runs per night game, which is the best in the NL.
  • Astros center fielder Michael Bourn leads the Majors with 37 stolen bases. The Cardinals have 36 stolen bases as a team.
  • Hunter Pence’s batting average with runners on base (.371) is .121 higher than with the bases empty (.250). That’s the second highest difference by an Astros player since 1974 (Jose Cruz, .134, 1986).
  • Since he made his Major League debut in 2007, Pence’s 80 hits against the Cardinals are tied for the most by any player over that span (Ryan Braun).
  • Brett Wallace’s .469 batting average when leading off an inning is the highest tin the NL.
  • J.A. Happ has held opponents to a .166 batting average when ahead in the count (“Ahead” includes 0-1, 0-2, 1-2 and 2-2 counts) and a .449 batting average when behind.

Here are the lineups:

ASTROS

CF Michael Bourn

LF Jason Bourgeois

RF Hunter Pence

1B Carlos Lee

3B Chris Johnson

SS Clint Barmes

2B Jose Altuve

C Humberto Quintero

LHP J.A. Happ

CARDINALS

SS Ryan Theriot

RF Jon Jay

1B Albert Pujols

LF Matt Holliday

3B David Freese

C Yadier Molina

CF Colby Rasmus

2B Nick Punto

RHP Kyle McClellan

Springer met with independent team

Astros first-round draft pick George Springer III, an outfielder from the University of Connecticut, met Saturday with the general manager of the Long Island Ducks to explore his options for beginning his professional career in case he doesn’t sign with Houston.

Springer’s father, George Springer Jr., attended the meeting with his son and told MLB.com it was nothing more than trying to establish some options in case his son can’t reach an agreement with the Astros by the Aug. 15 deadline. The Astros selected Springer III with the No. 11 pick in June First-Year Player Draft.

“Obviously, whatever discussions are going on with the Astros are going to be kept between us and the Astros, and hopefully we can reach some agreement,” Springer Jr. said. “We have to prepare for all contingencies if that doesn’t happen. I don’t want anybody to read into it more than that.”

Astros general manager Ed Wade had no comment.

If the Astros and Springer III don’t reach an agreement, the outfielder would return to next year’s First-Year Player Draft and the Astros would receive compensation in the form of a draft pick. The Long Island Ducks play in the Atlantic League, which isn’t affiliated with a Major League team.

“This is one of the many options George would have and this was sort of an initial conversation with the Astros,” Springer Jr. said. “We’re looking forward to it, but if that doesn’t happen he needs to be prepared for the next stage of his baseball career.”

Springer Jr. said his son returning to Connecticut isn’t a likely option.

“I do think he is prepared, and it’s been told to the Astros, that he’s prepared to start his professional career,” he said. “I think he’s looking forward to that. I don’t think going back to school is a real option for him. He’s looking forward to starting his career, and hopefully that’s with the Astros.”

Astros in numerous conversations

With the Trade Deadline a week away, the Astros are engaged in numerous trade conversations, general manager Ed Wade said on Sunday. Wade has a policy not to discuss trade specifics, but what’s known is outfielders Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn – their two best offensive players – have been attracting considerable attention.

Bourn and Pence would come with a steep price tag, which means Houston could be more likely to deal pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers. CSNPhilly.com reported Sunday that Pence is the top target of the Phillies and that they would have be willing to give up outfield prospect Dominic Brown.

Right now, the Astros are open to listening to anything.

“As I’ve indicated before, at the very least we have to be good listeners,” Wade said. “We can always say ‘no’ to anything that we don’t think improves us in the short term or long term. It’s important for us to be proactive on a couple of different fronts as we were with Jeff Keppinger, and at the same time be receptive and responsive to any other inquiries or opportunities that may present themselves.”

Astros bullpen enjoying success

No one is more encouraged by how well the Astros’ bullpen has pitched in the last few weeks than interim pitching coach Doug Brocail, who took over June 14 when Brad Arnsberg was let go by the team.

Houston’s bullpen, which currently consists of five rookies, entered Saturday having posted a 0.95 ERA in its last 14 games. Astros relievers had allowed four earned runs in 38 innings pitching during that span. Still, the Astros are last in the National League with a 4.40 ERA.

“The guys are throwing well, especially from where we were,” Brocail said. “Every time we’ve called on them, they’ve done a good job. I think the important thing is they’re picking each other up. If a guy comes in and doesn’t get the job done, we’ve been really good lately about picking him up. It’s nice to see that we’re getting some things accomplished.

“When I came on, the big worry was ‘Oh my God, you inherited a bullpen that’s blown 19 saves.’ You know what? They’re all rookies. They’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to get better and hopefully learn from it and that’s where we’re at now.”

Right-handers David Carpenter, Enerio Del Rosario, Anuery Rodriguez and Fernando Rodriguez are rookies, along with left-hander Sergio Escalona. The only non-rookies in the bullpen are close Mark Melancon, who was a rookie last year, and set-up man Wilton Lopez, who’s in his second full year.

“The thing is, when you have some rookies you’ve got to make sure they’re communicating and talking to each other,” Brocail said. “We’ve tried to stress that.”

Astros’ lineup at stormy Wrigley

It’s storming heavily at Wrigley Field this morning, the kind of storm that would make Lance Berkman dash for cover. Alas, the Astros and Cubs are scheduled to play at 1:20 p.m. today.

The Astros made a roster move prior to the game, activating outfielder Jason Bourgeois from the disabled list and sending outfielder Brian Bogusevic — a Chicago-area product — back to Oklahoma City. Bourgeois was scheduled to arrive in Chicago this morning, so we’ll see how the storms affect his travel.

Bud Norris returns to Wrigley Field for the first time since making his Major League debut on July 29, 2009. He allowed a run in three innings in relief and has gone two years without pitching at Wrigley. That will change today, assuming the weather clears up.

Here is manager Brad Mills’ lineup:

CF Michael Bourn

2B Jose Altuve

RF Hunter Pence

LF Carlos Lee

1B Brett Wallace

3B Chris Johnson

SS Clint Barmes

C Humberto Quintero

RHP Bud Norris

Astros to closely monitor Lyles’ innings

Astros manager Brad Mills said Sunday he’d like to limit rookie right-hander Jordan Lyles to about 165 or 170 innings this season. Lyles has thrown a combined 106 innings between Triple-A Oklahoma City and the Astros this year heading into his start Monday against the Nationals.

Lyles, 20, is 64 innings shy of reaching 170, which would mean he could make another 10-11 starts if he throws six innings per start. He threw a career-high 158 2/3 innings last year combined between Triple-A Round Rock and Double-A Corpus Christi.

“Getting up to near 165, 170 is what we kind of though about,” Mills said. “We might go over that a little bit, depending on where he’s at. Those are some pretty good numbers. If he reaches that, we really need to take a look at it. You’re looking at a 15-20 [innings] increase.”

The Astros plan to keep Lyles in the rotation for the near future and will figure out the best way to limit his innings the closer they get the 170-inning benchmark.

“Now if it becomes a situation where he’s having some really hard innings or had some tough outings or whatever, we might need to may skip him or whatever,” Mills said. “That’s not in the plans now. We’re going to kind of wait and see how that plays out as we move forward, and we’re a ways away from that yet.”

 

Johnson to get ‘bulk’ of time at 3B

Astros manager Brad Mills shed some light Saturday on how he plans to split playing time the rest of the season at third base, which has been a rotation between Chris Johnson, Angel Sanchez and Matt Downs the past two weeks.

Johnson, who burst onto the scene last year with a strong rookie campaign, has started just three of the team’s last nine games after starting 75 of the first 85 games. Downs has started a pair of games at third during the last nine games, and Sanchez started his fourth game in that span on Saturday.

Mills said Saturday that Johnson will get most of the playing time. Johnson batted .298 in June and is hitting .274 with four homers and 23 RBIs following a woeful April when he hit .185.

“C.J.’s going to get the bulk of it,” he said. “He’s got the bulk of it in the first half of the season and he’s going to get the bulk of it here coming up pretty quickly. Again, hopefully he’s able to get it going and trying to get these guys some at-bats right now is difficult. He’s going to get the bulk of starts as soon as [Sunday] maybe, at third base.”

Mills had Sanchez in the No. 2 hole Saturday, which is where Sanchez has hit during most of his starts.

“He does a good job defensively, wherever you put him,” Mills said. “He’s done a good job at second and obviously has done a good job at third. We’re putting him in there today mainly because how he fits in. C.J.’s struggled against [Paul] Maholm in the past, even though he’s a left-handed pitcher. I think how Sanchez is able to fit into our lineup is nice.”

Astros, Springer exchange offers

With the deadline to sign Draft picks a month away, the Astros have exchanged contract proposals with first-round selection George Springer, an outfielder from the University of Connecticut who was taken with the No. 11 overall pick in last month’s First-Year Player Draft.

Bobby Heck, the Astros’ assistant general manger/director of scouting, said the team has been engaged in contract talks with Springer’s representatives and was confident the two sides would be able to reach a deal prior to next month’s deadline. The Astros tendered Springer a contract offer, received a proposal in return and have sent back a counter-offer.

“The pace I would say is more of a walk-stroll than it is a jog or a run right now,” Heck said. “With a month left, hopefully George seizes the opportunity and sees getting started this summer can be beneficial for him and that we’ve shown a track record of moving players, especially of his caliber.”

Meanwhile, the Astros have been keeping tabs on third-round pick, junior right-hander Jack Armstrong of Vanderbilt, while he pitches in the Cape Cod League this summer. He’s started two games for Yarmouth-Dennis in the wooden bat league and has allowed 10 hits and five earned runs in 8 2/3 innings.

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