March 2012

Game 29: Lyles struggles, homers fly

In their final game of the year at Osceola County Stadium, the Astros lost to the Yankees, 11-9, when the game was called with two outs in the top of the ninth inning with rain falling (boxscore). Houston will take a 14-15 record into its Grapefruit League finale on Sunday against the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla.

Astros owner Jim Crane toured the Mets’ spring facility before flying to Kissimmee on Saturday for the Astros game. Here’s what he had to say about possibly moving the team out of Kissimmee when the lease expires in 2016.

For an update on the health of Jed Lowrie, click here.

Here’s the breakdown:

What went right: There were plenty of things to like offensively, with the Astros belting four home runs. Sure, the wind was blowing out, but several Astros players put good swings on some balls. The Astros hit four home runs — Justin Ruggiano (2-for-4, four RBIs) had a three-run homer and Brian Bogusevic (2-for-4), Carlos Lee and Chris Johnson (3-for-4) had solo shots to pace the Astros’ 14-hit attack.

Bogusevic homered off a left-hander, which pleased manager Brad Mills, and Johnson went the other way.

Elsewhere at the plate, Travis Buck went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and Jose Altuve, Chris Snyder, Landon Powell and Marwin Gonzalez each had a hit.

Only two Astros pitchers didn’t give up a run, and neither pitched a full inning. David Carpenter got the final out in the fifth to escape a mess, and Fernando Rodriguez got two outs in the ninth before the game was called.

What went wrong: The Yankees, taking advantage of a stiff wind (like the Astros did, too), slugged five homers. Starter Jordan Lyles’ final start of the spring wasn’t a good one. He allowed 11 hits and eight runs in 4 2/3 innings to raise his spring ERA to 8.41.

“Nothing went as planned,” Lyles said. “I didn’t throw it to my target, and when it was over the plate they hit it really hard. It wasn’t my day. I’ve got to do a better job of eliminating the big innings when I don’t have my control and my stuff.”

The Astros now have a difficult decision to make on Lyles, who made 15 starts last year at 20 years old but was out-pitched this spring by Kyle Weiland and Lucas Harrell.

“We’re discussing everything,” Mills said. “We’re going through all kinds of things right now with our starters and the games we have left [in exhibition season]. We want to look at everything and go from there.”

Brandon Lyon pitched for the second day in a row and gave up two homers in one inning. The Astros didn’t commit any errors, but they weren’t crisp on defense early in the game and allowed the Yankees to keep some innings going.

J.D. Martinez went 0-for-4 and was the only starter sans a hit.

What they said: “I know I’ve had a bad outing here or there. Hopefully, those couple of outings won’t hold me back or hinder me. They might feel like other guys have pitched better in Spring Training, which they might have. There’s no excuses. I should have pitched better if that’s the case.” — Astros pitcher Jordan Lyles on his chances of making the Opening Day roster.

What’s next: The Astros close out the Grapefruit League portion of their spring schedule when they face the Detroit Tigers at 12:05 p.m. CT in Lakeland, Fla. Wandy Rodriguez, the Astros’ Opening Day starter, will make his final start of the spring before facing the Rockies on April 6 in Houston.

Injury update: CF Jordan Schafer (left hand) took batting practice Saturday and should get a couple of at-bats Sunday, which would mark his first game action in two weeks. … SS Jed Lowrie (right thumb) is going to be out for a few more days.

Crane tours Mets spring facility

Astros owner Jim Crane made another pass through Florida on Saturday, arriving at Osceola County Stadium and taking in batting practice with some of his partners.

Earlier in the day, Crane toured the Mets’ Spring Training facility in Port St. Lucie, which is down the road from his Floridian Golf Club. Crane has previously visited the Spring Training sites of the Yankees in Tampa and the Cardinals and Marlins in Jupiter, Fla.

The Astros are under contract with Osceola County Stadium through 2015.

“As we said last time, we’re kind of looking at all the different spots and we had time to go there this morning and take a tour of the field and look at their facilities,” he said. “Certainly, they’re interested in another team there, but we’ve still got a deal here for quite some time so we’re just kind of learning. We’ll probably go out to Phoenix this week and check out a couple of spots and look at a few more spots in Florida.”

Crane hasn’t said the Astros will move their Spring Training facility when their lease in Kissimmee expires, but the state of Florida is actively trying to keep its 15 teams in the Grapefruit League and prevent any further defections to the Cactus League in Arizona.

“The state of Florida wants to keep everybody here,” he said. “We’ve got to do what’s best for us, and certainly this is a nice facility.”

As far as the upcoming season goes, Crane said Friday’s Opening Day game against the Rockies is approaching a sellout.

“We’re trying to sell out the opening game,” he said. “We’re getting close. We might make it. We’re working hard at it.”

Meanwhile, Crane and the Astros have about a month to submit new uniform designs to Major League Baseball. The Astros have had focus groups with fans to gauge new uniform designs, and it certainly appears the club will have a new look when it begins play in the American League in 2013.

“We’ve got another pass next week and we’ll be making some decisions pretty quick,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of good input from the fans in the focus group, but also including some of the players and the guy that washes the uniforms. That’s very important. You’ve got to make sure the uniforms won’t break down on you.

“We’re leaning very heavily towards it and I’d be surprised if we didn’t [change].”

Lowrie injury a growing concern to Mills

UPDATED: GM Jeff Luhnow weighs in on Lowrie:

Astros manager Brad Mills spoke Saturday morning with a growing concern that shortstop Jed Lowrie won’t be ready for the start of the season.

Lowrie, who sprained his right thumb diving into second base during a pick-off attempt Wednesday, took some ground balls and played catch on Friday, but Mills said he didn’t feel as good as the team would have hoped.

“He wasn’t able to grip the ball as well as we’d like,” Mills said. “We’re going to wait and see how that works out. It’s pretty tender.”

Mills raised some doubt whether Lowrie would be able to play in any of next week’s exhibition games – Monday at Double-A Corpus Christi and Tuesday and Wednesday against the White Sox in Houston. An X-ray and an MRI showed no structural damage to the thumb.

“Jed was going so well and swinging the bat so well,” Mills said. “We’re going to have to check him out and make sure he’s healthy, throwing and swinging the bat and everything else. It’s going to be interesting to see how he comes around.”

When asked if Lowrie might not be ready for Opening Day, Mills said. “There’s always that concern, there’s no doubt. But these next couple of days are going to be crucial in trying to figure out how it is and into tomorrow and as we get into those exhibition games, whether he’s going to be able to play at all.”

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said team is prepared for anything.

“It’s really about how much [Lowrie] can tolerate and how quickly he feels ready to get back into games,” he said. “That could be a few days, it could be a couple of weeks and anywhere in between. We need to proceed with contingency plans in place for Jed being ready to go Opening Day and Jed not being ready to go Opening Day.

“The good news is even if he’ snot ready to go Opening Day, we’re not talking about an extended absence. We’re talking about something relatively short. It would be nice to have him in there on Opening Day and he’s a big part of the team this year, but if he’s not it won’t be the end of the world.”

If Lowrie starts the year on the disabled list, it could be backdated until Wednesday, assuming he doesn’t play in any games the rest of the spring. That means if Lowrie started the season on the DL, he would miss the first six games of the regular season.

As far as contingency plays, the Astros still have Rule 5 shortstop Marwin Gonzalez in camp and have brought Brian Bixler and Angel Sanchez back over from Minor League camp.

Meanwhile, center fielder Jordan Schafer, who hasn’t played in nearly two weeks because of a nerve injury in his left hand, was scheduled to take batting practice Saturday. Schafer was supposed to hit on the field Friday, but team doctors wouldn’t allow it.

“Today’s a big day for him,” Mills said.

Castro having healthy, productive spring for Astros

Astros catcher Jason Castro, who missed all of last season following ACL surgery on his right knee, caught all nine innings of Friday’s game against the Braves, marking the first time since his surgery a year ago he caught nine innings in a game.

Castro’s knee has felt great all spring, and it didn’t hurt that Friday was a night game and was played in two hours, 16 minutes. Still, after catching seven innings on Thursday, being able to come back and catch nine on Friday was a great sign.

“I didn’t know I was going to go nine and I talked to [manager Brad Mills] and he asked how I was feeling, and I said I was feeling good,” Castro said. “He said, ‘You can go ahead and have the whole thing.’ That was a fairly quick one and we had some easy innings, so that made it a little easier.”

Not only is Castro proving he’s healthy, but he’s playing well. He went 2-for-3 with an RBI single on Friday and is hitting .333 (13-for-39) with eight RBIs this spring.

“I put in a lot of work to get to where I’m at right now and I’m really happy with the way things have gone,” Castro said. “Hopefully I can just keep progressing and carry this into the season. I’m real happy with physically how I’m feeling and how my body is responding and recovering the day after catching. I’m really happy with that.”


Astros pregame tidbits

Astros manager Brad Mills met with the media Friday afternoon in Kissimmee and covered a variety of topics:

  • LHP J.A. Happ threw eight innings and 98 pitches in a Triple-A/Double-A game against the Washington Nationals on Friday afternoon. Mills said Happ is in line to throw again in Wednesday’s day exhibition against the White Sox at Minute Maid Park. “He did a real good job,” Mills said.
  • Mills said he’s leaning towards Jason Castro starting Opening Day at catcher, Chris Snyder catching Saturday and Castro coming back for the April 8 day game against the Rockies. “They haven’t announced their rotation, so I’d be jumping ahead of myself if I announced that,” he said.
  • CF Jordan Schafer, who’s been out nearly two weeks with a sprained nerve in his hand, could get an at-bat Saturday against the Yankees. He was going to take batting practice on Friday prior to the game with the Braves. Mills is hopeful Schafer can get two or three at-bats on Sunday, two or three Monday in Corpus Christi and a few more against the White Sox next week in Houston.
  • We know that SS Jed Lowrie‘s MRI should no structural damage, and Mills is hopeful he’ll still be ready to go on Opening Day, which is only a week away. Lowrie played catch and was hoping to field some ground balls on Friday.
  • Mills said the battle for the final two rotation spots is down to four people following the release of Livan Hernandez: RHPs Jordan Lyles, Kyle Weiland, Henry Sosa and Lucas Harrell. Sosa and Harrell were said to be out of the mix 10 days ago, but Mills said on Friday they were back in the hunt. Harrell will start the exhibition game Monday against the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks.
  • Here are some updates on the pitching rotation: Lyles on Saturday, Wandy Rodriguez on Sunday, Harrell on Monday and Bud Norris on Tuesday against the White Sox on three days of rest. Mills has his pitching rotation set for the first weekend of the season, but has only announced Rodriguez as the Opening Day starter. “If we start looking this guy in this spot and that guy in this spot, everybody starts thinking about different things sand scenarios and I don’t think that’s fair to them right now,” Mills said.
  • Mills said he’ll take a few extra Minor League players back to Texas on Monday for the exhibition game. Mills didn’t yet want to divulge names, but said five or six positions players and three or four pitchers will travel with the Major League club back home.
  • Rule 5 pick up RHP Rhiner Cruz will throw two innings against the Braves on Friday night in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. This could be a big outing with him to see if he sticks with the club.

Lowrie relieved thumb injury not serious

Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie was relieved to learn Friday the MRI performed on his sprained right thumb showed no ligament damage. Lowrie said he’s day-to-day and hopes to be ready for Opening Day in a week.

Lowrie sprained the thumb diving into second base on a pick-off attempt Wednesday and was taken for X-rays, which were negative.

“I got about the best news I could have as far as the MRI is concerned,” Lowrie said. “There is no ligament damage and that’s obviously great news. It’s just a day-to-day thing, until I can go.”

Lowrie said the thumb was already feeling better.

“The inflammation has gone down,” he said. “It’s still pretty sore, but the fact the inflammation has gone down is a good indication it’s going in the right direction. I don’t think I have any restrictions at this point. It’s just do whatever I can, so I’ll take it step by step.”

Lowrie said he’s still not able to grip a bat, however

“I haven’t even tried yet, but I don’t think it’s at that point yet,” he said. “It’s still too sore to the touch. I don’t think there’s any reason to push it when it’s still sore. We’ll get all that taken care of and go from there.”

Lowrie, acquired from the Red Sox along with Kyle Weiland in a December trade, is having a terrific spring. He was hitting .333 with two homers and seven RBIs in 36 at-bats and had a .429 on-base percentage.

Hernandez surprised by release from Astros

Livan Hernandez told on Friday he was surprised by the Astros decision to release him. The veteran right-hander signed with Houston on Jan. 31 and appeared to have a great shot of landing a rotation spot before struggling in the spring.

“Yeah, it was surprising,” he said. “It’s a business and it’s baseball. I was very surprised when this happened. It’s tough to pitch like that, too. It’s the decision they made and I’m very happy for the chance. There’s a lot of good people in the organization, a lot of good young players and great people. Everyone in the organization is very professional.”

The two-time All-Star made five starts for the Astros during Spring Training, going 1-2 with a 5.63 ERA in 16 innings. In his 16-year career, the durable Hernandez has led the league in innings pitched three times and in games started twice. He’s never been on the disabled list.

Hernandez said he would like to keep playing.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “There’s 30 teams in the league. I’m 37 years old and I don’t want to retire. I never have been hurt in my career, so why do I have to retire if I feel good?”

With Hernandez out of the mix, the Astros now have three young pitchers battling for the final two spots in the rotation – Jordan Lyles, Kyle Weiland and Lucas Harrell, who pitched five strong innings earlier this week to bolster his chances.

The Astros have 33 players left in camp, including Sergio Escalona (who will miss the whole season after undergoing Tommy John surgery):

Here are the players in Astros camp (non-roster players in italics):

Pitchers –Fernando Abad (LHP), David Carpenter, Rhiner Cruz, Sergio Escalona (LHP), J.A. Happ (LHP), Lucas Harrell, Wilton Lopez, Jordan Lyles, Brandon Lyon, Brett Myers, Bud Norris, Fernando Rodriguez, Wandy Rodriguez (LHP), Henry Sosa, Kyle Weiland, Wesley Wright (LHP).

Catchers — Jason Castro, Carlos Corporan, Landon Powell, Chris Snyder.

Infielders — Jose Altuve, Matt Downs, Marwin Gonzalez, Chris Johnson, Carlos Lee, Jed Lowrie, Brett Wallace.

Outfielders — Brian Bogusevic, Travis Buck, J.D. Martinez, Justin Ruggiano, Jordan Schafer, J.B. Shuck.

Lowrie awaiting MRI results on thumb

Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie, who sprained his right thumb diving into second base during a pick-off attempt Wednesday, on Thursday was awaiting the results of an MRI he underwent following the game.

Lowrie, who had the thumb heavily wrapped and was wearing a brace, was hoping to be able to play in a few days. He said the thumb was still sore, which was expected.

“Once again, I’m going to assume it’s a few days until they tell me otherwise,” Lowrie said. “Hopefully, with ice and treatment the swelling goes down and maybe we get back in there as soon as possible.”

The injury comes at a terrible time for Lowrie, who was having a great spring and was looking forward to the start of the season in eight days.

“It’s really frustrating, but after that initial frustration wears off then it’s get healthy and get back out there,” he said.

Game 25: Harrell shines in making spot start

The Astros rode the strong pitching of Lucas Harrell and got some timely hitting to beat the Miami Marlins, 6-3, on Wednesday afternoon (boxscore) at Osceola County Stadium. We’ll get to the breakdown in a minute.

First, the club cut five more players from Major League camp on Wednesday morning, which helped to further clarify the roster composition. The biggest surprise was Brian Bixler, who was having a good spring. The Astros also named Wandy Rodriguez as their Opening Day starter, which came as no surprise.

Remaining players in Astros camp (non-roster players in italics):

Pitchers –Fernando Abad (LHP), David Carpenter, Rhiner Cruz, Sergio Escalona (LHP), J.A. Happ (LHP), Lucas Harrell, Livan Hernandez, Wilton Lopez, Jordan Lyles, Brandon Lyon, Brett Myers, Bud Norris, Fernando Rodriguez, Wandy Rodriguez (LHP), Henry Sosa, Kyle Weiland, Wesley Wright (LHP).

Catchers — Jason Castro, Carlos Corporan, Landon Powell, Chris Snyder.

Infielders — Jose Altuve, Matt Downs, Marwin Gonzalez, Chris Johnson, Carlos Lee, Jed Lowrie, Brett Wallace.

Outfielders — Brian Bogusevic, Travis Buck, J.D. Martinez, Justin Ruggiano, Jordan Schafer, J.B. Shuck.

Here’s the breakdown:

What went right: Lucas Harrell, starting in place of Bud Norris (his start was pushed back two days to give his triceps tightness more time to heal), breezed his way through five innings, allowing three singles (two infield singles) and no earned runs while throwing an efficient 54 pitches. He didn’t walk anyone or strikeout anyone, which kept his pitch count low.

Harrell appears to be competing for a spot as the long man in the bullpen, which is a guy capable of making a spot start here and there. His performance on Wednesday certainly helped that cause along.

Astros closer Brett Myers worked in a save situation for the first time this spring and pitched around a lead-off infield hit, getting a double play to end the game. Myers has allowed one earned run in his last seven outings.

Brian Bogusevic got a start in center field and continued to swing it well, going 1-for-4 with a two-run single in the fourth inning that got the Astros going. Marwin Gonzalez, who entered the game in the fourth after Jed Lowrie left with a sprained thumb, went 2-for-3, and Chris Johnson was 2-for-3 to raise his average to .340.

The Astros drew seven walks, with Carlos Lee walking three times and Jose Altuve walking twice. Matt Downs had a big pinch-hit two-run double in the fifth inning. Lowrie, J.D. Martinez, Travis Buck, Chris Snyder and Harrell also had hits. Harrell also put down a sacrifice bunt.

What went wrong: Lowrie left the game with a sprained right thumb, suffered in the third inning when he was diving back into the base. He underwent X-rays, which were negative.

On the surface, there wasn’t much else to pick at in this one. The Astros did commit an error in the fourth inning when Martinez and Bogusevic collided in the outfield and the ball dropped, an error that led to an unearned run against Harrell.

The only pitchers to give up earned runs were David Carpenter and Wesley Wright, who pitched two innings.

What’s they said: “I talked to [pitching coach Doug] Brocail and he said to go out there today and fill up the zone with the sinker and see what happens. I needed to kind of get extended out. They were hoping to get me a few more innings, so I didn’t want to use up a lot of pitches in the early going. Once I got out there and my sinker was going and I got some ground balls, I kind of got in a comfort zone and got in a groove.” — Astros pitcher Lucas Harrell on his outing Wednesday.

What’s next: Livan Hernandez, who’s a favorite to win a spot in the starting rotation, will start for the Astros when they travel to meet the New York Mets at 5:10 p.m. CT in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Hernandez hasn’t pitched in a Grapefruit League game since March 18 and instead pitched in a “B” game last week to get his work in.

Injury update: Shortstop Jed Lowrie suffered a sprained right thumb when he dived into second base on a pickoff attempt in the third inning Wednesday. There’s no word on long he might be out. … Center fielder Jordan Schafer is expected to start swinging a bat Friday in his attempt to return from a nerve injury to his left hand. Schafer saw a hand expert Tuesday in Atlanta and was told there was no significant damage.

Here are the photos:

A ball scoots between Wilton Lopez's leg during rag ball drills.

Manager Brad Mills talks with injured outfielder Jordan Schafer.

Chris Johnson fields a ball at third base during drills.

Astros catchers walk off the field after a drill.

Brett Wallace has played well at third this spring. Here he fires a ball to first during drills.

Lowrie sprains his right thumb

Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie suffered a sprained right thumb diving into second base in the third inning of Wednesday’s game against the Marlins at Osceola County Stadium. X-rays were negative.

Lowrie, who has been hampered by injury in his career, led off the third inning with a single and was picked off on a throw from the pitcher. Lowrie dived back into the bag, but jammed his hand into Marlins second baseman Omar Infante, who blocked the base as he reached for the throw.

“Hopefully it’s ice it a couple of days and I’m back out there,” he said. “I’m going to go with that until they tell me otherwise. It’s stupid with five days left in Spring Training. I don’t think there’s any reason to block a base at any time, particularly at this time. I don’t think he’s trying to hurt me, but he’s a middle infielder. Stupid injuries like this happen when you block bases. Hopefully it’s nothing.”

Infante said he wasn’t intentionally blocking the base.

“I could see the throw was away, but I don’t know what happened,” he said. “I feel bad. I couldn’t do anything [to avoid it].”

Said Lowrie:

“The throw kind of took him up the line a little bit and he just blocked the base and I slid right into him and jammed my thumb,” he said. “When you’re expecting the base to be three feet further away and there’s a body there instead, that’s how things get jammed.”