April 2012

Norris ties to stop the Astros’ 3-game skid

The Astros will try to snap a three-game losing streak in the middle game of a three-game against the Marlins at 6:10 p.m. CT Saturday at Marlins Ballpark. Bud Norris will start against the Astros’ former NL Central nemesis Carlos Zambrano, who is 16-8 with a 2.72 ERA in 34 games (32 starts) against the Astros.

While Norris and Zambrano have only faced each other once in their careers, 1B Carlos Lee has seen Zambrano 75 times in his career and is hitting .358 (24-for-67) against the right-hander with five home runs and a .427 on-base percentage.

Here are some other tidbits:

  • Astros starters have posted a 3.57 ERA in the first seven games this season, recording four quality starts. Their starters rank seventh in the NL in ERA, while the staff as a whole ranks sixth (3.38 ERA).
  • The Astros have outscored their opponents 32-30 this season. The team’s .258 batting average is third in the Majors, while their .328 on-base percentage ranks fourth.
  • J.D. Martinez (.385) is the only Astros player to hit safely in all seven games this season (tied for the longest streak in the Majors). Chris Johnson (.346) has hit safely in his last six games, and Jordan Schafer has reached base safely via hit or walk in all seven games this season (.406 OBP).

Some photos from Friday at Marlins Park

Here are some photos from around Marlins Park on Friday:

The outside of Marlins Park.

Follow the black, teal and orange road.

Check out the fish tank behind home plate. I hope this is strong glass.

Wesley Wright points something out to J.A. Happ.

Brad Mills talks to the media in the dugout.

Hey guys, the camera is over here!

Marlins Park scoreboard. I like how balls, strikes and outs are in green.

Game time at Marlins Park.

 

 

Lowrie makes season debut in new Marlins Park

Greetings from Marlins Park, where the Astros and Marlins will play the second regular season game in the new ballpark tonight at 6:10 CT. Astros right-hander Lucas Harrell will be on the mound for the first of a three-game series. Shortstop Jed Lowrie will make his debut for the Astros, batting second (lineup at bottom):

Here are some pre-series tidbits for Astros and Marlins:

  • The Astros have won just two of their last 11 games against the Marlins, and just two of the last 16 games in Miami. In that 16-game stretch, the Astros have averaged 3.6 runs per game and have posted a 6.67 ERA against the Marlins, who have averaged 6.8 runs per game and posted a 3.08 ERA. Also, the Astros have been out-homered 18-10 and given up 67 walks, compared to just 40 for the Marlins.
  • The Astros are 3-3 to begin the 2012 season, including a perfect 3-0 when committing fewer errors than their opponents. The Astros have come out ahead in eight of their last 12 games with fewer errors than their opponents.
  • Carlos Lee began to get his offense back on track in late August of last season, and has continued that success in the first six games of 2012. Since Aug. 20 of last year, he’s hitting .340 with a .425 on-base percentage and .571 slugging percentage and averaging a homer every 19.5 at-bat (42 games).
  • J.D. Martinez is the fourth-youngest No. 3-hole hitter in the Majors at 24 years, 236 days. The only older No. 3 hitters are the Cubs’ Starlin Castro (22-20), the Royals’ Eric Hosmer (22-172) and the D-backs’ Justin Upton (24-232).
  • Astros starting pitcher Lucas Harrell is 2-1 with a 1.65 ERA in night games in his career, which includes three starts in 13 games. In day games, he’s 0-1 with an 8.82 ERA in three starts in five games.
  • Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco is closing in on a few franchise records. He’s second in games started at 149, trailing only Dontrelle Willis (162), second in wins (Willis, 68), second in innings pitched at 930 1/3 (Willis, 1022 2/3) and is already first in strikeouts with 791.

Here is the Astros’ lineup:

CF Jordan Schafer

SS Jed Lowrie

LF J.D. Martinez

1B Carlos Lee

RF Brian Bogusevic

3B Chris Johnson

C Jason Castro

2B Jose Altuve

RHP Lucas Harrell

Lineups for Astros-Braves

Here are the lineups for Wednesday’s series finale between the Astros and Braves:

ASTROS

CF Jordan Schafer

2B Jose Altuve

LF J.D. Martinez

1B Carlos Lee

RF Travis Buck

3B Chris Johnson

C Jason Castro

SS Marwin Gonzalez

LHP Wandy Rodriguez

BRAVES

CF Michael Bourn

LF Martin Prado

1B Freddie Freeman

3B Chipper Jones

2B Dan Uggla

RF Jason Heyward

C David Ross

SS Jack Wilson

RHP Randall Delgado

Astros’ 50th coverage

The Astros’ three-game winning streak came to an end in a 6-4 loss to the Braves on Tuesday night in a game played on the 50th anniversary of the first game in franchise history. If you missed any of the coverage at MLB.com of the Astros’ 50th and the Walk of Fame induction ceremony, I’ve compiled the links in one handy spot:

Story: Fifty years after the first game in franchise history, original Colt .45s are honored by the Astros.

Story: MLB.com columnist Marty Noble takes a look at unique histories of 50-year-old Mets and Astros.

Story: A look back at the first game in franchise history, an 11-2 win over the Cubs on April 10, 1962.

Photo gallery: Astros Walk of Fame and 50th anniversary ceremony.

Video: Bob Aspromonte gives a nice speech for his Walk of Fame induction speech.

Video: Here’s another piece of the Walk of Fame ceremony.

Video: Former Colt .45s talk about the ceremony.

Alyson Footer’s blog: Stars come out to celebrate Colt .45s.

Astros, Happ battle Braves

The Astros try to keep their momentum going Monday at Minute Maid Park when they face the Braves, marking the return of former Astros All-Star and Gold Glove outfielder Michael Bourn. The Astros are 2-1 and will give the ball to J.A. Happ, who’s making his first start of the season. Right-hander Brandon Beachy will start for the Braves.

Happ is 2-0 in six career starts against Atlanta. His 1.72 ERA in these appearances is one of the lowest by a starting pitcher versus the Braves in the last 60-plus years. Only Greg Mathews (1.21) and Paul Maholm (1.58) have lower ERA as starters against the Braves since 1950 (minimum six starts).

Before we get to the lineups, here are some pregame tidbits:

  • The Astros and Braves are two of the youngest teams in the Majors. The Astros are 27 years, 334 days old, and the Braves are 28 years, 103 days old. The only team younger than the Astros is the Royals, who are 27 years, 159 days old.
  • Carlos Lee is a career .363 hitter when he puts the first pitch of an at-bat into play, and only a handful of active players have had more first-pitch hits than Lee since his debut season of 1999: Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Todd Helton,  Lance Berkman.
  • The Braves have gone 10-2 (.883) against the Astros in the last two seasons. That’s the best winning percentage by any team against the Astros in that span (minimum four games).
  • Atlanta pitchers have posted a 2.70 ERA against Houston since the start of the 2010 season.
  • Astros starting pitchers have a 0.89 ERA through three games with three quality starts. Last year, Astros starters posted a 7.80 ERA through the team’s first three games with one quality start.
  • Brandon Beachy, who starts Monday for the Braves, held opponents to a .220 batting average on the road last season. That was the fourth-best road average against in the NL last year.

Here are Monday’s lineups:

ASTROS

CF Jordan Schafer

2B Jose Altuve

LF Travis Buck

1B Carlos Lee

RF Brian Bogusevic

3B Chris Johnson

C Jason Castro

SS Marwin Gonzalez

LHP J.A. Happ

BRAVES

CF Michael Bourn

LF Martin Prado

C Brian McCann

2B Dan Uggla

1B Freddie Freeman

RF Matt Diaz

3B Juan Francisco

SS Tyler Pastornicky

RHP Brandon Beachy

Astros claim OF Maxwell

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow announced Sunday the club has claimed outfielder Justin Maxwell off waivers from the New York Yankees. Maxwell will report to the Astros on Monday, at which time the team will make a corresponding move.

Maxwell will give the Astros a right-handed option off the bench in the outfield, something they’ve been without since trading Jason Bourgeois. The Astros currently have four outfielders on their roster, though infielders Brian Bixler and Matt Downs can play the outfield.

Maxwell, 28, spent his entire 2011 season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the Yankees system, hitting .260 with 16 home runs and 31 RBIs. He appeared in 27 games for the Yankees this spring, hitting .310 with 11 RBIs before being designated for assignment on Wednesday. Maxwell has appeared in 122 Major League games in his career, all coming with Washington (2007, 2009-10). He’s played all three outfield positions in his Major League career, including 57 games in center field.

With the acquisition of Maxwell, the Astros 40-man roster now stands at 39.

Astros try for series win vs. Rockies

With Bud Norris making his 2012 debut, the Astros will try to win the series against the Rockies in Sunday’s series finale at 1:05 p.m. at Minute Maid Park. If the Astros win and improve to 2-1, they will be over .500 for the first time since they were 51-50 on July 29, 2009. A win Sunday would give the Astros their first opening series win since taking two of three from the Marlins at Minute Maid Park in 2006. Hey, you have to start somewhere.

Astros starting pitchers haven’t allowed an earned run through two games this year (13 1/3 innings). Lucas Harrell, who threw seven scoreless innings Saturday, became the first Astros pitcher to pitch at least seven innings without allowing a run or a walk in his season debut since Bob Knepper — a fellow lefty — in 1986.

Here is the lineup, which is the same as Opening Day 1-8:

CF Jordan Schafer

2B Jose Altuve

LF J.D. Martinez

1B Carlos Lee

RF Brian Bogusevic

3B Chris Johnson

C Jason Castro

SS Marwin Gonzalez

P Bud Norris

Astros post-game notes for Saturday

ASTROS NOTES:
• For the 2nd straight game, the Astros connected for 2 home runs in tonight’s contest…the club hit 2+ home runs in consecutive games just twice last season, most recently on 8/22-23 at COL.
• RHP Lucas Harrell tossed 7.0 innings tonight, a career high, without allowing a run or a walk…Harrell’s victory was his 1st since his Major League debut with the White Sox on 7/30/10 vs. OAK…Harrell now has 3 career starts in an Astros uniform, in which he’s gone 1-0 with a 1.76 ERA (3ER/15.1IP).
• Astros starting pitchers have not allowed an earned run thru the club’s 1st 2 games of the season…Wandy Rodriguez went 6.1 innings last night, allowing 3 unearned runs, while Harrell tossed 7.0 shutout tonight.
• The Astros had a couple players record their 1st Major League hits tonight, both coming off Rockies starter Jamie Moyer…SS Marwin Gonzalez picked up his on a double in the 5th inning in what was his 5th career plate appearance…P Lucas Harrell followed Gonzalez with a bunt single, marking his 1st MLB hit…that was Harrell’s 4th career MLB plate appearance.
• RHP Rhiner Cruz also had a 1st tonight, making his Major League debut in the 9th inning…Cruz fanned the only hitter he faced (Cuddyer) to end the game.
• CF Jordan Schafer led off the bottom of the 1st inning with his 1st home run of the season…this marked Schafer’s 1st career leadoff home run and the 1st by an Astro since Jose Altuve hit a leadoff homer on 8/20/11 vs. SF (Bumgarner).
• LF J.D. Martinez connected for a 2-run home run in the 4th inning tonight, extending the Astros lead to 3-0…Martinez doubled in yesterday’s contest, giving him 2 extra-base hits and 3 RBI in 2 games.

A case of the opening night jitters?

Astros catcher Jason Castro understandably wanted to look at the bright side, saying it was pretty remarkable the Astros were in position to win Friday night’s season-opener in the ninth inning despite making a whopping four errors. He has a point, but it was surprising to see the Astros play so poorly on defense after playing so well on defense during Spring Training, where fields are not always in the best of condition.

Third baseman Chris Johnson made a fielding error in the second and pitcher Wandy Rodriguez was charged with an error in the third when he fielded a Dexter Fowler bunt and threw to first base — where Jose Altuve was a step late getting to the bag. That allowed three unearned runs to score. Altuve committed a fielding error in the fourth allowing pitcher Jeremy Guthrie to reach.

The fourth and most costly error came in the eighth when Castro — seeing pinch-runner Eric Young Jr. was caught between second and third — fired to second base to try to get the out, only to watch the ball skip off the glove of Marwin Gonzalez and into center field to allow Young to score the winning run.

“In that kind of situation, you pretty much have to make a decision right away,” Castro said. “He turned to go back to second and I had to make a throw. He took a hard step and turned around. I think with him being as fast as he is, he probably would have been safe regardless. It was one of those plays that was tough. In that situation, I had to make a decision pretty much in the blink of an eye. He’s that quick. I tried to get him at second and unfortunately we didn’t get him there.”

With Young scoring without a hit after stealing second base as a pinch-runner, it was a reminder how dangerous speed can be. The Astros had two similar players last year who could fly in Michael Bourn and Jason Bourgeois and both have been traded, so don’t expect the Astros to win games with speed.

They’ll have to win games with pitching and defense. The pitching was plenty good Friday with Rodriguez allowing no earned runs in 6 1/3 innings and Fernando Rodriguez throwing 1 2/3 innings with allowing an earned run, but when you pitch and don’t field, you’re doomed.

“We’ve got to avoid those mistakes, but it’s only one game,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to learn from it quick and fix it tomorrow and get back after it.”

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