February 2013

Peacock impresses Porter in live batting practice

Astros pitchers have one more day of live batting practice Wednesday before they’ll appear in Grapefruit League games, beginning with Saturday’s opener against the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla.

Astros manager Bo Porter singled out right-hander Brad Peacock, acquired in a trade with Oakland earlier this month, as throwing the ball well.

“It was down in the zone,” he said. “Those guys [the group that pitched Tuesday] had their last live day, so they mixed in their breaking stuff and his breaking ball was good, change-up was good and his fastball was explosive with late life. It was good to see.”

Porter said Tuesday the club will use a pitching machine that throws nothing but curveballs in Thursday’s intrasquad game.

“As you take batting practice and even through live [BP], these guys haven’t taken too many swings off of breaking balls,” Porter said. “It’s one of those things that when you get to a game setting and you have the backdrop and the space and the field and all the cages and stuff like that removed, it’s always a good drill.”

The Astros will hold a draft Wednesday morning to pick teams for the intrasquad game, which will be held inside Osceola County Stadium and last about five or six innings. The teams will be called Team Everett and Team Ensberg, with Minor League instructors Morgan Ensberg and Adam Everett serving as coaches.

Here is the day in pictures:

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Bo Porter and Roger Clemens.

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Bo Porter demonstrates a cut-off throw.

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Matt Dominguez prepares to catch a ball.

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Tyler Greene is all smiles after “‘Stros Win!”

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Rudy Owens hands out high fives.

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Hitting coach John Mallee talks to his guys.

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Carlos Pena mixes in an energy bar.

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Justin Maxwell adjusts his socks.

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Carlos Pena and bench coach Eduardo Perez talk.

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Bud Norris throws live batting practice.

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Roger Clemens and Doug Brocail talk to Brett Oberholtzer.

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Dave Clark stands over a group of players changing shoes.

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Jason Castro prepares to take his cuts.

Clemens set to throw live batting practice

As the Astros hit the field for the fourth day of full-squad workouts, Roger Clemens held court with the media once again and covered a wide range of topics, from his work with the Astros to his family to boots. Yes, boots.

Clemens showed up wearing jeans and a pair of Columbia blue cowboys boots he got in a goody bag for participating in the 1986 All-Star Game in the Astrodome. Clemens was the game’s Most Valuable Player by throwing three perfect innings. He said the boots, which paid homage to the Luv Ya Blue Houston Oilers, have been resoled three times.

“I’ve hung onto them,” Clemens said. “They’re comfortable, and the rodeo is going so I have to break them out.”

0219-pre 003One of the more interesting things Clemens said was some pitchers who have yet to sign have reached out to him and asked him about preparing without the benefit of Spring Training. Clemens, of course, joined the Astros in midseason in 2006 and did it again with the Yankees in 2007. Clemens wouldn’t name which players have contact him, though he laughed when the name of former teammate Roy Oswalt was brought up.

“Some of the guys that are laying out for a month or two and trying to make a comeback, it’s difficult,” he said. “They don’t realize it’s difficult until they tried. I had to do three times the work behind the scenes. Thank goodness I had a mound at my house and the work I had to go. I wasn’t at home just sitting around once I gave my word I’d come back and play for you. Some people are calling me now that are trying to do it and they see how hard it is.”

Clemens did say he might throw batting practice to the hitters on Wednesday, his final day in camp of this trip.”

“I enjoy throwing what I call ‘room service’ to them,” he said.

In other news this morning

  • Astros manager Bo Porter said he expects to ask to use the designed hitter when visiting National League parks during Grapefruit League play for about half the exhibition schedule. The Astros will use the DH at home for every game at Osceola County Stadium and will have to have pitchers later in places like Clearwater, Fla. (Phillies), Viera, Fla. (Nationals) and Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Braves) later in camp.

Here are some morning pictures:

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Bo Porter is animated as always.

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Bo Porter and former Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco.

John Ely and Brett Obertholtzer play catch.

Bullpen assistant Javier Bracamonte hard at work as always.

Doug Brocail works with the pitchers.

Doug Brocail works with the pitchers.

John Ely plays catch with Brett Oberholtzer.

John Ely plays catch with Brett Oberholtzer.

Young arms impressing early in camp

The second group of Astros pitchers threw live batting practice Monday, meaning that all pitchers other than the injured Hector Ambriz have now thrown to hitters. Astros manager Bo Porter got a good look Monday at Josh Fields, Paul Clemens, Wesley Wright and Chia-Jen Lo, among others.

“I like the way Fields threw the ball today,” he said. “I like the way Clemens threw the ball, and Wright, obviously, has been extremely impressive. Jordan Lyles threw the ball outstanding today. I think overall the good things I see from the pitchers is they’re all throwing strikes, which is huge. Especially early on in the spring, you have all these distractions — the cages, nets. To be able to bear down and throw strikes in that situation, I’ve been impressed with their command.”

Fields, the hard-thrower who was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft, pounded the ball down in the strike zone during his live batting practice session.

“It was down in the zone, it was firm,” Porter said. “He threw a really good change-up and had good arm action. This guy had a pretty good season last year. He’s a Rule 5 pick, but at the same time he’s always been a top prospect with a good arm. We’re looking forward to getting him out there.”

The Astros will have two more days of live batting practice before Thursday’s intrasquad, which will be a battle of Team (Adam) Everett against Team (Morgan) Ensberg.

Here is the day in pictures:

Justin Maxwell is caught in a rundown as Matt Dominguez catches the ball.

Justin Maxwell is caught in a rundown as Matt Dominguez catches the ball.

Third-base Dave Trembley hits grounders.

Third-base coach Dave Trembley hits grounders.

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Bud Norris races to cover first base.

Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter at the cage.

Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter at the cage.

Carlos Corporan talks to Doug Brocail.

Carlos Corporan talks to Doug Brocail.

Carlon Pena stretches.

Carlon Pena stretches.

Jordan Lyles fires off the mound.

Jordan Lyles fires off the mound.

Justin Maxwell gives tips to Chris Carter.

Justin Maxwell gives tips to Chris Carter.

Paul Clemens talks with Roger Clemens

Paul Clemens talks with Roger Clemens

Clemens statement on passing of Mindy McCready

Roger Clemens met with the media Monday morning in Kissimmee and handed out a typed statement about the passing of country music singer Mindy McCready, who was a former friend of Clemens.

According to reports, McCready was found dead Sunday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The statement read:

“Yes, this is sad news.

“I had heard over time that she was trying to get peace and direction in her life.

“The few times that I had met her and her manager/agent they were extremely nice.”

Astros hitters face live pitching as Clemens arrives

The big news at Astros camp was the arrival of seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, who will be a frequent visitor to camp this year. The Astros have invited him back to help tutor their young pitchers, and he rolled up his sleeves and went to work on Sunday by watching pitchers throw live batting practice and offering advice to several young arms.

“Obviously, when someone like Roger is talking, you’re a sponge,” pitcher John Ely said.

Also, Astros owner Jim Crane had the thrill of a lifetime when he got the chance to play golf with both President Obama and Tiger Woods. Crane spoke to MLB.com about his great day.

Meanwhile, Sunday marked the first day hitters faced live pitching, and most of the hitters used the time to simply track pitches — watch them thrown into the catcher’s mitt — more than trying to hit, though there were a few who took some hacks on a cold day.

“I took a swing and squared up a line drive up the middle,” Carlos Pena said. “At this stage, you want to make sure you’re ready to hit, and you try to track the pitches and follow them into the glove. But you want to make sure you’re in good position to hit, and then if that’s what you want, go ahead and take a swing.”

The chilly temperatures at camp Sunday were a good primer for those April road games in Seattle, manager Bo Porter said. The skipper said the first day of live batting practice was more for the pitchers than anything else.

“It’s was good for the pitchers to get out of the bullpen and get a hitter in the batter’s box and get closer and closer to starting games here,” Porter said. “If you’re seeing the ball live and seeing ball come out of the pitcher hand – the weather was why some guys decided to track – but at the same time I think it was overall good.”

Here is the day in pictures:

Roger Clemens signs autographs.

A long line of fans waits for a Roger Clemens autograph.

Jason Castro and Roger Clemens talks.

Jason Castro and Roger Clemens talk.

Roger Clemens signs autographs.

Roger Clemens signs autographs.

Marwin Gonzalez gets ready to hit.

Marwin Gonzalez gets ready to hit.

Carlos Pena and Roger Clemens hug.

Carlos Pena and Roger Clemens hug.

Doug Brocail and Roger Clemens.

Doug Brocail and Roger Clemens.

Jeff Luhnow and Roger Clemens.

Jeff Luhnow and Roger Clemens.

Brad Peacock warms up in bullpen.

Brad Peacock warms up in bullpen.

Bud Norris plays catch.

Bud Norris plays catch.

Roger Clemens meets with the media Sunday.

Roger Clemens meets with the media Sunday.

Clemens back at work with the Astros

Roger Clemens meets with the media Sunday.

Roger Clemens meets with the media Sunday.

Roger Clemens was back on the fields at Osceola County Stadium on a chilly morning, wearing and orange and blue batting practice cap, a new blue Astros jacket and a pair of blue jeans that had the team’s daily schedule tucked in the back of the waist.

“Our colors have changed and the expectations have changed a little bit,” Clemens said.

Sunday marked Clemens’ first day on the field as a special instructor for the Astros. He’ll spend about four days in Kissimmee this week, and be back and forth between Florida and Houston two more times this spring. It was all result of owner Jim Crane wanting the seven-time Cy Young Award winner to get more involved while he has a personal services contract.

Clemens joined the coaches’ meetings on Sunday morning and then hit the field after speaking with reporters for about 10 minutes. He plans to shadow manager Bo Porter, trying to learn as much as he can about the Astros’ promising young pitchers, which he admits will be harder considering there are no names on the backs of the jerseys.

“It was fun to listen in on the coaches meeting,” he said. “A lot of great coaches are here to help these young kids kind of find their way, take the next step. Hopefully that’s the case.”

Clemens said his message to the players will be simple.

“Right now, you want to get great quality work in, not really quantity,” he said. “I’ve always felt the ability to focus better than the next person is what’s going to help them the most, and have those expectations they can win even though everybody thinks they can’t.

“Some of the excitement will wear off here after a week and games will get underway, and then  it’s trying to establish yourself. From what I understand from all the other pitching coaches floating around here is there’s plenty of jobs to be had on the staff, so that’s exciting. I’ve seen most of these guys.

“I know there’s not names on the backs on their jerseys, and that makes it a little more difficult. I’ve seen most of them and have thrown batting practice to some of the everyday players that are here now and doing the same things I’ve always done. I visit with the guys by phone or text and watch them, and that’s what it’s all about.”

When the season starts, Clemens will stay involved. He’s a season-ticket holder so he’ll be around the ballpark often, and the Astros will lean on him heavily when debating which player to take with the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s First-Year Player Draft.

“I’ve seen film on guys they’re interested in and it’s always better to be able to eyeball them in person,” he said. “My deal is, I love rooting for the underdog. I’ve always been that way. I won 200 games with my stuff and my ability and [the rest] with my heart and getting it done. I’m excited. I’m a season-ticket holder, so I’m excited just like anybody else is for these guys to get out there.”

Porter has made a great first impression on Clemens.

“Bo has a lot of energy,” he said. “I like his detail. He pays attention to detail, and I like him talking about the running game a lot. For me, as a pitcher, I can just tell them… I don’t know our personnel and the guys that can run, but I imagine we have some guys who can run and get it done.”

Clemens was asked about the recent Hall of Fame vote, saying he wasn’t concerned with not getting elected on his first time on the ballot this year. He said his stint with the Sugar Land Skeeters last fall was simply about getting to play with his son, Koby, and not about making a comeback as so many had speculated.

Still, Clemens said he might get on the mound this spring and throw live batting practice, which would help him stay in shape and perhaps help the batters.

“I really enjoy doing it,” he said. “I try and throw quality BP and it’s fun for the guys. They seem to enjoy it. I can tell when a guy steps in the plate, I can tell him what I see and how I’m going to go about breaking him down as a hitter.”

First day of full workout goes well for Astros

Astros hitters will get their first look at live pitching during workouts Sunday, when the pitchers will throw to batters with a screen in front of the mound. There will be four days of live batting practice before the manager Bo Porter will hold an intra-squad game on Thursday.

“I just want the pitchers to make it through safe,” Porter said. “That’s more pitching practice than live batting practice. Whenever you incorporate screens and the backstops, that’s always been tough on the position players. It’s more about the pitchers than anything else. It does all those guys good to see a live arm and pick up the velocity on the baseball.”

The team will meet with the Major League Baseball Players’ Association on Friday and hold a like workout in advance of Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla. Porter said the real evaluating of the players won’t begin for a while.

“Right now I’m honing on guys’ workouts,” he said. “When you get to the beginning stages of Spring Training and you don’t have the competition aspect of another team, you want to watch guys and see how they work. You watch them from a fundamental standpoint and see if anyone needs extra, extra, extra work as far as a particular fundamental.”

Porter stressed fundamentals to his club again Saturday, saying that in the American League teams don’t usually bunt until they’re behind late in the game. He said it’s vital teams field those bunts successfully to get outs to increase their chances of winning.

“You increase your chances of winning the game when you execute these plays properly,” he said. “It puts an emphasis on it, and the players actually understand the significance.”

  • In case you missed it, Astros owner Jim Crane told MLB.com he was looking forward to playing golf with President Barack Obama on Sunday. Obama is spending the weekend at Crane’s Floridian National Golf Club. MLB.com has the details.

Here are the pictures of the first full-squad workout:

Justin Maxwell poses for a baseball card photo.

Justin Maxwell poses for a baseball card photo.

Nate Freiman signs for fans.

Nate Freiman signs for fans.

Chris Carter poses for a baseball card photo.

Chris Carter poses for a baseball card photo.

Chris Carter and Carlos Pena talk at the cage.

Chris Carter and Carlos Pena talk at the cage.

Carlos Pena takes BP.

Carlos Pena takes BP.

Hitting coach John Mallee talks to J.D. Martinez at cage.

Hitting coach John Mallee talks to J.D. Martinez at cage.

Lucas Harrell looks for someone to high five.

Lucas Harrell looks for someone to high five.

Astros players with post-workout handshake.

Astros players with post-workout high five.

Former Astros MVP Richard Hidalgo, who lives in the area, watches the workout.

Former Astros MVP Richard Hidalgo, who lives in the area, watches the workout.

Pitcher Sam Demel throws to first base.

Pitcher Sam Demel throws to first base.

Third base coach Dave Trembley gives directions.

Third base coach Dave Trembley gives directions.

Morgan Ensbergh, infield coach for Class A Lancaster, hits grounders.

Morgan Ensberg, infield coach for Class A Lancaster, hits grounders.

Former Astros SS Adam Everett, an infield instructor, hits grounders.

Former Astros SS Adam Everett, an infield instructor, hits grounders.

Bud Norris.

Bud Norris.

Bo Porter talks to the media.

Bo Porter talks to the media.

Jim Crane talks to the media.

Jim Crane talks to the media.

Jim Crane's helicopter takes off.

Jim Crane’s helicopter takes off.

Crane arrives in Kissimmee, addresses team

Jim Crane's helicopter sits on Field 5 in Kissimmee.

Jim Crane’s helicopter sits on Field 5 in Kissimmee.

The day began when Astros owner Jim Crane arrived in a helicopter that landed on Field 5 at Osceola County Stadium a little before 8 a.m. ET, which created somewhat of a stir among some of the players. J.D. Martinez sent out a Tweet: “Mr Crane is in the building,” with a picture of the aircraft.

Saturday marked the first full-squad workout of spring, and Crane and manager Bo Porter addressed the club in an upstairs conference room prior to the workout.

“He’s special,” first baseman/designated hitter Carlos Pena said of Crane. “I had the pleasure of meeting him and having a conversation with him, and he’s definitely impressive. He’s got a great story of his own, and that’s exactly what we want to instill in this team, that everything is possible and you can grow and become better as time goes on.”

Pena, who lives nearby in Orlando, got a big bear hug from Rick Ankiel when he came in the clubhouse – a pair of veterans sharing a moment in a wide-eyed clubhouse. Pena talked about the young energy and how grateful he was to be in that atmosphere.

“It’s going to be good as far as Rick and I are concerned,” he said.

With Ankiel putting on his shoes at a nearby locker, Pena spoke loud enough to where he could be heard.

“We go way back to the point I remember standing in the batter’s box and being scared about being hit in the head,” he joked.

“That ended in a strikeout,” Ankiel woofed.

For the record, Pena never faced Ankiel in a regular-season game when Ankiel was still a pitcher.

Short work day in advance of full-squad workout

Following a day of steady rain that drenched the back fields at Osceola County Stadium, the Astros kept things light in Friday’s final workout before the full team hits the field on Saturday.

Three groups pitchers, including Erik Bedard, Philip Humber, Jordan Lyles, Dallas Keuchel, Jose Veras and Josh Fields, got their work in on the mound, but the pitchers got a break from their fundamental stations.

“We didn’t want to mess up the fields,” Astros manager Bo Porter said. “The dirt is a little bit soft. I talked to the grounds crew they strongly recommended that if we could stay off the field it would be better moving forward.”

Friday marked the official reporting date for position players, and outfielder Chris Carter — acquired in a Feb. 4 trade with Oakland — shortstop Jonathan Villar, catcher Carlos Perez and outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin were among those showing their faces for the first time.

Here’s video of Carter talking to MLB.com on Friday morning.

Porter will address the team as a whole for the first time Saturday at 9 a.m. ET, with owner Jim Crane and president and CEO George Postolos scheduled to be in town as well for the first full-squad workout.

“Guys are eager to get here and get around teammates and get started,” Porter said.

In other news:

  • Relief pitcher Hector Ambriz, who rolled his ankle in a drill Thursday, wasn’t able to throw off the mound Friday. He was seen by a team doctor and diagnosed with an ankle sprain and put in a walking boot. Porter said he is day-to-day.

The day was abbreviated, but there was still time for pictures:

Rene Garcia greets shortstop Jonathan Villar.

Rene Garcia greets shortstop Jonathan Villar upon his arrival in camp.

First base coach Dave Clark and GM Jeff Luhnow talk.

First base coach Dave Clark and GM Jeff Luhnow talk.

Our first look at catcher Carlos Perez, acquired from Toronto last July.

Our first look at catcher Carlos Perez, acquired from Toronto last July.

Ross Seaton signs an autograph.

Ross Seaton signs an autograph.

Rule 5 pick up Josh Fields prepares to throw a pitch.

Rule 5 pick up Josh Fields prepares to throw a pitch.

Rudy Owens, acquired from Pirates in Wandy Rodriguez trade, works in bullpen.

Rudy Owens, acquired from Pirates in Wandy Rodriguez trade, works in bullpen.

Catcher Rene Garcia puts on his gear.

Catcher Rene Garcia puts on his gear.

A coach greets bullpen coach Dennis Martinez.

A coach greets bullpen coach Dennis Martinez.

Bench coach Eduardo Perez lays down the law.

Bench coach Eduardo Perez lays down the law.

Carter arrives in camp

Outfielder Chris Carter, who was acquired from the A’s in a Feb. 4 trade, arrived in camp Friday morning and was excited about the opportunity he has in Houston. He’s expected to get plenty of playing time, likely in left field.

“It was nice to come over here,” he said. “They’re in a rebuilding stage and it’s good to be a part of that.”

The soft-spoken Carter, who has been traded three times since he was drafted by the White Sox in 2005, was in his hometown of Las Vegas working out when he found out he was traded. He had to get his car shipped to Florida and wrap his mind around his first Spring Training in Florida.

“It’s good opportunity for me to play every day and help the team win and have a better season than we did last year,”  he said.

Carter hit .239 with 16 homers and 39 RBIs in only 67 games for the A’s last year, getting a career-high 218 at-bat.

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