August 2012

Astros are calling up Dominguez from Triple-A

The Astros are going to call up third baseman Matt Dominguez from Triple-A Oklahoma City in time for him to be in uniform for Thursday’s series finale against the Giants.

Dominguez, acquired from the Marlins on July 4 in the Carlos Lee trade, is hitting .298 with two homers and 23 RBIs for the RedHawks. He appeared in four games for the Astros earlier this year and had two hits in eight at-bats.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said a corresponding roster move will be announced Thursday. Houston outfielder Ben Francisco was scratched from the lineup just prior to Wednesday’s game with what interim manager Tony DeFrancesco called a right wrist strain, but the extent of the injury isn’t known.

Dominguez, the Marlins’ 12th overall pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, is regarded as a standout defensive player who has had his struggles at the plate. In 78 games with Triple-A New Orleans prior to getting traded, the 23-year-old batted .234 with seven home runs and 46 RBIs in 78 games.

Astros managerial search in early stages

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Tuesday the team’s search for a permanent manager remains in the early stages. Luhnow, team president George Postolos and owner Jim Crane have a long list of candidates, and the team is trying to gain as much information as possible before starting the interview process.

Tony DeFrancesco has been managing the team on an interim basis since Brad Mills was let go Aug. 18.

“We’re continuing to assess our list of candidates,” Luhnow said. “I mentioned before that it’s a relatively long list and what we’re trying to do right now is do as much as we can prior to engaging in any conversations to trim that list down a little bit, and there are a lot of conversations going on between George and Jim and myself and us reaching out to people in the industry we know and trust. That’s the process we’re going through right now.”

The challenge for the team’s brass is finding the type of candidate that most closely matches the team’s organizational direction. Luhnow said the new manager would have to be an inspirational leader, a teacher and a strategist. And he, obviously, needs to be willing to be excited to work with young players.

“We need someone that’s going to be good at teaching, someone good at inspiring and basically working with the front office and help us achieve our goal of becoming as competitive as possible,” he said. “I don’t see a lot of separation between the front office and the manager and the field staff. All those should work together seamlessly towards the same objective.”

Luhnow said the team would like to interview potential candidates all within the same time frame, but he doesn’t know how soon interviews will start.


Bennett, four pro scouts not returning to Astros

Ricky Bennett, who served for six seasons as the Astros assistant general manager and director of player development, is among a handful in the club’s professional scouting department who learned Tuesday they won’t have their contracts renewed.

In addition to Bennett, four professional scouts won’t receive new contracts – Bryan Lambe, Jack Lind, Bob Rossi and Scipio Spinks – as the club continues to restructure its scouting staff. Their contracts run through Oct. 31.

“This is a time of year that most baseball operations departments look at the possibility of changes for next year, so we’re doing it as early as possible to give everybody as much time as possible to seek other opportunities,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “We’re looking top to bottom at the pro scouting department, and we’re going to be restructuring it, and part of the restructuring came with some personnel changes.”

Bennett had been with the Astros since 2005. He was in his second full season as director of professional scouting after previously serving as assistant general manager and director of player development. He oversaw the club’s Minor League affiliates from 2005-10.

The Astros announced Aug. 11 they were not renewing the contract of assistant general manager/scouting director Bobby Heck, who was replaced by Mike Elias.

Elias, 29, had been in the Cardinals organization since 2007 where he served as a scout before being promoted to manager of amateur scouting. Over the past several seasons, Elias has scouted domestically and internationally at both the amateur and professional levels.

Earlier this month, the Astros didn’t renew the contracts of amateur scouts Mike Brown (four corners, southern Nevada), Keith Bogan (Louisiana-Alabama-Mississippi-West Tennessee), Everett Stull (Georgia, South Carolina), John Kosciak (northeast) and Larry Pardo (south Florida and Puerto Rico), who signed No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa of Puerto Rico. Kosciak signed first-round pick George Springer last year.

Astros-Mets preview

The Astros open a three-game series against the Mets tonight in New York in what will be their final visit to Citi Field as a member of the National League.

Here are some tidbits:

— The Astros are 3-0 against the Mets and 36-86 against all other teams. In sweeping the Mets in Houston earlier this year, the Astros averaged six runs per game, hit .316 and posted a 2.33 ERA in 27 innings.

— No team in baseball currently features a roster with as many players on the right side of 30 than do the Astros. Houston 23 players who are 29 or younger, and the Indians, Royals and A’s have 21.

— While Jose Altuve is no higher than tied for 40th  in the Majors with 68 runs scored, he’s accounted for a hefty portion of his team’s total. Altuve has scored 14.7 percent of the Astros runs this year, which is third behind Andrew McCutchen (16.9), Mike Trout (16.7) and Melky Cabrera (15.6). Michael Bourn has also scored 14.7 of the Braves’ runs.
— Brett Wallace has tended to have greater success starting than extending innings. Wallace is hitting .393 with no outs, .318 with one out and .156 with two outs.

— As long as they don’t get to two strikes, current Astros Justin Maxwell and Tyler Greene have hit over .400. Maxwell is hitting .427 with less than two strikes and .092 with two strikes, a -.334 difference that’s second in the Majors. Greene is right behind him at -.312 with a .409 average with less than two strikes and .097 with two strikes.

— Jordan Lyles has tended to pitch quite effectively through the first three innings, before then hitting a wall. He has a 2.83 ERA this year in the first three innings and an 8.88 ERA innings four and beyond. Approached another way, Lyles has surrendered a .227 (45/198) average through 45 pitches, compared to .351 (80/228) thereafter, the largest increase (+.124) in MLB (minimum 100 innings pitched).


Mills reacts to Astros decision to relieve him of duties

Astros manager Brad Mills, who was informed by general manager Jeff Luhnow following Saturday’s game against the D-backs that he had lost his job, told he wasn’t completely surprised by the decision. The Astros are 39-82 and headed to their second consecutive 100-loss season.

Hitting coach Mike Barnett and first-base coach Bobby Meacham were also relieved of their duties.

“You know when you’re having a rough season and everybody always brings it up, nobody lets you forget it,” Mills said. “The only thing I really have to say is I feel horrendous for Mike Barnett and Bobby Meacham. They’re a couple of coaches that have done a great job, they know what they’re doing, they’ve worked hard and prepared the players and done everything they could. I just feel terrible for them and feel some responsibility there.

“I love the players, I love the effort they gave every day. They’ve been great to me and how they’ve gone about everything and I love our fans. The fans we have here in Houston are the best and they’ve been great to me as well and I appreciate them an awful lot and I wish the best for the players and the fans as we move forward.”

Mills was asked if he felt he had a fair chance to show what he can do as a manager considering all the veteran players the club traded the last three seasons — a list that includes Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Carlos Lee, Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez.

“Every day we tried to get the players the best they possibly could, and that was the goal every time out,” he said. “We wanted to get them better, we wanted them to play well. Sometimes it just didn’t work out and if I’m going to sit here and point fingers, that’s not right. There’s some responsibility on my part as well.”

Mills thoughts were immediately about spending time with his family, including his son, Beau, who’s in the Reds system.

“We’re going to move forward with some things and see what happens,” he said. “The biggest thing is I’d like to go see my son play. For years, I’ve never really gotten an opportunity to watch him play and I want to see my daughter in law and see my granddaughter and watch him play a little bit and go from there.”

Elias hits the ground running for the Astros

Mike Elias, named by the Astros as their new director of scouting on Saturday, was at San Diego’s Petco Park on Sunday to watch some of the top high school players compete in the Perfect Game All-American Classic.

Elias, 29, will oversee amateur scouting and the Draft. He joined the Astros in January as a special assistant to the general manager/scouting. Prior to joining Houston, Elias had been in the Cardinals organization since 2007 where he served as a scout before being promoted to manager of amateur scouting.

“It’s an exciting time, and it’s certainly an exciting challenge going forward, sort of continuing the progress we’ve got going,” Elias said. “There’s a lot of positive signs and we’re sort of hoping to add to that and continue to make progress via the Draft. It’s been a busy couple of days here and it’s been hectic. You hear from a lot of friends and people throughout the industry. It’s a big challenge, but I’m ready.”

The Astros had the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s First-Year Player Draft and will likely have it again for the second year in a row in 2013. Elias understands the importance of being able to take advantage of every Draft, especially when you’re rebuilding.

“When you pick as high as we did [this] year and it looks like we’ll be doing it again next year, the stakes are even higher,” he said. “Fortunately, we’ve been preparing for this. Our scouts and our department have done a great job preparing for next year’s Draft. We spent the whole summer scouring college summer leagues, high school showcases and basically getting our ducks in a row for the next spring time when the gun goes off and you have four or five months to line up the Draft board.”

Elias said next year’s Draft will have pockets of talent, with lots of good high school pitching, especially left-handers, and some good college arms and catching depth.

“It’s probably comparable in talent overall as [this] year’s Draft,” Elias said.

Heck ‘disappointed’ contract not renewed

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow made a significant change to his baseball operations staff Saturday by naming Mike Elias as scouting director to replace Bobby Heck, whose contract won’t be renewed.

Elias, who joined the Astros in January as a special assistant to the general manager/scouting, will oversee amateur scouting and the First-Year Player Draft. Heck, whose contract expires this fall, has been with the Astros for nearly five years.

“Bobby has been a key part of the front office for the past five years and has been instrumental in helping build the pipeline for the future,” Luhnow said in a statement. “His legacy here includes several high-ceiling players like [Delino] DeShields, [George] Springer, [Mike] Foltynewicz, and [Vincent] Velasquez – all top prospects in our system.”

Heck joined the Astros after the 2007 season and oversaw the Astros’ last five Drafts, during which Houston drafted catcher Jason Castro, pitcher Jordan Lyles, up-and-coming prospects DeShields Jr. and Springer, as well as No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa this year.

“I’m disappointed,” Heck said. “Obviously, I’ve invested the last five years of my life into it and arguably the hardest five years of my baseball life trying to get this back on track, and time will show that we put a major dent in that, not only myself but the staff we were able to put together here.

“I also know that in change of ownership, change of front office, change of leadership, it’s always a business as well. I’m very appreciative of the opportunity I was given here with the Astros and I’m just disappointed I’m going to have to watch the success we have added to the pipeline from afar.”

Heck took over a Minor League system that was in poor shape after some subpar Drafts, but he helped get it back to respectability during his tenure.

“I think looking back at the five years, you could say ‘mission accomplished,’” Heck said. “There are some things we would do differently, but the production from the five Drafts has started to show itself in Houston and also in the Minor Leagues, and a lot of those players will play here a long time and make this a contending club once again.”

Elias, 29, had been in the Cardinals organization since 2007 where he served as a scout before being promoted to manager of amateur scouting. Over the past several seasons, Elias has scouted domestically and internationally at both the amateur and professional levels.

“Mike has a keen eye for talent and a unique ability to blend scouting opinions with other valuable information like the players’ makeup, performance history or medical risk,” Luhnow said. “I’ve worked with Mike for many years now and believe his leadership and evaluation skills will help us maximize the output of our drafts for years to come.”

Astros Minor Leaugers on the move

With George Springer heading to Double-A Corpus Christi and Delino DeShields Jr. on his way to high Class A Lancaster, the Astros have begun to shuffle some prospects for the final few weeks of the Minor League season. Here’s who’s on the move:

LHP Kenny Long from Tri-City to Lancaster

OF Andrew Aplin from Tri-City to Lancaster

2B Delino DeShields Jr. from Lexington to Lancaster

OF Enrique Hernandez from Lancaster to Corpus Christi

SS Jose Martinez from Corpus Christi to Oklahoma City

SS Chan Moon from Lancaster to Lexington

SS Yoel Silfa from Dominican Summer League to Gulf Coast League

C Jobduan Morales from Tri-City to Lexington

Cristian Moronta from Lexington to Tri-City

RF Emilio King from Lexington to Tri-City

IF Matt Downs from Astros to Oklahoma City

OF J.D. Martinez from Astros to Oklahoma City


Martinez, Downs optioned to Triple-A

The Astros optioned left fielder J.D. Martinez, who leads the team with 54 RBIs, and infielder Matt Downs to Triple-A Oklahoma City following Thursday’s loss to the Nationals. Both had options remaining and will likely be back up at some point in September when rosters expand.

Earlier in the day, the Astros acquired infielder Tyler Greene from the Cardinals in exchange for a player to be named later or cash and will have him in uniform for Friday’s series-opener against the Brewers. The club will make another roster move to add a player prior to the game.

“I’m not going to look at it in a negative way,” Martinez said. “I’m not going to go down there and try to be bitter. I’m going to use it as a growing experience.”

Martinez admitted he’s lost some confidence.

“I felt like I started off good and went through kind of a struggle and hit a plateau and never got hot again,” he said. “The confidence was always there. It was never boosted back up again.”

Martinez is barely a year removed from making his Major League debut, which came last August after Hunter Pence was traded to the Phillies. He was called up from Double-A Corpus Christi, so he will be making his first appearance on a Triple-A roster when he joins the RedHawks.

He went 0-for-4 with a strikeout on Thursday, dropping his batting average to .235 with 11 homers. Martinez, who leads the team with 87 strikeouts, had been hitting just .218 since April 22, including a 6-for-54 stretch April 22-May 13.

“He’s in a situation where he’s going through a little funk and because he has that option left, it’s better if he got out of that funk the next couple of weeks in the Triple-A level instead of trying to work out of it here,” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “That’s exactly what I told him, ‘You’re going to fight through this funk.’”

Martinez was disappointed in the move, but was focusing on positives.

“It’s obviously tough,” he said. “You never look forward to that, you never expect it. You have to take it positive and go down there and try to get my swing [right], the same swing that got me here, and I’m just going to keep moving forward and keep working hard to come back.”

Martinez simply hadn’t been squaring up balls like he did last season when he burst onto the scene and hit .274 with six homers and 35 RBIs in 53 games in his Major League debut. He had 28 RBIs last August, which were the most for any Astros rookie in any month.

“You talk to hitters and how hitters get hot is hit the ball on the barrel, and when you hit the ball on the barrel you get that feel again,” Martinez said. “I think that’s the biggest thing I feel that I lost a bit. It’s never easy up here in the first place with the guys pitching and having the stuff they have and you’re battling. It’s a little bit tougher to find that barrel, but it’s the big leagues and that’s why guys get paid a lot of money to play up here. It’s not that easy.”

Downs, meanwhile, was hitting .209 with seven homers and 13 RBIs in 154 at-bats, many of which had come off the bench. He was hitting .311 (14-for-45) in his last 21 games, but hadn’t been able to gain the consistency he had last year when he was arguably the best pinch-hitter in baseball.

When he wasn’t starting, Downs found himself in the unenviable position of pinch-hitting late in games, often against the other team’s closer.

“Here’s a guy that’s prepared so well for his role and done such a good job in facing some of the best pitchers he faces every night,” Mills said. “In the last three innings is usually when he gets his at-bats, and that’s tough. That’s not an easy assignment. Last year, he was exceptional at it and this year he hasn’t been quite as exceptional. But he’s been professional about it how he prepares.”

Astros hoping to play games in Mexico City

Astros manager Jeff Luhnow, who was born and raised in Mexico City, returned Wednesday from a weeklong trip to his native country, where he met with U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Earl Anthony Wayne, to discuss strengthening the flow of information and players between Mexico and the Astros.

Among the items discusses was the possibility of the Astros playing a Spring Training game in Mexico City, which the club did in 2004, with hopes of eventually having a regular-season series in Mexico City or Monterrey or both. Luhnow said there have been preliminary discussions about it with Major League Baseball, but a Spring Training game in Mexico couldn’t be played in 2013 because of the World Baseball Classic.

“We have to work through a lot of issues,” Luhnow said. “That would be a good outcome and it would increase fan interest in baseball abroad and the Astros specifically.”

Luhnow said he and Wayne discussed ways for the Astros to get more involved in the Mexican community, and he said he the team’s winter caravan could once again make a trip to Mexico like it had done in the past. Luhnow said baseball in Mexico is an untapped resource.

“There’s a lot of talent that chooses to stay in Mexico instead of signing with U.S. clubs for various reasons,” Luhnow said. “Major League Baseball has set up a taskforce to try and figure out how to address Mexico in light of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and I’ve been assigned to this task force… The idea would to figure how we could increase the flow the players from Mexico to the United States.”