February 2013

Rain cuts short day, but not the fun

It drizzled on and off Thursday morning, but the Astros still managed to get in a full workout on the back fields at Osceola County Stadium. But just as the pitchers and catchers were gathering for their post-workout handshakes, manager Bo Porter sprung a surprise.

He order the players into the clubhouse and up the stairs, where he had them watch a video of pitcher fielding practice performed correctly. The video ended with the final three outs of last year’s perfect game thrown by Philip Humber, who was honored earlier in the day by Porter with a sparkling cider toast, complete with a phone call from catcher A.J. Pierzynski from Arizona.

“We made an adjustment with the shaking hands, and we moved that indoors and we had a little video set aside for the guys,” Porter said. “The last three outs of the video was Humber’s last three outs of his perfect game, and then we shook hands.”

Humber was taken back with all the attention.

“It was good to do something like that,” he said of the morning toast. “Nothing to do with me, but to have something for the team to come together over. I thought it was a really good deal. I wasn’t expecting it. It was fun for everybody.”

And don’t miss today’s feature on Jason Castro, who’s hoping to grow defensively while working with veteran catching instructor Jeff Murphy.

Thursday’s Astros notebook is full of information, including Porter’s thoughts on not having names on the backs of jersey this spring, how the team celebrated Humber’s perfect game from a year ago and why Edgar Gonzalez drove 34 hours to Spring Training. And much, much more.

Some other news from Thursday:

  • Outfielder Jimmy Paredes was the latest position to report to camp on Thursday. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said catcher Carlos Perez and infielder Jose Martinez, who had been held up on visa issues, were both expected to arrive on camp on time. Position players are scheduled to report Friday in advance of Saturday’s first full-squad workout.
  • Right-hander Hector Ambriz rolled his ankle during a drill Thursday and had to get the ankle taped up. Manager Bo Porter said it wasn’t serious. Meanwhile, catcher Max Stassi was held out of workouts again Thursday because of strained oblique, but it’s also minor and he could return to action any day.
  • Roger Clemens is expected to be in camp at some point this weekend. General manager Jeff Luhnow didn’t know if the Rocket would working with pitchers beginning Saturday or Sunday, but he’ll soon be back in Kissimmee. Morgan Ensberg, the former Astros MVP who’s returning to the club as a Minor League coach, arrived in town Thursday.

Here is the day in photos:

Jose Altuve signs an autograph.

Jose Altuve signs an autograph.

J.D. Martinez and Marwin Gonzalez head to hitting coaches.

J.D. Martinez and Marwin Gonzalez head to hitting cages.

Xavier Cedeno rocks and fires.

Xavier Cedeno rocks and fires.

Tony DeFrancesco sets the guys straight.

Tony DeFrancesco sets the guys straight.

Bullpen coach Dennis Martinez watches Kevin Chapman throw.

Bullpen coach Dennis Martinez watches Kevin Chapman throw.

Catching instructor Jeff Murphy works with Jason Castro.

Catching instructor Jeff Murphy works with Jason Castro.

Jimmy Paredes is all smiles as he arrives.

Jimmy Paredes is all smiles as he arrives.

Jason Castro catches a bullpen.

Jason Castro catches a bullpen.

Max Stassi, out with an oblique, watches the catchers.

Max Stassi, out with an oblique, watches the catchers.

Delino DeShields Jr. talks to a fan while he signs.

Delino DeShields Jr. talks to a fan while he signs.

Astros toast Humber for his perfect game

Seeing that Rice University was set to honor Philip Humber on Thursday with a commemorative plaque for the perfect game he threw last year as a member of the White Sox, Astros manager Bo Porter decided to honor the right-hander as well.

The Astros toasted Humber in the clubhouse prior to Thursday’s workout at Osceola County Stadium with glasses of sparkling cider. Porter even arranged for Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who was behind the plate when Humber threw the perfect game April 21 against the Mariners, to be on the phone from Arizona to lead the toast.

“Obviously, it’s quite an honor and it’s special when you’re able to accomplish pinnacles in this game,” Porter said. “We’re grateful to have Philip Humber in our organization and get him over from the White Sox, but we wanted to acknowledge him today.”

Humber threw the 21st player in Major League history to throw a perfect game last year. There were two more perfect games thrown during the season by San Francisco’s Matt Cain, who sent 27 Astros down in order June 13, and Seattle’s Felix Hernandez. Dennis Martinez, who threw the 13th perfect game in history 1991 for Montreal, is the Astros’ bullpen coach.

“We’re lucky enough to have two people in our clubhouse in Dennis Martinez and Philip Humber that have accomplished that feat,” Porter said.

Porter was grateful for Pierzynski to accommodate the ceremony by getting on the phone at 7 a.m. MT.

“I talked to him this morning and the timing worked perfect and he was able to get on the phone,” Porter said. “He led the toast and we toasted Philip and it was fun for the group.”

Other things we learned Thursday morning:

  • You have noticed on the photos the Astros don’t have their names on their backs this spring. That’s by design. Manager Bo Porter wants them to earn their names, which will be placed on the jerseys on Opening Day. More on that later.
  • In an effort to try to establish some camaraderie in the clubhouse, Porter is going to start having food delivered to the clubhouse following each workout. He hopes that will encourage players to sit around and talk and get to know each other more.
  • Position players continue to trickle into Kissimmee. Former first-round Draft picks George Springer and Delino DeShields Jr. arrived to camp on Thursday. This will be their second Major League camp, and the two friends are roommates again this year. Catcher Carlos Perez, who was held up on visa issues, could arrive Thursday, too.
  • The Astros have added Minor League catcher Ryan McCurdy to their spring roster as another body to catch bullpens. He will wear No. 98.

Here are a couple of quick morning photos from Kissimmee:

Lucas Harrell keeps things loose as always.

Lucas Harrell keeps things loose as always.

Harrell and Keuchel talk to Jason Castro.

Harrell and Dallas Keuchel talk to Jason Castro.

Escalona gets back on the mound

The biggest news of the day concerning the Astros actually happened nearly 1,000 miles away in Houston, where the club announced its 2013 radio and television broadcast team. There wasn’t much mystery to the names, but with the start of games only 10 days, the incoming broadcasters can talk publicly about their new roles. Stay tuned.

Today’s Astros notebook has tons of information, including injury update on catcher Max Stassi, what Bo Porter has to stay about leadership and a look who might hit leadoff for the Astros. We also take a closer look at manager Bo Porter and what he’s done in the first few days of camp to transform the mood of the club.

At Osceola County Stadium, another three groups of pitchers got on the mound for the first time.

Group 1B: Erik Bedard, Philip Humber, Jordan Lyles, Jose Cisnero, Rudy Owens.

Group 2B: Dallas Keuchel, Jose Veras, Josh Fields, Ross Seaton, Rhiner Cruz.

Group 3B: Paul Clemens, Chia-Jen Lo, Hector Ambriz, C.J. Fick, Sergio Escalona.

It was a big step for Escalona, who missed all of last season following Tommy John surgery.

“That is one step right now to just keep going to the goal,” he said. “I say ‘Thank God.’ That’s everything I have to say. I was patient, I was working for this day and, like I said, it’s one step at a time. I can’t get overexcited and just try to do everything to my best. I’m excited and really happy for today and just need to prepare for the second one.”

Here is the day in pictures:

J.D. Martinez does an interview.

J.D. Martinez does an interview.

Bench coach Eduardo Perez.

Bench coach Eduardo Perez.

Bo Porter tells the pitchers "don't panic" if they have trouble fielding a ball.

Bo Porter tells the pitchers “don’t panic” if they have trouble fielding a ball.

Pitching coach Doug Brocail in coach's scrum

Pitching coach Doug Brocail makes a point in coach’s scrum.

Sergio Escalona is all smiles after throwing first bullpen.

Sergio Escalona is all smiles after throwing first bullpen.

Paul Clemens throws in the bullpen.

Paul Clemens throws in the bullpen.

Chia-Jen Lo throws in the bullpen.

Chia-Jen Lo throws in the bullpen.

Justin Maxwell greets Bo Porter.

Justin Maxwell greets Bo Porter.

Catching instructor Jeff Murphy.

Catching instructor Jeff Murphy gets a little animated.

Catcher Jason Jaramillo.

Catcher Jason Jaramillo.

Jason Jaramillo and Dallas Keuchel.

Jason Jaramillo and Dallas Keuchel talk following bullpen session.

Porter visits with veterans about leadership

Astros manager Bo Porter met with a group of players prior to Wednesday morning’s workout that he wants to take a leadership role on the club this spring. The meeting, which Porter dubbed “Astros Talk,” included Jason Castro, Carlos Corporan, Jason Jaramillo, Erik Bedard, Bud Norris, Philip Humber, Lucas Harrell, Wesley Wright, Jose Veras and Edgar Gonzalez.

“We talked about leadership, and there’s a reason why I picked those guys,” he said. “Some of those guys have been on other teams where obviously it hasn’t been the situation we have here where we have a lot of young guys, and a lot of times these guys have been on teams and they have been the young guys.

“They now find themselves in a situation they become the older spokesmen. Like I said to them, I want to make sure we’re all on one sheet of music and we understand what leadership is all about and how you can effectively lead. If they had any questions, I wanted to be available for them to answer those questions to make sure we’re on one accord.”

Most baseball names don’t have a captain as in some other sports. The Yankees are one team that has traditionally identified a singular captain. Porter doesn’t plan to do that in Houston. Instead, he’s giving the responsibility of leader the younger players to those with the most service time.

“I explained to them, we’re not looking for one leader,” Porter said. “We’re looking for a group of leaders, because I’m a firm believer that leaders have to exist in every area, every level of the organization if you want the organization to continue to grow and continue to thrive. And the leaders have to develop the next wave of leaders. We’re not looking for one; we’re looking for a group.”

The first injury of camp was reported Wednesday morning when catcher Max Stassi, acquired in last week’s trade with Oakland, was diagnosed with a strained oblique. He will be held out of drills Wednesday.

“We’re going to pull him back a little bit as far as his workload goes,” Porter said. “He kind of tweaked his oblique a little bit.”

Here are a couple of quick morning photos:

Third base coach Dave Trembley is always smiling as he is here talking with Dave Clark and Dennis Martinez.

Third base coach Dave Trembley is always upbeat as he is here talking with Eduardo Perez and Dennis Martinez.

Bud Norris stretches prior to workout.

Bud Norris stretches prior to workout.

Astros, Porter get the first day in the books

Every day for Astros manager Bo Porter is simply about laying a foundation. Every day will be another brick in the team’s master plan of building a championship contender, he said, and the Astros took another step towards that process Tuesday when pitchers and catchers worked out for the first time.

“It was a good brick,” Porter said of the first workout.

The groups of pitchers that put in their first in the bullpen were:

Group 1A: Lucas Harrell, Bud Norris, John Ely, Jarred Cosart, Brad Peacock.

Group 2A: Wesley Wright, Edgar Gonzalez, Alex White, Sam Demel and Jose Valdez.

Group 3A: Xavier Cedeno, Josh Zeid, Kevin Chapman, Brett Oberholtzer.

Those who didn’t throw Tuesday will get on the mound Wednesday. When the pitchers weren’t throwing, they were rotated through three fundamental stations, covering pick-offs, fielding bunts and holding runners. The end of the day brought conditioning tests.

“When I heard running test, the first I heard as a pitching coach is, ‘I don’t want to lose anybody, I don’t want a groin tear or have a misshape with plantar fascistic,’” pitching coach Doug Brocail said. “They slowed some of our guys down. It was no big deal.”

Porter didn’t want the players to do too much on the first day.

“We don’t want them to come out here and blow out the first day,” he said. “It was good to see the guys get on the mound. I like the fact the majority of guys that stepped up there today, they kept the ball down and worked the outer half of the plate. It was good.”

The first day of workouts went smooth enough for Porter that the only thing he planned to change Tuesday was saving his voice. Porter was forced to yell across the fields several times to get someone’s attention, and by the end of the day the clubhouse staff had purchased air horns.

“I think the schedule went well,” he said. “The guys got a lot of work in.”

The pitchers will throw twice in the bullpen before throwing twice to live hitters once position players are here. They will take a three-day break before starting to work in games.

“Everybody looked good today,” Brocail said. “The adrenaline is starting to flow. I’ve been lucky. I’ve had Norris, Harrell, Zeid, [Ross] Seaton and Cosart at home for the last month and a half [in Houston] and on their bullpen day showed up and worked, and the other days we weren’t throwing bullpens I got to see who was coming in early and busting their hump every single day.”

There was some room for fun. Porter, who was a defensive back at the University of Iowa, pretended to cover Harrell, challenging him to get separation from him.

“It’s very important to have fun,” he said. “You come out here and look at the work schedule and there are portions of the day the work schedule is going to dictate you get right to it, but we get to certain aspects of the day we want these guys to be loose, we want them to have fun and at the same time get their work in.”

Another new wrinkle this year: The pitchers lined up to give each other congratulatory handshakes following the workout, mimicking what happens on the field after a win.

“If you want to be it, you have to be it before you are it,” Porter said. “We talk about the culture, we talk about winning. We’re going to do things around here that symbolizes winning and get these guys’ mindset used to shaking hands.”

Here is the day in photos:

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Catcher Chris Wallace chases a pop up.

Catcher Chris Wallace chases a pop up.

GM Jeff Luhnow says hello to catcher Max Stassi, acquired in Oakland trade.

GM Jeff Luhnow says hello to catcher Max Stassi, acquired in Oakland trade.

The catchers listen to catching instructor Jeff Murphy.

The catchers listen to catching instructor Jeff Murphy.

Brandon Laird signs an autograph.

Brandon Laird signs an autograph.

Josh Zeid fields a grounder.

Josh Zeid fields a grounder.

Paul Clemens throws to first.

Paul Clemens throws to first.

Dallas Keuchel works on pick-off move.

Dallas Keuchel works on pick-off move with Tony D. watching.

Jose Veras throws to first.

Jose Veras throws to first.

Jason Castro sets up behind plate.

Jason Castro sets up behind plate.

Wesley Wright throws in bullpen.

Jose Valdez throws in bullpen.

Astros players and coaches shake hands after workout.

Astros players and coaches shake hands after workout.

Tuesday morning update

Astros pitchers and catchers hit the field Tuesday morning at Osceola County Stadium for the first official workout of Spring Training. They’ll be joined on Saturday by the rest of the position players, many of whom are already in Kissimmee and working out.

Among those to arrive Tuesday were outfielders Rick Ankiel and Fernando Martinez, who said he has decided not to participate in the World Baseball Classic. Manager Bo Porter is thrilled to see so many position players in the field.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “We’ve had great participation in our offseason program and had guys in Houston working out throughout the offseason. You look around from a position-player standpoint, and I want to say we had about 15 players, position players, out yesterday doing a voluntary workout. It shows their anxiousness and excitement to get this thing started.”

Porter plans to address the team prior to Saturday’s workout, but he did have a few words before pitchers and catchers hit the field Tuesday.

“We talked about change,” he said. “You can look around and tell things are changed. We talked about the opportunities that present themselves in this organization. I told them, ‘Embrace both of them. Embrace change and embrace the opportunity,’ and we’re looking for guys to take the bull by the horn and take the opportunity to become Houston Astros.”

Here are some early photos:

Bullpen coach Dennis Martinez and Oklahoma City manager Tony DeFrancesco talk.

Bullpen coach Dennis Martinez and Oklahoma City manager Tony DeFrancesco talk.

 

Astros catcher Max Stassi is all smiles

Astros catcher Max Stassi is all smiles.

Pitcher Rhiner Cruz hits the field.

Pitcher Rhiner Cruz hits the field.

Jason Castro talks to bullpen assistant Jeff Murphy.

Jason Castro talks to bullpen assistant Jeff Murphy.

Bo Porter and Jeff Murphy.

Bo Porter and Brett Obertholzer.

Pitcher C.J. Ficks shares a laugh with teammates.

Pitcher C.J. Fick shares a laugh with teammates.

Jose Veras and Dennis Martinez shake hands.

Jose Veras and Dennis Martinez shake hands.

Pitchers and catchers listen to instruction prior to first workout.

Pitchers and catchers listen to instruction prior to first workout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martinez backs out of World Baseball Classic

Astros outfielder Fernando Martinez arrived in camp Tuesday morning and said he’s not going to play in the World Baseball Classic. Martinez was going to play for Spain, though he was born in the Dominican Republic.

“I’m not going to play,” he said. “I’m going to stay here and prepare for the season.”

Martinez, claimed off waivers from the Mets a year ago, hit .237 with six homers and 14 RBIs in 118 at-bats last year for Houston, playing in a career-high 41 games. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said earlier this year Martinez would hurt his chances of making the club by playing in the Classic, and Martinez heard the message.

“I just thought about and I figured it would be a lost couple of weeks and I want to make the team here,”  he said.

Astros pitcher Chia-Jen Lo was originally scheduled to participate in the Classic as well, but had a change of heart.

Luhnow, staff analyze each player on roster

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow met with the front office and the field staff for a few hours Monday afternoon to pore over every player on the Spring Training roster. It’s standard procedure in advance of pitchers and catchers hitting the field Tuesday for the first official workout of the spring.

Pitchers and catchers were officially scheduled to report Monday, and the only player who didn’t show up was catcher Carlos Perez, who’s dealing with visa issues in his native Venezuela. Luhnow didn’t have a timetable for his return, but doesn’t think it will be a long-term issue. The Astros have 29 pitches and six catchers currently in camp.

“The staff, we just all got together upstairs and talked through every pitcher and catcher in camp and it look us a few hours to do that,” Luhnow said. “Really talking about what our expectations are this spring, what’s it’s going to take for them to make the club, what scouting reports do we have for them from last year, talking about new players we haven’t seen yet. Trying to give everybody who’s here in camp as much background as they can on the players that are here.”

Monday’s Astros notebook has updates on who might start on the mound on Opening Day, the health of left-hander Sergio Escalona and more.

Here are some pictures from Monday’s camp activity:

Pitching coach Doug Brocail warms up.

Pitching coach Doug Brocail warms up.

Playing catch.

Playing catch.

Bo Porter and Jeff Luhnow walk and talk

Bo Porter and Jeff Luhnow walk and talk.

Venezuelans Javier Bracamonte, Jose Altuve and Marwin Gonzalez return from cages.

Venezuelans Javier Bracamonte, Marwin Gonzalez and Jose Altuve return from cages.

Philip Humber throws to Doug Brocail.

Philip Humber throws to Doug Brocail.

New-look Astros kick off a new era

The smell of fresh paint, new carpeting in the clubhouse and sharp new uniforms hanging neatly in the lockers of the players were all reminders these are not your grandfather’s Astros. In fact, they’re pretty far removed from the 2012 Astros.

With pitchers and catchers reporting to Osceola County Stadium on Monday morning to shake hands, take physicals and get in a light workout, the Astros cranked up their first Spring Training as an American League club. New manager Bo Porter will have to wait until Tuesday to see the pitchers and catchers hit the field for the first official workout, but the start is near.

“I’m extremely anxious,” Porter said. “You spend your whole offseason waiting for this day to come and now that it’s here, obviously there’s a lot of anticipating of getting with the guys and you can see the excitement in their eyes. We’re just ready to get on the field and get started.”

Right-hander Philip Humber is one of 39 new faces to camp this year after spending last year with the White Sox. The Texas native was thrilled to pull on his No. 59 jersey.

“It’s that time of year when you’ve done everything you need to do to prepare for Spring Training and a new season and you start getting that itch it’s time to start putting everything you’ve done in the offseason to work,” he said. “I’m excited to be here, excited to meet all these new faces and just get started playing baseball.”

Many position players have already reported, well ahead of Friday’s official report date. All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve arrived in Florida on Saturday. Also spotted Monday morning were Brett Wallace, Matt Dominguez, J.D. Martinez, Brandon Barnes, Justin Maxwell, Jake Elmore and Marc Krauss.

“I feel really good, and I wanted to get here a little early to get ready and prepare the right way to star the season,” Altuve said.

Here are some morning pictures:

Sign as you enter the clubhouse.

Sign as you enter the clubhouse.

Worker gets the field ready.

Worker gets the field ready.

Astros manager Bo Porter reports for work.

Astros manager Bo Porter reports for work.

new uniforms hung neatly in lockers.

New uniforms hung neatly in lockers.

Wes Wright unloads a box while talking to Lucas Harrell.

Wes Wright unloads a box while talking to Lucas Harrell.

More motivation for the players, courtesy of Bo Porter.

More motivation for the players, courtesy of Bo Porter.

Catcher Jason Jaramillo emerges from clubhouse.

Catcher Jason Jaramillo emerges from clubhouse.

Jason Castro on his way to the field.

Jason Castro on his way to the field.

Bo Porter talks to the media in the morning.

Bo Porter talks to the media in the morning.

Pitching coach Doug Brocail and pitchers prepare to stretch.

Pitching coach Doug Brocail and pitchers prepare to stretch.

Spring Training preparations underway

Here are some photos taken Thursday of the activity at Osceola County Stadium, which will host Astros Spring Training beginning next week. Photos are courtesy of Kiwi Global Solutions, LLC.

Truck unloaded after 970-mile trip from Houston
Truck unloaded after 970-mile trip from Houston
New logo being placed over old logo
New logo being placed over old logo
Old logos are on their way out
Old logos are on their way out
Equipment bags with new logo ready to be stowed.
Equipment bags with new logo ready to be stowed
"Ten-pack" pitching mounds will soon be uncovered for workouts.
“Ten-pack” pitching mounds will soon be uncovered for workouts.
A little of everything made its way to Kissimmee
A little of everything made its way to Kissimmee
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