June 2012

Astros-Giants preview

Coming off their first road series win of the season, the Astros open a three-game series against the Giants tonight at AT&T Park.

Here is the Astros’ lineup:

2B Jose Altuve

RF Brian Bixler

SS Jed Lowrie

LF J.D. Martinez

CF Justin Maxwell

3B Chris Johnson

1B Matt Downs

C Jason Castro

RHP Bud Norris

Here are the pitching match-ups:

TuesdayRHP Bud Norris (5-3, 4.65) vs. LHP Madison Bumgarner (7-4, 3.26)

WednesdayLHP J.A. Happ (4-6, 4.54) vs. RHP Matt Cain (7-2, 2.41)

ThursdayLHP Wandy Rodriguez (5-4, 3.27) vs. LHP Barry Zito (5-3, 3.24)

  • It won’t be a surprise if runs are hard to come by for both teams in the series. This season, the Giants’ home park has been as pitcher friendly as it ever has. AT&T Park is averaging only 5.94 runs per game this year, which is the second-fewest this year behind PNC Park (5.63).
  • The Giants’ lack of home run production at home this season has been extraordinary. It’s comparable to a few Astros’ seasons in the cavernous Astrodome. San Francisco has hit only six home runs in its first 32 home games. That’s tied for the fourth fewest since 1961 in that many games. The Padres hit three homers through 32 home games in 1981, and the Astros hit four through 32 home games in 1971 and again in 1984.
  • Giants previous low through both 32 and 33 home games is eight home runs in 1980. Their current16-game streak at home without a homer is the longest streak by a team since the 1990 Astros went 16 straight games with zero homers at the Astrodome.
  • The Astros have played like a contending team at Minute Maid Park, but are still in the process of bringing that same degree of success on the road with them. Houston’s 8-20 record on the road is easily the worst in the Majors among teams with winning home records. The next worst is the Mets, who are 13-17 on the road.
  • The Astros are nearly automatic in one-run games at home, not so on the road. They are 7-1 in one-run games at home and 2-9 in one-run games on the road.
  • The Astros have won four of their last seven games after losing each of their previous eight contests. Houston has just eight wins in 28 road games this season.
  • Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie, who leads the Astros with 12 home runs this season, has homered in three of his last four games. Lowrie’s 12 homers are the most among all ML shortstops this season.
  • Lowrie’s 12 home runs are the most homers by an Astros middle infielder through 60 games in team history. Craig Biggio had 11 homers through 60 games in 1993.
  • Dating to last season, Astros pitcher Bud Norris has been consistently inconsistent away from home, while Giants Madison Bumgarner has owned the opposition at his home yard.Norris is 2-3 with a 6.45 ERA in his last 10 road starts, and Bumgarner is 9-1 with a 1.56 ERA in his last 10 home starts.
  • The Astros certainly don’t have the offense to blame for their recent struggles in the win column. Houston has been one of the top five hitting teams in the majors over the past few weeks. The Astros are averaging 5.54 runs per game since May 28, which ranks fourth in the Majors.
  • The Giants’ Melky Cabrera has 87 hits through 61 games, which is the second-most in that span in Giants history since 1958. Willie Mays had 92 hits through 61 games in 1958.
  • The Giants, who have split their last six games overall, have won five of their last seven home games against the Astros.
  • Madison Bumgarner is 4-1 with a 2.50 ERA in five home starts this season and is 1-1 with a 4.85 ERA in two career starts against Houston.
  • Houston has lost each of Bud Norris’ last three starts after winning eight of his first nine starts of the season. Norris has 76 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings this season.The Giants have failed to hit a home run in each of their last 16 home games – matching the longest any Major League team has gone without a homer at home since the 1990 Astros.

Astros-Sox preview

The Astros try to get back on track this weekend when they make the first of four trips to Chicago, but this is the only trip to the south side to face the White Sox. Here are the pitching matchups:

FridayLHP Wandy Rodriguez (4-4, 3.14) vs. RHP Gavin Floyd (4-5, 5.32)
Saturday RHP Jordan Lyles (1-1, 4.97) vs. LHP Chris Sale (7-2, 2.29)
SundayRHP Lucas Harrell (5-4, 4.70) vs. RHP Philip Humber (2-3, 5.68)

Here are some tidbits:

  • The White Sox are 15-4 since May 17, which is the best record in the Major Leagues in that span.
  • By contrast, the Astros are 2-10 since May 26, which is the worst record in the Major Leagues in that span.
  • Despite its recent problems, Houston is hitting the ball much better so far in June than it did in the first couple months of the season. The Astros are hitting .296 in June, which leads the Majors. They hit .250 in April/May.
  • Astros second baseman Jose Altuve is batting .432 (16-for-37) since May 30. His 16 hits during this stretch are tied for the most in the Majors with Ryan Theriot of the Giants.
  • Nine of Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie’s 10 home runs this season have come on a two-strike count.That’s the most in the Majors.
  • The White Sox have more than doubled their opponents’ run production in the first inning, outscoring foes 45-17.
  • Gavin Floyd has pitched well in Interleague Play over his career. He has a 2.43 ERA and a 1.95 opponents’ batting average against when playing NL clubs.
  • But Floyd has struggled of late after getting off to a good start to 2012. He cannot blame lack of run support for his struggles, however. He was 3-3 with a 2.53 ERA in his first seven starts, but is 1-2 with a 11.90 ERA in his past four starts.
  • Like Floyd, Wandy Rodriguez started the season strongly, but is coming off back-to-back poor starts in which he has struggled with allowing the longball. Rodriguez was 4-4 with a 2.14 ERA and four homers allowed in his first 10 starts, but in his last two starts he’s 0-0 with a 9.90 ERA and six homers allowed in 10 innings.
  • Rodriguez uses his curveball 30 percent of the time, which through June 6 was the highest percentage of curveballs in the Majors (30.7 percent). The next highest is A.J. Burnett at 28.3 percent.

Astros’ lineup Thursday vs. Cards

The Astros, who have lost seven consecutive rubber games of a series, will try to snap that streak tonight against the Cardinals at Minute Maid Park.

Here is Houston’s lineup:

CF Jordan Schafer

2B Jose Altuve

SS Jed Lowrie

LF J.D. Martinez

1B Brett Wallace

3B Chris Johnson

RF Brian Bogusevic

C Chris Snyder

P J.A. Happ

 

Luhnow, others receive championship rings

Former Cardinals front-office employees Mike Elias, Sig Mejdal and Jeff Luhnow receive their 2011 World Series championship rings on Wednesday.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, director of decision sciences Sig Mejdal and special assistant to the GM/scouting Mike Elias each received their 2011 St. Louis Cardinals World Series rings prior to Wednesday’s game at Minute Maid Park.

Astros bench coach Joe Pettini, who was former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa’s right-hand man for 10 years, received his in the clubhouse a few moments earlier.

The rings were presented by Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. and general manager John Mozielak in Luhnow’s booth. For Luhnow, it’s 10th ring in either the Minors or the Majors while with the Cardinals.

“We work hard in this industry, we work long hours and the reward is when you get win a championship,” said Luhnow, who was hired from the Cardinals in December and quickly brought Mejdal and Elias to Houston. “The celebration and being able to get hardware like this is why we do this, why we’re in this industry. I was glad to be a part of it, and I can’t wait until we do the same thing here in Houston. That’s my ultimate goal.”

DeWitt, who hired Luhnow into the industry in 2003, was pleased to be able to present his former employees with the hardware.

“We’re really pleased to be herd and these guys did such a great job for us,” Dewitt said. “We’re happy to come up here and personally present it. It’s a great honor for us to come do it, and they deserve it.”

Dewitt expects Luhnow to be successful in Houston.

“He’s had a great start with the Draft,” Dewitt said. “We’re all very impressed with that. We hated to lose all of them, but that will speak well for Houston over the years. I’m sure [the Astros] will have a good team before long.”

Elias worked under Luhnow from 2007-11 and as area scout and later as manager of amateur scouting with crosschecking responsibilities. Mejdal worked with the Cardinals from 2005-11, most recently as director of amateur draft analytics.

“It’s a great reminder of the five years with the Cardinals and everything we exprerineced there,” Elias said. “They gave me my first opportunity in baseball – Jeff, Sig, Mo and Mr. DeWitt – and this is probably the best keepsake you could have from something like that. There’s a lot of pride in wearing it.”

Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr, GM John Mozielak present Astros GM Jeff Luhnow with his 2011 World Series championship ring.

Astros GM Jeff Luhnow shows off his 2011 World Series championship ring.

Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr, GM John Mozielak present Astros director of decision sciences Sig Mejdal with his 2011 World Series championship ring.

Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr, GM John Mozielak presented Astros assistant to the GM/scouting Mike Elias with his 2011 World Series championship ring.

Astros, Correa have verbal agreement

Astros owner Jim Crane said Wednesday the club has reached a verbal agreement on a contract with Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa, who was taken by the club with the No. 1 overall pick in Monday’s First-Year Player Draft.

“We have a verbal agreement so hopefully he’ll be in here tomorrow and pass his physical on time,” Crane said.

Correa, 17, and his family are scheduled to arrive in Houston on Wednesday night and will be in Houston on Thursday morning for the player to take a physical. If all goes well, he’ll sign the contract and take batting practice prior to the game against the Cardinals at Minute Maid Park.

“We’ve approved the amount and we hope he signs the agreement when he passes his physical tomorrow,” Crane said.

The owner wouldn’t divulge the bonus amount, but he hinted it will be less than Major League Baseball’s prescribed bonus of $7.2 million for the No. 1 overall pick. If so, that will allow the Astros to pay more to other draft picks, such as pitcher Lance McCullers Jr.

“We did it in such a way it allows us to pick up some other players we really wanted and be able to stretch a little here and there,” Crane said. “The Draft, from my perspective, went really well and the guys got some really good players and continue to stock the farm system.”

Correa, 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, became the highest-drafted Puerto Rican high school player in Major League history by going No. 1 overall to Houston.

Once signed, Correa would report to extended Spring Training at the club’s complex in Kissimmee, Fla. – the same place where Correa blew the Astros away in a May 27 workout – before beginning his career with the Gulf Coast League Astros at the same site.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Tuesday he expected to sign all of the Astros’ top 11 picks in the first 10 rounds, including McCullers, a pitcher from Tampa, Fla. Houston can spend a combined $11,177,700 million  on its first 11 picks without getting penalized.

The Astros on Wednesday announced they had signed third-round Draft pick Brady Rodgers, a right-handed pitcher from Arizona State. He went to high school at Lamar Consolidated, which is nearby Houston.

 

Astros-Cards lineups for Wednesday

Here are the lineup for Wednesday’s game between the Astrso and Cardinals:

ASTROS

2B Jose Altuve

SS Jed Lowrie

RF Fernando Martinez

LF J.D. Martinez

3B Chris Johnson

1B Brett Wallace

CF Justin Maxwell

C Jason Castro

P Bud Norris

CARDINALS

SS Rafael Furcal

2B Daniel Descalso

RF Carlos Beltran

LF Allen Craig

3B David Freese

C Yadier Molina

1B Matt Adams

CF Adron Chambers

P Adam Wainwright

Astros’ First-Year Player Draft: Rounds 2-15

With the 61st overall pick, the first in the second round of the First-Year Player Draft, the Astros selected Nolan Fontana, a shortstop from the University of Florida.

Fontana, a junior, has been the everyday shortstop for Florida since he was a freshman. He is considered one of the draft’s safer bets because of his defense and hitting ability.

He is 5-11 and weighs 190 pounds. He bats left-handed and throws right-handed.

The 61st pick has a slot value of $844,100.

The Astros continue to raid the state of Florida in the draft. They took Carlos Correa, committed to the University of Miami, with the first pick, and grabbed Lance McCullers, committed to Florida, with the 41st overall pick.

With the 96th pick, the Astros selected Brady Rodgers, a right-handed pitcher from Arizona State University. A junior, Rodgers is originally from Richmond, Texas, which is in the Houston metropolitan area.

Rodgers doesn’t throw hard but uses his three secondary pitches — a slider, a changeup and a curve — very well. He throws all of them for strikes and could be a guy who moves quickly through the system.

The 96th pick has a slot value of $495,200.

With the 129th pick, the Astros went with Rio Ruiz, a third baseman from Covina, Calif., and Bishop Amat High School.

Ruiz, who bats left-handed and throws right-handed and is committed to USC, missed most of his senior season after doctors discovered a blood clot in his clavicle. He projects as a run-producing third baseman in the Majors. He is represented by Scott Boras.

The 129th pick has a slot value of $360,200.

With pick 159, the Astros took Andrew Aplin, a center fielder from Arizona State. He is more known for his defensive prowess than his bat.

He had a .313 batting average with six homers and 30 RBIs for the Sun Devils this season. He started all 56 games, making just one error in 145 chances.

In the sixth round, the Astros picked Brett Phillips, a center fielder from Seminole, Fla. They took Fontana’s teammate, left fielder Preston Tucker, in the seventh round. Tyler Heineman, a catcher from UCLA, was picked by the Astros in the eighth round. Daniel Minor, a right-handed pitcher from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi went to the Astros in the ninth round.

Check back here for updates on who the Astros select with their picks on Tuesday.

Astros have big day with Correa, McCullers

Jeff Luhnow admitted Monday it takes a few years to fully judge how well or how poorly an organization did in the First-Year Player Draft, but the Astros certainly appear to have put themselves in great position by taking Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa and Tampa high school pitcher Lance McCullers with their top two picks.

While almost everyone had Stanford pitcher Mark Appel going to the Astros at No. 1, Houston went with the 17-year-old Correa, who wowed the Astros and Luhnow with his ability during a workout in Kissimmee, Fla., on May 27. He’s committed to the University of Miami, but Luhnow left no doubt they would be able to sign him.

“I suspect Miami will not see him, unless he’s visiting some friends,” he said.

Check out what colleague Richard Justice had to say about Correa.

McCullers, a University of Florida commit, is a hard thrower who put up gaudy numbers in high school. Considered one of the best arms in the Draft, McCullers slipped out of the first round what were deemed to signability issues, which Luhnow downplayed.

“I believe that we will sign Lance McCullers and he will be a Houston Astro,” said Luhnow, who added that McCullers would immediately become one of their best pitching prospects.

McCullers was 13-0 with a 0.18 ERA with 140 strikeouts and only 30 walks and 28 hits in 77 1/3 innings of work in high school this year. He also hit .280 with 27 runs scored and 21 RBIs.

The Astros are on the clock and will open the Draft at 11 a.m. CT on Tuesday with the 61st overall pick, but Day 1 couldn’t have gone much better.

Correa thrilled to join Astros

Here’s what Astros first-round pick Carlos Correa had to say about being selected by Houston:

“It means a lot to me. It’s history, man,” said Correa. “I’m the first Puerto Rican to be selected with the first pick. I just feel happy. I’m only 17 years old, but I’ve just worked hard and my father was always there with me, helping me out and throwing with me every day. …All the sacrifices pay off.”

Correa on the Astros’ interest:

“They tell me that they had me in their mix, but I was like, ‘Hey there are college players and I’m only 17 years old.’ But when they picked me, I was so happy. I was really excited.”

Correa on playing at Puerto Rican Academy:

“My development down there was great. They worked hard with me on all the little things that I was missing. We made it. We’re here right now.”

Correa on his routine in Puerto Rico:

“Every day when I was at school, I was waking up at 5 o clock in the morning to go to school, and then I arrived home at 6 p.m. after doing some work at the school and taking classes. Then I’d go back home and my father works with me. He throws me BP, he hit me some ground balls.”

Correa on his goals:

“I just want to be a big-leaguer and be a Hall-of-Famer. the energy comes from that [ambition], working hard to be the best that you can. That’s what I’ve been doing all season long. Working hard, never backing down. And now we’re here and I’m the first pick. I’m so excited.”

Correa on possibly moving to third:

“There are some people saying that I will be a third baseman. I think I have the ability and I will work hard. I want to be at shortstop in the big leagues and i want to be one of the best.”

Correa on his emotions:

“I’m just excited right now. Being the first pick is just awesome. I feel good because all the hard work pays off. That’s what I’ve been doing all season long [and] all three years that I’ve been in high school. I’ve worked hard to be here.”

 

Minor League Players of Month for May

The Astros player development has named the following Players of the Month for May: Oklahoma City: LHP Xavier Cedeno, IF Mike Hessman, OF Brad Snyder; Corpus Christi: RHP Ross Seaton, IF Jonathan Singleton, IF Andrew Simunic; Lancaster: RHP Tyson Perez, OF George Springer, IF Jonathan Meyer; Lexington: LHP Luis Cruz, IF Matt Duffy, C Roberto Pena. These awards are chosen every month by the field staff of each team.

Triple A Oklahoma City

LHP Xavier Cedeno, Pitcher of the Month: 1-0, 0.63 ERA (1ER/14.1IP), 14 SO, .184 (9×49) opponents avg. in 11 appearances in May

IF Mike Hessman, Offensive Player of the Month: .338 (24×71), 16 R, 3 2B, 8 HR, 17 RBI, 12 BB in 23 games in May

OF Brad Snyder, Defensive Player of the Month: 36 games in the OF, 1.000 FP (0E/59TC)

Notes: Xavier Cedeno has compiled a 2-0 record to go along with a 0.42 ERA (1ER/21.1IP) and 20 strikeouts in 17 overall appearances this season at Oklahoma City…had his contract purchased by Houston on May 29 to take the roster spot of the DL’d LHP Fernando Abad…has held Triple A lefties to a .029 (1×34) batting average this year…Mike Hessman was named the PCL Player of the Week after going 9×17 (.529 average) with five homers and three doubles over five games during the week of May 14-20…Brad Snyder has not committed an error in 59 total chances and 36 games in the outfield…has played 22 games in right field this season.

Double A Corpus Christi

RHP Ross Seaton, Pitcher of the Month: 3-1, 2.70 ERA (11ER/36.2IP), 16 SO in 6 starts in May

IF Jonathan Singleton, Offensive Player of the Month: .281 (27×96), 20 R, 3 2B, 7 HR, 24 RBI, .400 OBP in 27 games in May

IF Andrew Simunic, Defensive Player of the Month: 45 games, 37 at 3B, .979 FP (3E/142TC), 96 assists this season

Notes: Ross Seaton posted a 3-1 record with a 2.70 ERA during six starts in May…had quality starts in each of his final five outings in the month…Jonathan Singleton, who was acquired by the Astros organization as part of the Hunter Pence deal, blasted seven homers to go along with 24 RBI and a .400 on-base percentage during the month of May…he was named the Texas League Player of the Week after his 12-hit (12×24), four-home run week over six games from May 21-27…the lefty has hit at a .358 (44×123) clip with nine home runs against right-handed pitching this year…Andrew Simunic has put up a .979 fielding percentage in 45 games this season…in 37 games at 3B has committed just three errors.

Class A Advanced Lancaster

RHP Tyson Perez, Pitcher of the Month: 3-1, 3.90 ERA (14ER/32.1IP), 20 SO, 5 BB, 1CG in 5 starts in May

OF George Springer, Offensive Player of the Month: .324 (36×111), 26 R, 3 2B, 3 3B, 8 HR, 21 RBI, 7 SB, .382 OBP in 26 games in May

IF Jonathan Meyer, Defensive Player of the Month: 50 games at 3B, .957 FP (7E/164TC), 107 assists this season

Notes: Tyson Perez has started five games this season, all in May, and has posted a 3-1 record with a 3.90 ERA (14ER/32.1IP)…was named the California League Pitcher of the Week for May 14-20 after hurling a one-run, two-hit complete game at Inland Empire…athe17th-round pick in 2011 won his first three starts of the season with Lancaster…George Springer scored 26 times, collected 14 extra-base hits and swiped seven bags with Lancaster during the month of May…last year’s 11th overall pick was named the California League Player of the Week during his 12×23 (.522 average), five home run tear in seven games during the week of May 7-13…Jonathan Meyer has been named a Defensive Player of the Month in the Astros system for the sixth time in his four-year career and the second time this season…has posted a .957 fielding percentage in 50 games as Lancaster’s everyday third baseman.

Class A Lexington

LHP Luis Cruz, Pitcher of the Month: 4-0, 1.85 ERA (8ER/39IP), 33 SO, 10 BB .235 opponents avg. (35×149) in 6 starts in May

IF Matt Duffy, Offensive Player of the Month: .343 (37×108), 18 R, 11 2B, 4 HR, 14 RBI, 11 BB in 28 games in May

C Roberto Pena, Defensive Player of the Month: 32 games at C, .990 FP (3E/312TC)

Notes: Luis Cruz went undefeated (4-0) in six May starts, posting a 1.85 ERA…has posted quality starts in six of his eight total starts…Cruz currently ranks T-2nd in the South Atlantic League with 63.1 innings pitched…Matt Duffy hit safely in 21 of his 28 games in May…has hit at a .316 (66×209) clip with eight homers this year…Roberto Pena has committed just three errors in his 32 games at catcher this season.

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