February 2012

Mills eager for full squad to hit the field

The Astros will hold their first full-squad workout on Sunday, when all 63 players in Major League camp are scheduled to hit the field for the first time this spring. Manager Brad Mills expects everyone to report by Sunday morning.

“We’re very happy with the six days we’ve had [with pitchers and catchers] and now we’re ready to move forward,” he said.

In fact, the Astros have had a huge number of position players participating in drills for the last few days, a number that’s growing daily. Non-roster outfielder Brandon Barnes, who showed up Friday, was on the field for the first time Saturday.

The only players who hadn’t worked out at Osceola County Stadium by Saturday were outfielders Carlos Lee and Jonathan Singleton and infielder Jonathan Villar. Position players aren’t required to report until Sunday morning, when they will be given physicals prior to take the field.

Here’s the day in photos:

His back feeling better, Wandy Rodriguez took the mound Saturday.

David Carpenter throws in the bullpen wiht Jon Matlack watching.

Jason Castro and David Carpenter talk after their bullpen.

Doug Brocail gives some pointers to Lucas Harrell.

Conditioning drills capped the day for the pitchers.

Brett Wallace swings in the cage.

Right-handers Jarred Cosart and Mike Foltynewicz and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer – three young pitchers ranked among the Astros’ top seven prospects by MLB.com – were among seven hurlers who participated Saturday in the first day a Minor League mini camp.

The other participants are right-handers Jake Buchanan, Ross Seaton, Josh Zeid and Jason Stoffel and catchers Miles Hamblin, Ryan McCurdy, Roberto Pena and Mike Kvasnicka. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who watched the pitchers throw, said the young arms will get some innings in Grapefruit League games.

Here’s a quick Q and A with Foltynewicz:

Q: What are you hoping to get out of the Minor League mini camp?

A: “Trying to work on the things we left off on in instructional ball, trying to get the command of the strike zone down. I’m really just trying to get a head start along with these seven guys to get ready for a good season.”

Q: How excited are you about a chance to pitch in a big-league Spring Training game?

A: “Heard about that probably a month ago, and it made me want to work even harder. That’s my ultimate goal, and it’s that little bit more motivation.”

Q: How big of a year is this for you?

A: “It’s a pretty big year. Last year, I had good games and had bad games, and this year I just have to put it all together and find that happy medium. I think it’s a big year to prove myself to a lot of the doubters out there, so it’s a pretty big year.”

Q: What’s it like to be a part of this group of talented young arms coming up?

A: “It’s pretty exciting. Later on down the road, this is going to be a great Houston Astros team. we’ve got a lot of good arms and I’m really excited for the future.”

Here’s a quick Q and A with Jarred Cosart:

Q: What are you hoping to get out of the Minor League mini camp?

A: “It’s great. I was bummed at first about not coming to big league camp, but it happens and there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t control it. That’s what Fred and all the guys told me today, to come out here and pitch and getting down here early just helps me get a little jump on everybody else coming to Minor League camp. It’s a good group of guys and I had Brocail and a lot of the big league guys watching today, so it’s really not much different than over there.”

Q: Are you excited about the chance of pitching in a Grapefruit League game?

A: “This would be my first chance. They said be ready to throw in multiple big league games. They’re getting us ready as if we’re in big league camp and I’ve heard they’re having a lot of split squad games to get a lot of the younger guys over there who are fighting for that fifth spot. They’re going to have openings. They said to be ready for a couple of games.”

Q: You’re getting instruction from Doug Brocail and Jon Matlack. How beneficial is that?

“I got open ears to anything. Matlack pitched in the big leagues for 15 years a while back and Brocail just recently came out of the game and he’s been a big league pitching coach for two or three years now. They know what they’re talking about, as do all these coaches. I’m always open to any advice, mechanical, mental, whatever. They just said I’ll make a lot of money if I pitch down. That’s pretty much the basics of pitching. Right now it’s staying consistent and doing the little things. They said the stuff is there and the name of the game is mix pitches and staying down in the zone, and I have a chance to be pretty good if I can do that.”

Here are some photos from the first day of Minor League mini camp:

Brett Oberholtzer plays pepper.

Mike Foltynewicz plays pepper.

Jarred Cosart has some fun.

Ross Seaton has fielding drills.

Lyles hoping to get more out of his frame

Minor League pitching coordinator Jon Matlack took some extra time following workouts Friday to have a one-on-one, hands-on session with 21-year-old right-hander Jordan Lyles on one of the pitching mounds.

“We’re just tweaking some things that people have seen in my delivery that maybe there’s more energy I can put into it and the velocity would be greater,” Lyles said. “We were really bouncing thoughts off of each other and he was asking me what am I thinking, what am I doing. He’s trying to get the most out of my frame and my delivery.”

Matlack was a three-time All-Star hurler in a playing career that spanned 13 seasons. He also served as Detroit’s Major League pitching coach in 1996 and spent eight seasons as a Minor League pitching coach with the White Sox and Padres. The Tigers let him go in August.

For more on Lyles and the rest of the news of the day, including some health updates and what Cesar Cedeno is up to, click here.

And don’t forget to read my feature on newcomer Kyle Weiland.

Here is Friday in pictures:

Zach Duke in a "what now?" pose.

Pitcher Paul Clemens practices his sliding.

At least Lance Berkman's old number went to another native Texan -- Justin Ruggiano.

Bud Norris playfully claps at a teammate's sliding attempt.

Arcenio Leon throws a ball during PFPs.

Jason Bourgeois takes a cut during BP.

Pitching coach Doug Brocail throws to Kyle Weiland covering first.

Matt Downs reported and stretched.

Escalona, Wandy battling nagging injuries

Astros left-hander Sergio Escalona, who hyper-extended his left elbow swinging a bat earlier in the week, won’t throw his scheduled bullpen session Friday, manager Brad Mills told reporters early today.

“We wanted to give it a day of rest,” Mills said. “He’s still going to go through some things on the other fields. He’s not going to throw on the other fields. He’ll do some bunting, but no hitting. As of right now, we’re not concerned about it because he didn’t hurt it while throwing.”

Also, left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, who experienced tightness in his lower back while throwing Thursday, will go through all of the pitcher’s fielding and hitting drills, but the team told him to take it easy. He’s still on schedule to throw again Saturday in his last bullpen appearance before facing live hitting.

Much more to come later.

Astros catchers put on their gear after morning stretch.

Astros’ Mills mum on closer’s role

When pressed on Thursday about who he plans to use in the closer’s role this year, Astros manager Brad Mills remained non-committal. Mark Melancon spent most of the 2011 season at closer, but was shipped to the Red Sox in December.

“We’re having discussions as we speak,” Mills said. “We’ve talked about some things and talked about some guys as we go forward, and we’re constantly doing that. We’re talking about names and different guys we might give the opportunity and see how things go. It comes down to what we see in Spring Training and in some of these games, and also who we feel would do the best job.”

The Astros, who converted only 25 of 50 save chances last year, have several candidates. Veteran closer Brandon Lyon could step back into the role, but he missed most of last year following major arm surgery. Youngster David Carpenter could also be an option.

For more on the future of the closer situation, the health of Wandy Rodriguez and much more, click here.

And please don’t miss my story on Jed Lowrie’s fascinating African safari, in which he took some amazing photos.

Here are the photos of the day:

Bud Norris reacts as Aneury Rodriguez can't handle a grounder.

A group of pitchers get their work in.

Livan Hernandez warms up with Humberto Quintero.

Bench coach Joe Pettini takes in the workout.

Manager Brad Mills listens while Livan Hernandez talks to a group of pitchers.

Jason Castro sizes up his bats.

Bud Norris gets in his work in the bullpen.

Delino DeShields Jr. and George Springer await a workout.

Doug Brocail stands in during a bullpen sesson.

Manager Brad Mills and GM Jeff Luhnow talk.

Brett Wallace takes ground balls at third.

OF Martinez among those in camp early Thursday

Among the position players who reported to camp early Thursday were infielders Scott Moore, Joe Thurston and Diory Hernandez and outfielder Fernando Martinez, a former top prospect with the Mets.

Widely considered one of baseball’s top prospects from 2006-10, Martinez was billed as a power-hitting outfielder expected to be a cornerstone of the Mets’ lineup throughout this decade. But multiple injuries and an arthritic right knee have prevented Martinez from appearing in more than 82 games in any of the past three seasons.

“I’m really happy to be here, to be on a team and have  new competition,” Martinez said. “My whole career I played for the Mets, and right  now I have a new home and I feel very grateful to be here.”

Martinez, 23, spent the majority of the 2011 season at Triple-A Buffalo, but did have a brief stint with the Mets. In 63 games with Buffalo, he hit .260 with eight home runs and 30 RBIs. He hit .227 in 11 games for the Mets with a home run, which came May 13 at Minute Maid Park off Astros pitcher Bud Norris.

“I have to work hard, and if I play very good here they could give me the opportunity to play in the Majors this year,” Martinez said.

Martinez has one option remaining, so if he doesn’t make the Major League roster he could begin the season at Triple-A Oklahoma.

Also, manager Brad Mills gave no hints about who his closer might be, but he said a decision could be made within the week. More details on that later. For now, enjoy some pictures from the morning:

Lance Pendleton leads a group of players onto the field.

Astros catchers stretch on the field.

Astros pitcher Wesley Wright awaits morning stretch.

Strength and conditioning coach Gene Coleman gets ready to lead the pitchers in stretch.

Positions players keep trickling in for Day 3

More than two dozen positions players were already in camp by Wednesday and working out together on the back fields at Osceola County Stadium. They took batting practice when the pitchers and catchers were done and even did defensive drills. That was a welcomed sight for manager Brad Mills.

“It’s nice to see them here and ready to go, and now they’re able to get some work done and enjoy themselves,” Mills said. “It’s good to get it done.

Some of the players, such as infielders Brett Wallace, Chris Johnson and Angel Sanchez, were working out in Houston prior to coming to spring camp. Non-roster invitee Travis Buck got to Kissimmee at the start of February to familiarize himself with the new surroundings.

The position players aren’t required to report until early Sunday – prior to the first workout – but Mills said all of them should be on site by Saturday.

For all the news from today’s workout, check out my notebook.

Here are the photos of the day:

Burt Hooton, Doug Brocail and John Matlack converse. They've combined for 328 Major League wins.

Henry Sosa works on his bunting.

First base coach Bobby Meacham feeds the pitching machine.

Chris Wallace works on blocking balls in the dirt.

Brett Wallace signs an autograph on way to batting cages.

Wandy Rodriguez fields a ball during drills.

Former first-round picks Delino DeShields Jr. and George Springer head to the batting cage.

Brett Myers fires a pitch in the bullpen.

GM Jeff Luhnow observes pitchers throwing.

Jose Valdez stretches out his arm.

Delino DeShields Jr. plays catch with Jimmy Paredes.

Astros hit the field for Day 3

In his morning gathering with the media on Wednesday, Astros manager Brad Mills told reporters he wished he had some news, but then backtracked. No news at this point in camp means no one is injured, and through two days of pitchers and catchers working out everybody remains in once piece. It won’t continue, but for now the Astros are healthy.

Mills did say the team doesn’t plan to have an intra-squad game like it’s had in years past a day or two prior to the first Grapefruit League game of the season.

“We decided that wouldn’t really benefit us that much,” Mills said. “We’re going to have that be a full day [of workouts] the day before we start playing games. The main thing is that is our pitchers really weren’t getting out of it what we’d like them to get out of it.”

Here are some pictures from the morning:

Astros catcher Chris Snyder does an interview in the morning.

Livan Hernandez walks to the field for the workout.

Zach Duke demonstrates his golf swing while awaiting stretch.

Astros get a look at more new pitchers

The second day of pitcher and catcher workouts went off without a hitch, with Astros manager Brad Mills getting his first look at pitchers like Rhiner Cruz, Livan Hernandez and Paul Clemens when they threw in the bullpen for the first time.

“Watching the guys throw, that’s always the biggest thing,” Mills said. “I thought Rhiner Cruz threw the ball really well. I thought Bud Norris threw the ball well and Paul Clemens, too. Livan’s command of his pitches was pretty impressive. The guys are doing the things to get themselves ready. Today was a much better day. Guys knew better where to go and what to do.”

General manager Jeff Luhnow was impressed with Clemens, who came to the Astros in the Michael Bourn trade.

“He’s got a big arm,” he said. “We’re going to develop him as a starter. My philosophy for the better arms is until they prove to us they don’t have three pitches and don’t have command to start, we’re going to start them, and it looks like [Clemens] has got everything he needs.”

Let’s get right to the photos:

Brad Mills hits rag balls to the pitchers.

Catchers lined up in the bullpen.

Side-armer Rhiner Cruz fires a pitch as GM Jeff Luhnow and special assistant Mike Elias watch.

Lucas Harrell throws a pitch with a bunch of folks watching.

Bench coach Joe Pettini hits a rag ball at the pitchers.

Lucas Harrell gets some tips from pitching coach Doug Brocail.

Paul Clemens fires towards home plate.

Mike Kvasnicka and roving Minor League catching instructor Danny Sheaffer.

Chris Snyder and Bud Norris shake hands after working together for the first time.

Carlos Corporan prepraes to swing in the batting cage.

Duke to get a look as a starter

Before Astros pitchers and catchers hit the field early Tuesday for the second day of workouts, manager Brad Mills said left-handed pitcher Zach Duke, a non-roster invite to camp, would be looked at as both a starter and a reliever. Duke will make a couple of Grapefruit League starts, Mills said.

“We’re going to see what he’s able to bring to the table,” Mills said. “We’re going to give him a chance to start a couple of games, but he’s also pitched out of the pen, and when you have a lefty like that with his experience is an opportunity he might be able to earn a spot in the bullpen as well.”

Duke is 48-74 with a 4.56 ERA in his career, mostly with the Pirates. He’s pitched in 181 games, including 168 starts.

Much more to come later, but enjoy a couple of morning photos:

Astros coaches Dave Clark, Milt Thompson and Bobby Meacham await the workout.

Kyle Weiland plays catch with Jordan Lyles.

Zach Duke warms up with a game of toss.

Spring Training is underway for the Astros

The Astros officially kicked off their new era under new management Monday when pitchers and catchers took the field at Osceola County Stadium for the first workout of Spring Training. Astros manager Brad Mills said everything went as smoothly as could have been expected, as 28 pitchers and seven catchers put in a few hours of work for the first time as a group.

Perhaps the best news for the Astros as they hit the field was that everyone is healthy, including catcher Jason Castro and Brandon Lyon. Castro missed all of last year and Lyon sat out most of the year following surgery.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see the guys in great shape,” Mills said. “The guys did a lot of things this off-season [to stay in shape]. With a lot of new players and a lot of new staff, it was good. I thought they did a good job. Yeah, there are some things they have to tighten up a little bit, but for the most part I thought it was real good.”

The pitchers are broken into six groups, with three groups throwing in the bullpen each day. Among those getting on the mound Monday were J.A. Happ, Jordan Lyles, Brett Myers, Zach Duke, Wesley Wright and Henry Sosa.

The position players won’t work out as a group until Sunday. Among those who showed up at camp Monday were Jordan Schafer, Jose Altuve, Chris Johnson, Jed Lowrie, Jimmy Paredes, Brett Wallace, Brian Bogusevic, Jack Cust, Jake Goebbert, J.D. Martinez, J.B. Shuck and George Springer.

For a complete rundown of the day’s news, click here.

For a video package with interviews with Jim Crane, Jeff Luhnow and Brad Mills, click here.

Here is Day 1 in pictures:

Astros manager Brad Mills puts on his sunglasses as he emerges from the clubhouse for the first workout of spring.

Pitcher Paul Clemens, acquired from the Braves in the Michael Bourn deal, stretches.

Astros manager Brad Mills talks to one of his coaches.

Astros pitcher Bud Norris awaits Monday's first stretch.

Astros manager Brad Mills talks with the media prior to the workout.

Astros manager Brad Mills address a group of pitchers.

Astros catcher Jason Castro gets put through a drill.

Jordan Lyles fires a pitch to Humberto Quintero. Can you spot the ball?

Astros owner Jim Crane does an interview.

Astros owner Jim Crane talks with manager Brad Mills prior to Monday's workout.