Behind a dominant pitching performance from Mets knuckle-baller R.A. Dickey, the Astros lost to the Mets, 8-2, on Thursday afternoon to fall to 9-9. Here is the boxscore.
Now, onto the breakdown:
What went right: Rhiner Cruz, a Rule 5 pick from the Mets, had easily his best outing of the spring, and it came against his old team. He struck out a batter to end the fourth and strand runners at second and third, and then pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning and finished with two strikeouts.
Closer Brett Myers continues to pitch extremely well. He pounded the strike zone in his one inning of work, pitching around an error, and was at 90-92 mph on the radar gun. “He was spotting his fastball and his curveball had good depth,” manager Brad Mills said. “He was able to throw the curveball two different speeds — a hard one and a softer one, and both of them had real good depth. Obviously, he’s starting to get the feel for that because it was the same way last time.”
Henry Sosa also pitched well, allowing one hit and striking out two batters in 1 2/3 innings of work.
Not much to brag about at the plate, though the Astros did scorch some balls in the ninth inning, including a hit by Brad Snyder. Justin Ruggiano came off the bench and had a pair of hits, including a double. The only other hit was a single by Scott Moore, who also made a tremendous defensive play at third base in the eighth.
Matt Downs hit a rocket in the ninth inning that would have been extra bases had the left fielder not made an acrobatic catch at the wall.
What went wrong: The Astros didn’t manage a hit against Mets starter R.A. Dickey until Justin Ruggiano’s pinch-hit in the sixth inning. Among those going 0-for-3: J.B. Shuck, Travis Buck, J.D. Martinez, Jimmy Paredes and Jason Castro. When Dickey changes speeds like that, he’s tough to hit.
Wandy Rodriguez battled command problems all game, throwing 80 pitches in 3 2/3 innings. He allowed six hits, four runs and walked five batters and said after the game he understands he needs to pitch deeper into games. Rodriguez hasn’t had a good spring, but he did the same thing last year and was pretty good in the regular season.
Sergio Escalona, in only his second appearance of the spring because of an elbow hyper-extension, gave up four hits and four runs (three earned) in one-third of an inning.
The Astros also committed three errors: a fielding error by Paredes at third, a missed catch by Carlos Lee at first on a throw from Paredes that was a little wide and a fielding error by Moore. Ruggiano and Snyder collided in right-center field chasing a ball, but Snyder hauled it in.
What they said: “His concern comes from he wants to be out there throwing to work on things. When his pitch count gets so high early the game, those are stressful innings and I don’t want to kill him out there.” — Astros manager Brad Mills on pulling starter Wandy Rodriguez in the fourth after 80 pitches.
What’s next: Bud Norris starts when the Astros return home to face the Washington Nationals at 12:05 p.m. CT on Friday. Norris gave up five hits, five runs and four walks in his previous outing Saturday against the Yankees. Shortstop Jed Lowrie, who fouled a ball off his foot Tuesday and hasn’t played since, is scheduled to make his return to the lineup.
Injury update: Center fielder Jordan Schafer (left hand sprain) is day-to-day, but won’t play until Saturday at the earliest. … Shortstop Jed Lowrie, who fouled a ball off his foot Tuesday and hasn’t played since, is scheduled to make his return to the lineup Saturday.
Here are a few pictures from Digital Domain Park:
We’re two weeks away from the Astros having to set their 25-man roster in advance of the April 6 season opener against the Rockies at Minute Maid Park. The club still has 47 players in Major League camp following the trade of catcher Humberto Quintero and outfielder Jason Bourgeois, so there is still plenty up in the air.
Some things have come into focus, however, such as the catching situation. A lot could happen in two weeks — injuries and trades included — but let’s take a look at what the 25-man roster might look like on Opening Day. Remember, this is based on my observations.
Position player starters are listed in bold:
Catchers (2) – Jason Castro, Chris Snyder.
- Analysis: This one is pretty much set in stone with Quintero out the door. Unless there’s an injury, these are the catchers.
Infield (6) — Carlos Lee (1B), Jose Altuve (2B), Jed Lowrie (SS), Chris Johnson (3B), Matt Downs, Brett Wallace.
- Analysis: There’s little question about Lee, Altuve and Lowrie starting at this point, but third base isn’t as clear cut. Johnson has had a better spring than Jimmy Paredes, who was slowed by a wrist injury, and appears to be the front-runner. Paredes skipped over Triple-A last year, so it wouldn’t set his career back to start the season at Oklahoma City. Downs should be a lock based on his track record and versatility, but the final spot in the infield is a tough one. Wallace has had a pretty good spring, but has he distinguished himself from Brian Bixler or Joe Thurston? He’s certainly not as versatile, but I think he brings more to the plate offensively. I don’t see Rule 5 pick Marwin Gonzalez sticking. He’s been terrific on defense, but he’s 3-for-25 at the plate. Angel Sanchez has played well once he got healthy, but is it enough?
Outfield (5) – J.D. Martinez (LF), Jordan Schafer (CF), Brian Bogusevic (RF), J.B. Shuck, Travis Buck.
- Analysis: Despite Bogusevic’s recent struggles at the plate, he still appears to be the favorite to start in right field on Opening Day. There wasn’t much doubt Schafer would start in center, and the trade of Jason Bourgeois cemented that. Schafer, though, is battling a sprained hand injury, but he should be ready to play next week. The race for the two backup outfield spots really opened up following the departure of Bourgeois. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with Shuck’s all-around performance and give him a nod. Jack Cust (0-for-24 in Grapefruit League games) still has time to play his way onto the team, but he’s been limited to mostly DH duties because of a balky elbow. None of this bodes well for him. Travis Buck, another left-handed bat, has scorched the ball when healthy. Fernando Martinez has struck out way too much and has an option left, so he could be sent to Oklahoma City. I’m not sure the Astros are prepared to carry four left-handed-hitting outfielders, though. Keep on eye on Bixler, who can play infield and outfield.
Starting rotation (5) — Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris, J.A. Happ, Livan Hernandez, Kyle Weiland.
- Analysis: Rodriguez, Norris and Happ are locks for the rotation, and I think it’s safe to say Hernandez will be added to the 40-man and make the rotation. That leaves three guys for the final spot — Weiland, Zach Duke, Jordan Lyles. Weiland has pitched better than Lyles, who’s only 21 and could benefit from more time in Triple-A. I have Duke winning a spot in the rotation as the long man who has the ability to start, so I’m giving the final rotation spot to Weiland.
Bullpen (7) — Brett Myers, Wilton Lopez, David Carpenter, Fernando Rodriguez, Brandon Lyon, Fernando Abad, Zach Duke.
- Analysis: It’s safe to say Myers, Lopez (if healthy), Carpenter and Rodriguez are locks to make the team, leaving three spots. I’ve got Lyon making the team because of his experience, and I’m giving a nod to Duke to be the swing man on the pitching staff. The final spot, for me, comes down to the lefties — Abad, Sergio Escalona and Wesley Wright. Escalona has had only one appearance because of a hyper-extended elbow so he’s behind the others. Abad has quietly had a nice spring and could get a nod over Wright. As far as Rule 5 pick Rhiner Cruz is concerned, he hasn’t shown enough to make the team, and I have Henry Sosa starting the season in Triple-A, along with Lucas Harrell.
The Astros have traded catcher Humberto Quintero and center fielder Jason Bourgeois to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Minor League lefthander Kevin Chapman and a player to be named later.
Both players hugged teammates and said their goodbyes as they left the facility following Tuesday’s game. Bourgeois was scheduled to start Tuesday against the Cardinals but was scratched just before first pitch. Quintero was supposed to play in the second half of the game, but he wound up not playing.
“It was a great opportunity to get my first full season in and now somebody wants me,” Bourgeois said. “I’ll always have place in my heart for Houston. I grew up there, so I think that says a lot.”
The 24-year-old Chapman, who was selected by KC in the fourth round of the 2010 June Draft out of the University of Florida, was one of the top strikeout pitchers in the Texas League while at Northwest Arkansas in 2011. In 25 relief appearances, he tallied 50 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings pitched while totaling three saves.
Chapman began the 2011 season at Class A Wilmington where he struck out 40 batters in just 22 1/3 innings in 15 appearances with seven saves. His combined stats for 2011 were a 1-4 mark with a 4.94 ERA in 40 appearances with 10 saves and 90 strikeouts in 62 innings.
“Jason and Humberto were a big part of this team last year and both will be missed,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said in a statement. “They are quality players and well-liked in Houston. This deal gives us an opportunity to add prospect depth and we are excited about both players coming our way.”
Bourgeois, a 30-year-old Houston native, appeared in 93 games last year for the Astros, hitting .294 with 16 RBIs and 31 stolen bases. He was considered one of the favorites for the backup outfielder role, but the Astros added depth in that department in the offseason by bringing in Travis Buck, Jack Cust and Fernando Martinez, among others.
“It’s bittersweet,” Bourgeois said. “You always want to have a uniform on. I’m going to another organization and I’m glad somebody wants me.”
Bourgeois is a career .262 hitter with 46 stolen bases in 192 career Major League games with the White Sox and Astros, who claimed him off waivers in 2009.
Quintero, 32, is a hard-nosed backup catcher who has been with the club since 2005, the second-longest tenure on the team outside of Wandy Rodriguez. The strong-armed Quintero has spent parts of nine seasons in the big leagues and last year started 73 games at catcher when Jason Castro was lost for the season.
“I got my house and everything in Houston and I’m going to miss everybody here,” Quintero said. “Baseball is baseball and I’m going to go someplace else I get more opportunity to play.”
With Castro missing all of last year following knee surgery and undergoing foot surgery in December, the Astros signed Chris Snyder off the free agent market to add some depth at catcher. Castro is completely healthy
Quintero was bothered by a bulging disk in his back early in the spring, but the Royals had been scouting him for days as they search for a replacement for the injured Sal Perez. Quintero is a career .234 hitter with 15 homers and 94 RBIs in 379 career games.
Astros owner Jim Crane took the team’s board of directors on a tour of the team’s facility at Osceola County Stadium on Tuesday morning. The board held a meeting Monday night in Orlando, where manager Brad Mills and general manager Jeff Luhnow gave updates on the club and went over finances.
Eight of the investors and Crane threw out the ceremonial first pitches prior to the game against the Cardinals.
The board of directors, which is made up of principal investors, will vote on major decisions, but not be involved in day-to-day operations of the club.
“We’ll try to create an atmosphere where they can participate in an owner’s suite when we get home and get some special perks,” Crane said. “They’re over major decisions, like the budget, and we’d have to get some approval from them. Other than that, [president and CEO] George [Postolos] and Jeff will make the day-to-day decisions.”
Crane said he expected the Astros’ Opening Day payroll to be around $60 million when the season begins April 6 against the Rockies.
“We’ll see what happens as the season moves on and whether Jeff makes any trades and what adjustments we might have to make throughout the season, depending on how things progress,” Crane said. “I think we’ll open [the season] where we’re at now.”
Crane has been in and out of spring camp for the past month and said he plans to take at least a couple of more visits to Florida. Earlier in the month, he traveled with the Astros to Tampa to take in a game at the Yankees’ Steinbrenner Field, and he said he’d like to tour a couple of other facilities before spring camp ends.
“We’re getting close [to the start of the season],” he said. “We’re getting excited and ready for Opening Day.”
Crane will meet with some fan focus groups this week in Houston to go over some designs for the team’s new uniforms, which are expected to debut next year when the Astros move to the American League. The Astros have to have a design submitted to Major League Baseball by May 1. He’s even sought input from some former players, like Jeff Bagwell.
“We want it to be a long term uniform that will show well and fans will like it,” he said.
Astros manager Brad Mills identified four candidates Tuesday morning who remain in the mix for the team’s final two spots in the starting pitching rotation: right-handers Kyle Weiland, Jordan Lyles and Livan Hernandez and left-hander Zach Duke. The team isn’t saying it, but Hernandez appears to be a lock, leaving Weiland, Lyles and Duke for the final spot.
Mills said right-handers Lucas Harrell and Henry Sosa are being looked at in bullpen roles.
“Because they haven’t been getting the [starts], I don’t know if you can put them in the mix right now over those other four guys,” Mills said. “If they were to show something and light our eyes they might throw themselves back into that mix, but we’re looking at spots in the bullpen as well. Or if they do something we feel would warrant them to get back into the mix, then we’ll put them right back into the mix.”
Mills expects nothing to be decided until end of camp.
“The way we’re going about it is allowing us to look at them almost to the end of camp,” he said. “There’s no doubt we’ve already seen quite a bit from those guys and we’re forming opinions as we move forward because we’ve been able to see quite a bit of them. We want it to go as long as possible so we can have as much information to make the best decision.”
— CF Jordan Schafer, who sprained his left wrist two days ago, feels better, Mills said. He’s still several days away from getting back to action.
— C Humberto Quintero will catch the second half of today’s game against the Cardinals, following Chris Snyder.
— RHP David Carpenter and Fernando Rodriguez will pitch in a Minor League game today.
— Infield Joe Thurston made his first start of the spring against the Cardinals at second base. He was also scheduled to start in the morning B game, also at second base.
Here is the Astros’ lineup for Tuesday’s 12:05 p.m. CT game against the Cardinals, which can be seen on FS Houston and heard on 790 AM.
CF Jason Bourgeois
SS Jed Lowrie
RF Brian Bogusevic
1B Carlos Lee
DH Jack Cust
3B Chris Johnson
LF Justin Ruggiano
C Chris Snyder
2B Joe Thurston
RHP Jordan Lyles
Astros center fielder Jordan Schafer, who sprained his left hand making a diving catch in Sunday’s win over the Mets, is expected to miss about a week. Schafer was still in some pain Monday.
“It’s really sore today,” Schafer said. “Like they told me, with a sprain the next day is probably going to be the worst. I’m just happy it’s not broken. I’m OK with missing a couple of days, but I just didn’t want the break and to miss a couple of months. I’m happy it’s only a sprain.”
And for good reason. Schafer has had plenty of problems with his left hand in the past. He had left wrist surgery at the end of the 2009 season, and last year broke a joint on his left middle finger. He was on the disabled list with that injury when the Astros acquired him from the Braves last July as part of the Michael Bourn deal.
Schafer is having a terrific spring and is hitting .391 (9-for-23) and will be the team’s starting center fielder. He drew a pair of walks Monday and scored two runs in his only two plate appearances as the leadoff hitter against the Mets.
Meanwhile, outfielder Justin Ruggiano didn’t travel with the team to Jupiter on Monday because of what he says was a stomach virus.
The Astros broke out the big bats, getting the first home runs of the spring from Carlos Lee and Jed Lowrie, to beat the Mets, 9-5, on Sunday and snap a three-game losing streak. Here is the boxscore.
Here is the breakdown:
What went right: The Astros pounced on Mets starter Mike Pelfrey and finished with 12 hits, including eight extra-base hits (six doubles, two home runs). The top of the batting order was especially productive, with Jordan Schafer walking twice and scoring two runs, Jed Lowrie going 2-for-3 with a homer and a double from the left side of the plate, Travis Buck going 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBIs and Carlos Lee going 2-for-3 with a double, a home run and five RBIs.
Mills continues to like Lowrie in the No. 2 spot.
“The games he’s hit second, he’s really swung the bat well and that’s nice to see,” he said.
Elsewhere, Brett Wallace was 1-for-1 with an opposite-field double, Scott Moore was 1-for-4 with a double, Jimmy Paredes was 1-for-4 with a run scored and Humberto Quintero, who had been slowed by a bulging disk in his back, made his Grapefruit League debut and went 1-for-3 while catching for five innings.
The Astros turned a pair of double plays, and Paredes stole a base.
On the mound, three relief pitchers combined for four scoreless innings. Enerio Del Rosario allowed one hit in two clean innings, and Brandon Lyon and Fernando Abad enjoyed 1-2-3 frames.
What went wrong: Starting pitcher Livan Hernandez got knocked around a little bit, allowing five hits, four runs and three walks in three innings. He said he felt he was rushing to the plate a little bit and wasn’t too worried, considering he’s got a few more starts left in Florida.
“He just really wasn’t killing himself out there and he went back out for 11 more pitches [in the fourth] and then I went and got him,” manager Brad Mills said.
Fernando Martinez went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk against his former team, and Matt Downs went 0-for-4 and committed a fielding error while playing second base.
What they said: “I feel comfortable at the plate and I feel I’m in the right position to hit. I’m seeing the ball pretty good, and I’m happy where I am at right now.” — Astros first baseman Carlos Lee on driving in five runs Sunday, including a three-run home run.
What’s next: Right-hander Kyle Weiland, who has allowed no runs and three hits in eight innings this spring, makes the start for the Astros when they travel to Jupiter, Fla., to meet the Miami Marlins at 12:05 p.m. CT. Weiland threw four hitless innings Monday against the Yankees in Tampa and is in the thick of the race for the fifth starter’s spot.
Injury update: CF Jordan Schafer left Sunday’s game in the third inning after spraining his left hand while making a diving catch. He’s listed as day-to-day after X-rays were negative. … LHP Sergio Escalona (elbow inflammation) is available to pitch and could get into a game as early as Monday, but most likely Tuesday. … OF Jack Cust (right elbow tendinitis) played three innings in the outfield in a Minor League game Sunday and threw out a runner, while going 1-for-1 with two walks. Cust has yet to play in the outfield in Grapefruit League play because of the elbow.
Here are some photos:
Rain washed out the Astros and Tigers on Sunday afternoon in Kissimmee. Astros manager Brad Mills decided about 45 minutes prior to Sunday’s game being cancelled that left-hander Wandy Rodriguez wasn’t going to start the game.
Rodriguez instead threw a simulated game indoors, throwing 60 pitches in four simulated innings. The Astros know what Rodriguez is capable of doing and wanted to keep the rotation on the same schedule of days instead of pushing Rodriguez back a day.
“I tried to throw the same as in a game and I located my pitches,” said Rodriguez, who will start Friday against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Kyle Weiland never got a chance to face the Yankees when he made seven appearances for the Red Sox last season, but he’ll get that opportunity Monday when he makes his first Grapefruit League start for the Astros.
Weiland, acquired by the Astros on Dec. 14 along with Jed Lowrie in exchange for Mark Melancon, is among a handful of players in the mix for a slot in the rotation. The chance to pitch under the lights against the Yankees in Tampa will be a good test.
“I’m excited about it,” he said. “It’s the first start of the year for me, and I’m looking forward to it. It will be a good opportunity for me to get down there and see where I’m at as far as command and how my pitches are doing going up against good hitters. I think I’m ready for it and my arm is feeling good.”
Here are some other notes from Sunday;
- Catcher Humberto Quintero (bulging disk) caught in the bullpen Sunday for the second day in a row. Quintero caught Livan Hernandez‘s side session Saturday and felt some stiffness in his back, though it got better the longer he was out there. He caught Sergio Escalona on Sunday and will swing off a tee Monday.
- Chris Snyder was scheduled to be in the lineup Sunday to catch consecutive games for the first time this spring. Jason Castro will be behind the plate on Monday. Mills said the way the catching rotation was set up, Snyder was making most of the road trips and facing all the right-handed pitchers and Castro was staying in Kissimmee and facing all the left-handed pitchers. “That’s not quite how we wanted to work things out and we had to mix it up,” Mills said. “I don’t have any problem with Castro facing lefties, but we want to mix it up.”
- Left-hander Sergio Escalona (elbow) threw his first bullpen session Sunday since being shut down for a few days and came through it fine. Escalona threw at about 90 percent effort and reported no problems with the elbow inflammation that’s kept him out of spring action.
- Infielder Angel Sanchez (back) was scheduled to see his first action of the spring Sunday before the game was rained out. He was also scheduled to be in the starting lineup at second base Monday against the Yankees in Tampa, but that was before Sunday’s game was called off.
Note: I’m heading to Houston for a few days, so Tag’s Lines will be dormant until I get back to work on Saturday. Y’all stay cool while I’m gone.
As the Astros hit the field at rainy Osceola County Stadium, here’s a Sunday morning update from manager Brad Mills:
— Catcher Humberto Quintero (bulging disk) will catch in the bullpen Sunday for the second day in a row. Quintero caught Livan Hernandez‘s side session Saturday and felt some stiffness in his back, though it got better the longer he was out there. He will catch Sergio Escalona on Sunday and swing off a tee Monday.
— Catcher Chris Snyder is in the lineup catching consecutive games for the first time. Jason Castro will be behind the plate on Monday. Mills said the way the catching rotation was set up, Snyder was making most of the road trips and facing all the right-handed pitchers and Castro was staying in Kissimmee and facing all the left-handed pitchers. “That’s not quite how we wanted to work things out and we had to mix it up,” Mills said. “I don’t have any problem with Castro facing lefties, but we want to mix it up.”
— Left-hander Sergio Escalona (elbow) will throw his first bullpen session Sunday since being shut down for a few days with elbow problems. Escalona was very effective out of the bullpen last season for the Astros, so they would like the back issue to get resolved and get a good look at him.
— Non-roster outfielder Justin Ruggiano was back in the lineup Sunday in right after missing some time with a strained oblique. It’s the same injury that’s sidelined outfielder Travis Buck, but he’s available to play Sunday.
— Infielder Angel Sanchez (back) is scheduled to see his first action of the spring Sunday and will be in the starting lineup at second base when the Astros face the Yankees on Monday night.
— Right-hander Kyle Weiland will make his first start of the spring Monday against the Yankees in Tampa. That’s the rotation spot of Bud Norris, who will instead throw four innings/60 pitches in a simulated game. The Astros know what Norris can do, but getting a chance to see Weiland face the Yankees will be a good test for him.
Astros lineup vs. Tigers:
CF Jason Bourgeois
SS Jed Lowrie
LF J.D. Martinez
1B Carlos Lee
C Chris Snyder
DH Chris Johnson
3B Jimmy Paredes
RF Justin Ruggiano
2B Jose Altuve
LHP Wandy Rodriguez