February 2014

Castro says new rule won’t change much

Astros All-Star catcher Jason Castro said Monday he supported the rule released by Major League Baseball regarding home plate collisions that outlaws catchers blocking the plate without the ball and runners going out of their way to initiate contact with catchers. Details of the rule can be found here.

“It seems like the gist of it is outlawing the egregious contact, guys going out of their way to make contact with the catcher,” Castro said. “Obviously, that’s a good thing. I think those kinds of plays are definitely avoidable to keep guys playing on the field and keep guys healthy. In most cases, if guys typically have to go out of their way to make contact with the catcher, they probably would have been safe if they had they had just slid into home plate.

“Hopefully some of those things will come out of that and have a more safety aspect of it. From a catching standpoint, we have to make sure we’re allowing the runner a lane to the plate if we’re not in possession of the ball. But still, things like unavoidable contact or if the throw leads you into the runner, there’s nothing you can do about that. It’s pretty much straightforward — no egregious contact and you can’t block the plate without the ball.

“I think those are positive changes. I don’t think they’ll change the game, just some safety stuff that will keep guys on the field a lot more longer.”

In 2012, Castro missed a couple of games with a sore shoulder when Milwaukee’s Mat Gamel leveled him at the plate, a collision that would likely be outlawed now.

“You definitely have to make sure you’re allowing the runner a solid chance to score,” Castro said. “It will be interesting to see how it plays out. We’re going to have to talk about it as a catching group and sort of formulate a strategy. Not a whole lot is going to change, obviously. It’s nice to know that if you’re going to throw the ball, you don’t have worry there will be a big hit coming. That’s nice to have in the back of your mind. Otherwise, we’re going to operate as normal and not a whole lot will change.”

Astros morning update

The competition for the starting rotation gets underway in earnest Monday when right-hander Lucas Harrell starts for the Astros against the Braves on Friday’s Grapefruit League opener in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Harrell is one of 14 starting pitchers in camp competing for only a couple of spots.

Scott Feldman has a spot locked up, and Jarred Cosart, Brad Peacock and Brett Oberholtzer are among the favorites to join him in the rotation. On Monday, manager Bo Porter said Dallas Keuchel had a strong leg up on a rotation spot because of his experience.

That means pitchers such as Jose Cisnero, Paul Clemens, Lucas Harrell, David Martinez, Collin McHugh, Alex White and Jerome Williams will have to pitch their way into the rotation, or make the club as a reliever.

Porter plans to allow all the pitchers get enough innings to show what they can do.

“The good thing is we have a lengthy schedule here as far as the Spring Training schedule, and we also have some B squad games we’ll play realizing we have a number of guys competing for spots,” he said. “It will give us enough innings to go around in order to be able to get a clear indication given the competition at those positions.”

Porter said the pitchers who start games the first time through the rotation this spring, such as Harrell, will likely have to follow another starter when their turn to throw comes up again.

“We’ll probably flip flop some guys the next time through just to give that guy an opportunity to start and the other guy will come behind,” he said. “More important, we want to make sure those guys get innings.”

Injury updates:

— RHP Jorge De Leon (strained right quad) was scheduled to throw lightly in the bullpen Monday.

— RHP Mark Appel (appendectomy) said he plans to throw in the bullpen again Tuesday.

— OF Adron Chambers (left hamstring strain) is back at practice, but taking it slow.

— RHP Alex White (Tommy John recovery) said he wants to throw a couple of more time against hitters and get in a simulated game before pitching in games.

— RHP Jesse Crain (right calf strain) and RHP Asher Wojciechowski (lat) are both progressing slowly.

Astros tweets of the day

Here are the Astros tweets of the day:


Day 8: Intrasquad game pleases Porter

The Astros moved their spring workouts to the stadium field at Osceola County Stadium, where a team managed by Adam Everett beat a team managed by Morgan Ensberg, 10-4. The hitters were batting against a pitching machine that threw nothing but curveballs.

The teams combined for five home runs – Carlos Correa, Max Stassi, L.J. Hoes, Jonathan Meyer and Domingo Santana. Correa, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 Draft, got cooler of liquid and ice dumped on his head after the game.

“It was cold,” he said. “I don’t think I need the cold tub anymore after today. You enjoy those kinds of moments, especially with your teammates. It was fun.”

Astros manager Bo Porter was happy with what he saw from his club following a couple of days when he voiced some displeasure about the drills on the back fields.

“Extremely happy about today, the entire day,” he said. “The work early on in the workout, and I felt like the intrasqaud game was really good because these guys had the opportunity to compete and play the game of baseball.”

Because the day was so productive the players got their work in running the bases earlier in the morning, strength and conditioning coach Jake Beiting told Porter no post-workout conditioning was needed.

“He said, ‘Bo, that’s about as good a conditioning as you can get,’” he said.

Here’s the day in pictures:

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Morning stretch

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Anthony Bass and Collin McHugh

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Pitchers as catchers?

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3B coach Pat Listach hits fly balls

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Chris Carter and Jonathan Singleton

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Jason Castro gives signs during drills

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Dave Trembley

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Jonathan Meyer awaits a pop up as teammates watch

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Dallas Keuchel enjoys a laugh

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Jerome Williams and Darin Downs

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Vince Coleman is once again at camp

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Jonathan Villar works on bunting

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Cesar Izturis works on bunting


Astros show support for Venezuela

Several Astros players and staff members joined with other teams in posing with the Venezuela flag and signs that read “PAZ, TODOS UNIDOS, HERMANDAD” in Spanish in a plea for peace for a nation in crisis. The sign loosely translated in English reads “peace, together, brotherhood.”

Venezuela has seen an increase in violence in the last few weeks as the government has tried to subdue a protest movement. The Astros who posed together included native Venezuelans Jose Altuve, Marwin Gonzalez, Jesus Guzman, Cesar Izturis, David Martinez, Carlos Perez, Gregario Petit and Ronald Torreyes. Players from other nations, such as Carlos Corporan and Carlos Correa from Puerto Rico, also participated, along with bullpen Javier Bracamonte and bullpen assistant Carlos Munoz, both of whom are from Venezuela.


Bracamonte, a native of Caracas, spoke following the display of unity and explained to reporters how difficult things are in the country. Bracamonte, who was a victim of violence himself three years ago when he was held at gunpoint during a bank robbery in his home country, is hesitant to take his daughter to Venezuela to meet his family.

“I want my daughter to know when I came from and see the neighborhood where I grew up,” he said. “I have brothers and sisters that want to see my daughter, but I’m a little afraid.”

Bracamonte was in Venezuela a few months ago for winter ball with J.D. Martinez, who’s from Miami, and he could sense the tension.

“I have two friends of mine that died very young of heart attacks, and I think it’s because of the stress of the whole country,” he said. “[While in winter ball] we didn’t do anything outside the hotel and just go to the ballpark and that’s what it was. I went to see my family for a few days and they didn’t do anything outside. I just went to the ballpark to the hotel to the ballpark.”

“The good thing is they have security for the players to go pick them up and drop them off at the hotel, and a bunch of those guys live in the hotel that way they feel safe. … It’s been tough. You see all the video. Right now there’s no media covering it because they’re kicking people out. The only thing you see is by phone or Facebook or Twitter and you see a lot of people filming.”

Munoz, who’s from Maracaibo, said it’s difficult for his family in his homeland to find basic supplies like food and soap.

“I think we’ve gone back like 60, 70 years,” he said.

Astros tweets of the day

Astros tweets of the day:


Porter not happy following defensive drills

The Astros had to alter their schedule Saturday because of early-morning rain showers, with the pitchers throwing live batting practice first to make sure they got their work in before more rain fell. As far as the position players are concerned, they took batting practice and then worked in a large group focusing on defensive drills.

“We had some weather early on, so we wanted to make sure our pitchers that were scheduled to throw live, we wanted to keep them on schedule,” manager Bo Porter said. “We were able to get that in, and it turned into a defensive day from that point on.”

Porter said the defense needs improvement, which meant the players weren’t able to give each other the post-workout “Astros win!” handshake.

“We didn’t execute, and that’s why we actually turning into a day of execution from the defensive side of it,” Porter said. “We all understand the game of baseball. It’s about runs being scored, and I’m a firm believer that the best offense is a good defense. We have to defend the baseball.”

That’s more about just making the throws or fielding cleanly, Porter said.

“We’ve explained this to our guys, from a defensive standpoint it’s not just the physical aspect of making the plays,” he said. “There are a lot of mental things that go into positioning, situations, understanding what to do, what not to do, given the situation. We’re going to put our guys in as many of those situations as possible throughout the course of the spring to try to emphasize the importance of these decisions based on situations.”

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Jason Castro gears up

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Paul Clemens throws

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Pitching coach Brent Strom shows pleasure with Clemens

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Adron Chambers holds court

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Jason Castro takes batting practice

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Marwin Gonzalez watches play unfold

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Players watch workouts from dugout

Astros to use spring to get accustomed to replay

Astros manager Bo Porter plans to simulate the use of instant replay as much as he can during Grapefruit League play, even though he won’t always have access to a replay monitor. For Porter, it’s about identifying potential plays to challenge and learning the terminology and what he can or can’t do.

Officials from Major League Baseball, led by Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, briefed the Astros, Nationals, Tigers and Braves during a two-hour, 45-minute meeting Friday on expanded instant replay that will begin this year.

“They did a tremendous job of putting the information together and kind of giving us scenarios,” Porter said. “It was long, but it was very much needed, and I think it was very beneficial at the same time.”

Porter said one of the issues that was addressed during the meeting was the timing of when you can challenge a call.

“There were some questions that came up, ‘OK, if you have to make it before a pitching change is being made, if that guy leaves the bullpen, when does that constitute him being in the game?’” Porter said. “We were able to kind of clarify all of those issues, and I think everybody left there yesterday feeling comfortable with the rules, and it’s a thing we’re actually going to be able to put into practice this spring.”

Torre said each time will have at least five games during Spring Training during which it can implement replay, but the Astros are going to have their own program and use walkie-talkies if there’s no access to a phone.

“We’re going to go ahead and start from Day 1 and implement our process among myself, [bench coach] Dave [Trembley], the coaching staff, the video people, so we can practice it the entire spring,” Porter said.

Odds and ends

  • Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, who was named the Astros executive advisor two weeks ago, will arrive in camp on March 10. As part of his duties, Ryan will work with Astros owner Jim Crane, president of business operations Reid Ryan and general manager Jeff Luhnow.
  • The Astros will play an intrasquad game Sunday against a curveball machine, with the losing team serving the winning team lunch and banana splits. An intrasquad game against live pitching will be held Thursday, one day before the Grapefruit League opener.
  • Astros owner Jim Crane was scheduled to arrived in Kissimmee, Fla., be in camp Saturday, but morning rains kept him away.
  • Not much new to report on the injury front this morning as pitchers Asher Wojciechowski (lat), Jesse Crain (calf) and Jorge De Leon (right quad) are dealing with various injuries. Porter said De Leon was moving around more Saturday, but they’re still awaiting results of an MRI. Wojciechowski felt pain throwing Thursday in his back/shoulder are and won’t throw for a few days.

Here’s a couple of morning photos from rainy Kissimmee:

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Third-base coach Pat Listach gives instructions to infielders

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First-base coach Tarrick Brock gives instruction to outfielders

La Russa goes to bat for Bagwell, Biggio

Three-time World Series champion manager Tony La Russa, who’s going into the Hall of Fame this year, spent a decade battling the Astros led by Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio as manager of the Cardinals in the National League Central.

La Russa has an immense amount of respect for the Killer B’s and said on Friday that both Bagwell and Biggio should get into the Hall of Game. Biggio came up two votes shy of reaching Cooperstown, N.Y., this year in his second year on the ballot in voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Bagwell has been on the ballot four years and has yet to crack 60 percent.

“There’s no doubt that Craig’s going to be a Hall of Famer. It’s going to happen,” said La Russa, who’s a special assistant to Commissioner Bud Selig. “He almost got in the first time and didn’t get in the second time. I’m sure he gets a little impatient, but I’m sure it’s going to happen for him, and when he does it will be well deserved.”

La Russa, who was in Kissimmee, Fla., on Friday for a meeting about instant replay, said he enjoyed battling yearly with the Minnesota Twins while he was manager of A’s in the 1990s, and he said he had a similar rivalry with the Astros when both were in the NL Central.

“Houston, in our division, Bagwell, Biggio and [Lance] Berkman, they had good surrounding characters the couple of years you had [Carlos] Beltran and [Jeff] Kent,” he said. “So I saw Bagwell as a huge influence, not just on the field but off. One of the best players of our generation.”

La Russa said he doesn’t understand the criteria members of the BBWAA use to vote for the Hall of Fame.

“Otherwise Jack Morris would be in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “The new metrics have a real important place, just don’t exaggerate them, and I think they get exaggerated at times. Like with Jack Morris, and maybe Bagwell.”

Day 6: Feldman among those throwing to hitters

The goal for Astros pitcher Scott Feldman was to simply not hit anybody. Feldman and a handful of other pitchers faced live hitters for the first time Friday, throwing for about 15 minutes on the back fields against teammates.

“You’re just getting reacquainted with the mound and seeing hitters out there and trying to get all my pitches over and work with the catchers a little bit,” Feldman said. “Trying not to hit anybody is probably the most important thing.”

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Feldman throws to hitters

In years past, hitters would typically stand in the box during the first days of live batting practice and simply track the pitches with their eyes. The Astros this year gave hitters certain in-game scenarios to focus on when they stepped into the box.

“Throughout the years, it’s been called pitching practice, and the hitters would get in there and see their five pitches and get out,” manager Bo Porter said. “It’s something as a staff we talked about and wanted to try to get a little bit more out of that situation, so our hitting coaches put together a program that put these guys into situations and counts to intensify it for the hitter.”

Porter says it allows the hitters to sharpen their mind while the pitchers get their work in, as well.

“You train yourself from a mental standpoint of executing that situation,” he said.

Here’s the day in pictures:

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Dave Trembley and Adam Everett

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Bullpen coach Craig Bjornson sounds the horn

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Cesar Izturis

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Bench coach Dave Trembley talks to pitchers

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Adam Everett works with Matt Dominguez

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Matt Albers and Peter Moylan

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Marc Krauss

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Astros work on rundowns

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Tony DeFrancesco hits grounders

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More rundowns

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Doug Brocail and J.D. Martinez

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Rene Garcia

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Dave Trembley and Bo Porter talk

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John Mallee talks to hitters

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Chia-Jen Lo does an interview