February 2012

Sanchez slowly working his way back from fall

Versatile infielder Angel Sanchez has been dealing with a tight back this spring after slipping and falling while taking his mother’s luggage down a set of stairs earlier this month. Sanchez took some ground balls hit right at him Wednesday and swung at balls on a tee.

“It felt way better than [Tuesday], so it’s improving,” he said.

Sanchez, a non-roster invitee who started at shortstop on Opening Day last year, was able to field ground balls at shortstop, second base and third base, but not at full speed. Astros manager Brad Mills would like to be able to get him on the field soon at full speed.

“His back is still real tight and the doctors don’t feel comfortable letting him go with it,” he said. “We’re still taking nice and easy ground balls right at him, but it’s putting him behind the eight ball because it’s not giving him an opportunity to take ground balls and take swings. We’re not going to rush him because we want to make sure he’s 100 percent.”

Be sure to check out this feature on CF Jordan Schafer by clicking here.

Here are some photos, some of which are up-close:

Wandy Rodriguez has some fun.

Humberto Quintero has some fun.

J.A. Happ warms up for live batting practice.

J.B. Shuck cracks a grin.

Juan Abreu throws to hitters with Burt Hooton watching.

Jason Bourgeois wonders why I'm standing so close.

The future: Jonathan Singleton, Delino DeShields Jr., George Springer.

Fernando Martinez awaits BP.

Smoke billows across the street while Henry Sosa pitches.

Wandy likely to get Astros’ Opening Day nod

With Brett Myers having been moved into the closer role, Wandy Rodriguez appears to be in line to start Opening Day. In fact, Rodriguez probably deserves the honor more than any other pitcher considering he’s got seven years with the club and is third on the club’s all-time for wins by a left-hander and first in strikeouts by a left-hander.

Still, manager Brad Mills remains non-commital.

“We’re dealing with the situation with his back tightness and so forth right now, and we’re hoping to be able get that all taken care of so we don’t have to worry about that,” Mills said. “He’s got to be considered very heavily.”

Meanwhile, Mills said Jordan Lyles would start Monday against the Braves in Kissimmee in the team’s third Grapefruit League game of the year.

Much more to come later today from what promises to be a hot day in Central Florida.

Carlos Lee yucks it up with Fernando Rodriguez, Livan Hernandez and J.D. Martinez.

Who is the greatest Astros closer of all-time?

With Brett Myers headed to the closer role, it’s time to stroll down memory lane and re-visit some of the Astros’ closers of years gone past. The Astros have had some pretty solid closers through the years, from Joe Sambito to Jose Valverde. In between, there were guys like Doug Jones, Billy Wagner, Octavio Dotel and Brad Lidge.

So, that begs the question…

 

Myers to bullpen dominants day at Astros camp

The Astros made their first big news of Spring Training when it was announced early Tuesday by manager Brad Mills that starting pitcher Brett Myers was being moved into the closer role. Myers closed for the Phillies in 2007 and has been nothing short of a workhorse in his two years in Houston, pitching the fifth-most amount of innings in the NL in that span.

Here’s what else went on Monday:

  • Mills said catcher Jason Castro is progressing so well from his offseason foot surgery that he will have no limitations when the team begins Grapefruit League play Saturday against Washington. “We first thought he was going to be a week late and then a few days and now it looks like he won’t be late at all,” Mills said. “We’ll pick out what games we want him to maybe catch to start with. Right off the bat, I’m thinking three innings would be a good start for him. That would give him at least one at-bat.”
  •  Outfielder Jack Cust didn’t participate in base running sprints after tweaking his right knee Tuesday. He will be re-evaluated Wednesday. “He bent over for a ball and felt something in the back of his knee and the trainers didn’t want him to run on it,” Mills said. “I talked to him and he doesn’t think it’s that bad.

For a rundown of all the day’s news, including what Brandon Lyon thinks of Myers moving to the closer role, click here.

Here is the day in pictures:

Brian Bogusevic works on base running drills.

Matt Downs and Brad Mills speak during drills.

Bench coach Joe Pettini goes over base running.

Jonathan Villar.

Delino DeShields Jr.

George Springer.

 

 

 

Astros have no shortage of rotation candidates

Brett Myers’ move to the closer role all but guarantees Livan Hernandez will start the season in the Astros rotation, unless he has a terrible spring or gets injured. Hernandez, who has never been on the disabled list in his 15-year career, can eat up the innings that were lost from in the rotation with Myers being moved to the bullpen.

It’s also good news for Lucas Harrell, Zach Duke, Henry Sosa, Kyle Weiland and everybody else competing for a rotation spot. One open spot has become two, giving someone an opportunity they wouldn’t have had if Myers had stayed in the rotation.

The top three spots in the rotation appear to be set with Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ. The next five weeks will be about competition and finding out who’s the best option to complete the final two spots in the rotation, or one if you believe Hernandez is a lock.

Lyles and Sosa both made their Major League debuts for the Astros last season and made a handful of starts, and Harrell was claimed off waivers last year from the White Sox. Duke, a non-roster invitee, is the only lefty of that bunch.

The Astros ranked 14th in the 16-team National League last year with a 4.52 ERA as a starting staff. Rodriguez (11-11, 3.49 ERA) pitched well, but Norris (6-11, 3.77 ERA) struggled with control at times and didn’t get good run support and Happ (6-15, 5.35 ERA) had a woeful first four months.

While the Astros are hopeful all four can pitch to their potential this year, they added more arms to the mix this winter in case someone gets injured or isn’t up to the task at hand. Or if someone gets moved to the bullpen.

Astros move Myers to closer

The Astros’ search for a closer ended with a surprise announcement Tuesday morning.

Astros manager Brad Mills told reporters veteran starting pitcher Brett Myers would be moved into the closer role, a position he held with the Phillies in 2007. The Astros approached Myers shortly after the start of spring camp to gauge his interest in becoming the closer, and he agreed to the move Monday after consulting with his family and his body.

The Astros have no shortage of candidates to fill Myers’ spot in the rotation after signing Livan Hernandez and Zach Duke to Minor League contracts this winter. Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ are likely to be in the rotation when the season starts, with youngsters Jordan Lyles, Lucas Harrell, Henry Sosa and Kyle Weiland in the mix for the other spots

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said had been discussing the move for a while with Mills and pitching coach Doug Brocail

“From my standpoint, we have some depth in the rotation between Duke, Livan, Happ, Sosa and Harrell and all the young guys,” he said. “We feel like we’re in pretty good shape there and have some choices. We felt like were a little exposed in the bullpen, and having a guy who’s been successful in that role and who’s got the mentality and stuff to do well takes pressure of Brandon Lyon coming off an injury and doesn’t put pressure on young kids like David Carpenter and Wilton Lopez.”

Myers began 2007 as the Phillies’ Opening Day starter before being moved to closer three starts into the season. In 21 relief appearances, he went 5-5 with 21 saves and a 2.87 ERA, but was shifted back to the rotation after Philadelphia acquired Brad Lidge prior to the 2008 season. He’s been a starter ever since.

The Astros began last year with Brandon Lyon as closer, but he got injured a month into the season and wound up having surgery repair the detachment of his right biceps tendon and to also mend a tear in his labrum. Mark Melancon closed most of 2011, but the team traded him to the Red Sox in exchange for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.

With Lyon apparently not in the team’s plans, that left the Astros without an experienced closer. The team soon turned to Myers.

Astros outfield race has plenty of options

The Astros plan to give Brian Bogusevic a good look in center field this spring, putting him in competition with Jordan Schafer and Jason Bourgeois for the starting nod. Bogusevic started 31 games in right field last year after Hunter Pence was traded, but has some experience in center and enough athleticism to play the position.

What’s more, the Astros have Jack Cust and Travis Buck capable of playing right field.

“His ability gives him the opportunity to be able to play center or right, but we want this guy to step up and be an everyday starter for us and there’s reason he won’t be able to,” Astros manager Brad Mills said of Bogusevic. “We all saw what he can do at times last year.”

Bogusevic, a former first-round pick as a pitch who made the switch to outfield in 2008, understands the importance of being versatile enough to play different positions, and is more than willing to give center field a shot.

“There’s a lot of guys going for open spots, so I think everybody is trying to make a good impression all around,” he said.

Cust can play in left and right and will get some ground balls at first base. Top prospect Jonathan Singleton will also get some time in the outfield, Mills said. Versatile infielders Matt Downs and Brian Bixler will also do some work in the outfield.

Regarding Schafer, Mills said: “He seems like he’s on a mission.”

Here are a few other items of interest:

  • Astros manager Brad Mills announced the starting pitchers for the team’s first two Grapefruit League games, with veteran Livan Hernandez pitching Saturday against the Washington Nationals – his former team – at Kissimmee. Left-hander J.A. Happ will face the Nats on Sunday in Viera, Fla.
  • Astros pitchers will take a break from throwing live batting practice on Tuesday, giving some of the pitching groups two days off between times on the mound.
  • The Astros haven’t been able to successfully schedule extra B games against other clubs, something they wanted to do to create more innings for all of the arms they have in camp. Mills said some pitchers might have to throw in Minor League games. “You’d rather have B games against other teams, but that didn’t quite work out,” he said.
  • Infielder Angel Sanchez was again forced to watch from the sidelines against Monday because of his ailing back. Sanchez did some light toss, but didn’t participate in the team’s defensive drills. He said the back is improving.

Here is the day in pictures:

Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson take balls at third.

Chris Snyder and Jason Castro walk across the field.

A group of pitchers awaits the next drill.

Brad Mills watches Zach Duke pick-off drills.

Back problems kept Angel Sanchez on the sidelines Monday.

David Carpenter, Fernando Rodriguez and Lucas Harrell shoot the breeze.

David Carpenter throws a pitch to a hitter.

Jason Castro check the schedule.

Who knew bats on born-on dates?

J.D. Martinez talks with hitting coach Mike Barnett.

Jose Altuve plays catch with himself while awaiting the next drill.

Bogusevic battling for CF spot

Astros manager Brad Mills shed some light on his outfield situation Monday, saying Brian Bogusevic will be given a look in center field because of his athleticism and the presence of Jack Cust and Travis Buck in right field. Bogusevic started most of the games in right after Hunter Pence was traded last year.

Battling Bogusevic for playing time in center are Jordan Schafer and J.B. Shuck, as well as Jason Bourgeois.

“We’re looking at moving Bogie over there and having him get some time in center field,” Mills said. “We’ve got quite a few guys playing those different positions and all are capable, and we’ve seen them have success at some point last year or the year before. It’s going to be fun to see them go through it.”

Mills said they’re looking for Bogusevic to step up and be a starter.

“His ability gives him the opportunity to be able to play center or right, but we want this guy to step up and be an everyday starter for us and there’s reason he won’t be able to,” Mills said. “We all saw what he can do at times last year.”

Cust will play in left and right and will get some ground balls at first base. Top prospect Jonathan Singleton will also get some time in the outfield, Mills said.

Regarding Schafer, Mills said: “He seems like he’s on a mission.”

——

Mills said veteran Livan Hernandez will start the team’s Grapefruit League opener Saturday against Washington, his former team. Left-hander J.A. Happ will start Sunday against the Nationals in Viera, Fla. The rest of the rotation remains up in the air.

Lee reports as full squad hits the field

After listening to speeches from owner Jim Crane, general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager Brad Mills, 63 Astros players hit the field for the first full-squad workout of the spring. The Astros have a week to get up to speed before opening Grapefruit League play Saturday against the Washington Nationals.

Among those on the field for the first time Sunday was Carlos Lee, who’s in the final year of his six-year, $100-million contract and likely his final season in Houston

Lee, 35, batted .275 with 18 homers and 94 RBIs in 155 games last year, and he hasn’t put up the same kind of numbers the last two seasons as did during his first three years in Houston when he hit .306 and averaged 29 homers and 107 RBIs.

“Last year, I started really slow, but I kind of figured it out and worked hard on my hitting and had a great second half,” he said. “I did what I’m capable of doing. Hopefully we take off in the same condition I was last year hitting the ball like I normally do.”

Crane made news when he told reporters the Astros would likely change uniforms next year.

Here is the day in photos, with an emphasis in smiles and autographs:

Astros owner Jim Crane and principal owner Bill Morgan stroll the back fields.

Jim Crane addresses reporters, saying team will likely change uniforms.

Juan Abreu rocks and fires in the bullpen.

Fernando Rodriguez signs autographs, chats with fans.

Jose Altuve, Travis Buck and Humberto Quintero await facing live pitching.

Travis Buck and Minor League baserunning coordinator Milt Thompson share a laugh.

J.D. Martinez laughs at the batting cage.

Kyle Weiland throws a round of living batting practice.

Aneury Rodriguez signs autographs.

A line of fans await Zach Duke's signature.

Sergio Escalona throws in the bullpen with Doug Brocail watching.

Crane says uniform change likely

Astros owner Jim Crane, who talked to the team prior to its first full-squad workout on Sunday morning at Osceola County Stadium, told reporters he’s leaning heavily towards an overhaul of the team’s uniforms in conjunction with the move to the American League in 2013.

Major League Baseball has been working with the Astros on a new uniform design, and Crane said he wants to get his staff and some of the fans involved in helping with the design. Crane said the team has to have everything submitted to baseball by May 1, but nothing will be made public until after the season.

“We can’t really come out with a uniform until the season is over,” Crane said. “All that – the branding and the logo – has to be submitted, and once we get all that through them we’ll follow the guidelines and rules. You probably won’t see anything until after the season.”

The Astros, who are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, haven’t had a major uniform overhaul since moving to what is now Minute Maid Park in 2000. The Astros will switch to the AL next year, which Crane says will make good timing for a uniform switch.

“Our feel on it is this is going to be a great year with the transition, and we’re going to have a lot of fun seeing some of the old team and some of the new teams again,” Crane said. “We’ll be the only team you can see every team in baseball the next two years. If change is going to be made, certainly next year, going to the American League, is going to be our transition, and we’re leaning heavily that way.”

Meanwhile, all 63 players hit the field Sunday under light drizzle and chilly temperatures. Today is the first day of live batting practice, and undoubtedly the hitters will be far behind the pitchers, who have been in camp for a week. Here are some morning photos:

Astros owner Jim Crane talks with reporters.

Carlos Lee hits the field for the first time.

Here's our first look of top prospect Jonathan Singleton in an Astros uniform.

Here's Jose Altuve, by request.

Jim Crane walks with minority owner Bill Morgan.

Brad Mills throws a ball during fielding drills.

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