March 2012

Game 1: Castro’s return, Johnson’s homer thrill Astros

The Astros began Grapefruit League action on Saturday afternoon at warm and windy Osceola County Stadium by beating the Washington Nationals, 3-1, behind strong efforts from seven different pitchers and a two-run homer by Chris Johnson.

Here’s the breakdown:

What went right: You have to start with health. Catcher Jason Castro made his return from a pair of injuries, including a torn ACL that cost him all of last season, and caught three innings and threw out a runner trying to steal. More importantly, Castro says he felt fine. That’s great news for the Astros. Brandon Lyon pitched in a game for the first time since June 13 and threw a scoreless inning.

Astros pitchers didn’t walk any batters, which is a rare feat in a Spring Training game in which you had seven pitchers take the mound. Livan Hernandez and Kyle Weiland threw two scoreless innings, and Brett Myers, Fernando Abad, Brandon Lyon, Wesley Wright and Wilton Lopez each threw a scoreless inning.

Hernandez is relishing the chance to mentor the Astros young staff.

Myers gave up the only run of the game for the Astros, but he appeared to have struck Jesus Flores out on an 0-2 pitch before Flores hit an RBI double. Myers and the Astros were a poor call away from a possible shutout.

At the plate, Chris Johnson gave the Astros all the offense they needed with a two-run homer. It’s a great start for Johnson, who is trying to win the Opening Day third base job. With Jimmy Paredes nursing a sore wrist, Johnson is taking advantage of his opportunity early.

Elsewhere, J.B. Shuck had a hit and – surprise! – a walk, and Jose Altuve, Jed Lowrie (triple) and Jason Bourgeois had hits. The Astros didn’t commit an error.

What went wrong: Well, nothing really. When you don’t walk any batters, don’t make any errors, win the game and escape healthy, it’s a good day.

What they said: “We always talk about going up there and having good at-bats and making good contact. When it went over the fence, that was a plus. It’s definitely a good start, but it’s only one at-bat. I have to keep going.” – third baseman Chris Johnson on his two-run, fourth-inning homer of Washington’s Ross Detwiler.

What’s next: Left-hander J.A. Happ makes his first start of the Grapefruit League season when the Astros travel to Viera, Fla., to play the Nationals on Sunday at 12:05 p.m. CT (the game will be broadcast on MLB.TV). Among the players expected to be in the lineup for the first time for Houston are Chris Snyder, Brian Bogusevic and J.D. Martinez.

Injury update: Carlos Lee (mild right hamstring strain) is expected to be in the lineup Monday. … Catcher Humberto Quintero (right leg) is day-to-day. … Third baseman Jimmy Paredes (left wrist) has been cleared to swing a bat from the left side of the plate. … Infielder Angel Sanchez (back) is making steady progress but isn’t game ready.

Here are the photos:

Livan Hernandez catches up with some old teammates.

Bench coach Joe Pettini skies some pop ups during morning drills.

Chris Johnson and Jason Michaels catch up.

Carlos Lee and Chris Johnson talk at the cage.

Jose Altuve prepares to take a cut.

Jason Castro makes contact.

Brandon Barnes signs autographs.

Lee, Quintero both sidelined to start Grapefruit League play

First baseman Carlos Lee, who was originally in the lineup for Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Nationals, said the mild right hamstring strain that caused him to be scratched isn’t serious and that he’s aiming to be in the lineup Monday against the Braves

“It’s something that happened in the offseason when I was running and I never felt it pull or nothing,” he said. “I was running one afternoon and the next day I woke up and it was kind of sore. I was treating it in Panama, too, and I feel a lot better. I ran yesterday and have been doing some exercises, and it’s feeling pretty good. I didn’t want to push it today. I’ll run some more today and tomorrow and I’m shooting for Monday.”

Astros manager Brad Mills isn’t too worried

“We knew it was like that when he came into camp and we’ve tried to hold off as much as we could as far as testing him, to see if he could play,” he said. “Yesterday, the day before we started playing, we ran him through some pretty good tests and after running through those tests we felt it would be best to give him two more days off. We’ll see how it is after tomorrow and see where he’s at for Monday.”

Meanwhile, catcher Humberto Quintero’s back is acting up again and will keep him out of game action for a couple of days. Quintero was scheduled play Saturday after starter Jason Castro left the game, but Carlos Corporan will get that time instead.

“We’ll probably hold him out of today and tomorrow as well and hopefully we’re able to get him behind the plate on Monday and Tuesday,” Mills said. “We were hoping to get him into the game today after Castro. We’ll hold off on that.”

Mills said third baseman Jimmy Paredes (left wrist) has been cleared to start swinging a bat from the right side of the plate. Infielder Angel Sanchez keeps progressing from his back injury and might begin swinging off a tee on Saturday.

Here is Saturday’s lineup against the Nats:

LF J.B. Shuck

2B Jose Altuve

RF Travis Buck

DH Jack Cust

3B Chris Johnson

SS Jed Lowrie

1B Brett Wallace

CF Jason Bourgeois

C Jason Castro

SP Livan Hernandez

Mills sporting a black eye and a new watch

The Astros worked out on the stadium field at the Osceola County Stadium complex for the first time Friday morning in anticipation of Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Washington Nationals.

Before the players began to stretch, manager Brad Mills addressed the team and lauded non-roster outfielder Brandon Barnes for presenting him earlier in the morning with a Transformers watch. Mills’ watch was shattered and he suffered a black eye Wednesday when a ball came through the netting behind the cage and struck him.

“That’s pretty good for a young kid to do that,” Mills said. “I told the guys if we screw up on the time today, it’s Brandon’s fault, because of the Transformers watch.”

Here’s the latest on the Astros:

  • LHP Sergio Escalona, who injured his throwing elbow swinging a bat last week, will be shut down for a few days, Mills said. Escalona had an MRI on Thursday, which showed no structural damage.
  • Mills announced the next two starters in his rotation following Livan Hernandez (Saturday), J.A. Happ (Sunday) and Jordan Lyles (Monday).  Wandy Rodriguez will start Tuesday against the Mets, and Bud Norris will start Wednesday against the Phillies in Clearwater.
  • Among the relievers scheduled to pitch behind Hernandez on Saturday are Brett Myers and Brandon Lyon, who will be pitching in a game for the first time since May. Myers will throw one inning in his debut as Astros closer (he won’t pitch the ninth, however).
  • The batting order has yet to be announced, but Mills revealed his starters for Saturday’s game against the Nats: Chris Johnson (third base), Jed Lowrie (shortstop), Jose Altuve (second base), Carlos Lee (first base), J.B. Shuck (left field), Jason Bourgeois (center field), Travis Buck (right field), Castro (catcher) and Jack Cust (DH).
  • Third baseman Jimmy Paredes, who’s nursing a sore left wrist, took batting practice left-handed Thursday, but is still not cleared to swing right from the right side of the plate.
  • Castro, who missed all of last year following knee surgery and then had foot surgery in December, will catch only three innings Saturday. Mills said he’d like Castro to catch three more innings Monday and then perhaps four on Wednesday, depending on how he feels.

Players gather to stretch on the stadium field for the first time

Mills in favor of extra playoff team

Add Astros manager Brad Mills to the list of people that like the idea of baseball perhaps adding another team to the playoffs.

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are working toward a Thursday deadline to expand the playoffs by adding two additional Wild Card teams overall, creating a one-game first-round playoff in each league, beginning with the 2012 postseason.

“It’s going to be good for the all the fans,” said Mills, who spent six years as bench coach of the Red Sox before coming to Houston. “Even though you’re adding one more spot, you’re creating a lot of interest for more teams in both leagues.  I’m definitely in favor of that. If I’m not mistaken, it’s going to be a one-game playoff, and those are always fun.”

By the way, the Astros would have made the playoffs in 1995 had the two Wild Card teams in each league been in effect.

Astros left-handed relief pitcher Sergio Escalona, who injured his elbow swinging a bat early in camp, was examined by team doctors Thursday and was scheduled to undergo an MRI, manager Brad Mills said.

Escalona’s elbow didn’t respond as well as the Astros would like following his live batting practice session Wednesday.

“Escalona’s arm, after he threw yesterday, just wasn’t where he feels it needs to be and really our doctors and staff feels it needs to be,” Mills said. “We’re going to get him some more tests on that to see where he’s at, so he’s probably not going to throw for a while with that.”

Here is the day in pictures:

Brett Wallace follows through.

J.D. Martinez takes a break to laugh during BP.

Bud Norris fires a pitch during live BP.

Jed Lowrie, Travis Buck and bullpen catcher Javier Bracamonte.

Fernando Rodriguez warms up in the bullpen.

 

 

Escalona to undergo an MRI

Astros left-handed relief pitcher Sergio Escalona, who injured his elbow swinging a bat early in camp, will be examined by doctors today and is scheduled to undergo an MRI, manager Brad Mills said. Escalona’s elbow didn’t respond well following his live batting practice session Wednesday.

Mills also provided health updates Thursday morning on pitcher Wandy Rodriguez (back) and infielder Angel Sanchez (back).

“Escalona’s arm, after he threw yesterday, just wasn’t where he feels it needs to be and really our doctors and staff feels it needs to be,” he said. “We’re going to get him some more tests on that to see where he’s at, so he’s probably not going to throw for a while with that. Wandy’s feeling better. Sanchez is feeling better. He’s still got some issues and we’re trying to bring him along slow with his back.”

Mills also said third baseman Jimmy Paredes has been cleared to take batting practice from the left side of the plate. He’s been dealing with wrist inflammation since January.

“We’re going to have to monitor him real close,” Mills said. “He’s still a ways away.”

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