April 2014

Astros injury updates

Here is the latest on some of the Astros’ injured players:

— RHP Scott Feldman, who’s been on the disabled list since April 18 with right biceps tendinitis, threw 35 pitches in the bullpen Tuesday afternoon without any problems and is expected to be slotted back into the rotation soon.

Feldman, who went 2-1 with a 1.69 ERA in his first three starts with the Astros, said he’ll throw a simulated game on Thursday or Friday and then should be good to go. He could come off the disabled list as early as Saturday.

“I’ve just got to sit down with the training staff and coaches and kind of map out where we go from here,” he said. “I feel like I could pitch right now. We’ll see what happens. We’ve got to get through the live BP first before we know.”

— RHP Alex White took a huge step forward in his recovery process from Tommy John surgery by throwing two innings Tuesday in a game at extended Spring Training in Kissimmee, Fla.

General manager Jeff Luhnow said the Astros were pleased with what they saw from White, who had the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow repaired a little more than a year ago. White injured the elbow at the end of Spring Training last year, a few months after the Astros acquired him in a trade with the Rockies.

“It was a milestone for him,” Luhnow said. “We saw the velocity back up in the neighborhood of where he was before he got hurt. He still has a little more to go, but that’s encouraging. All the secondary stuff was sharp today.

“To me, having had the surgery a little over 12 months ago, he should be starting to understand the timetable for him returning to games in the Minor Leagues, and after today we now can see the end of the tunnel. I’m not going to make any promises, but he’ll continue to throw in games down there, and if that continues we’ll send him down on a rehab assignment.”

— RHP Asher Wojociechowski (right lat strain) threw live batting practice Tuesday for the first time and looked good and felt good, Luhnow said.

— RHP Jesse Crain (right biceps surgery/bursitis) threw off flat ground again Tuesday and is feeling increasingly better, according to Luhnow.

— 2B prospect Delino DeShields Jr., who suffered a fractured cheekbone when he was hit by a pitch April 18 for Double-A Corpus Christi, has also arrived in Florida to rehab. Luhnow said he’s there to take batting practice and potentially see living pitching while the Hooks are on the road.


Harrell eager for new start, thanks Astros

Lucas Harrell, who began the year by making three starts in the Astros rotation, found himself a new home Monday when the club traded him to the D-backs in exchange for cash considerations or a player to be named later.

Harrell went 0-3 with a 9.49 ERA in three starts for the Astros before being designated for assignment on April 16. He was outrighted to Triple-A Oklahoma City six days later, and it was clear both parties were ready to go in different directions.

He said he’ll join the D-backs’ Triple-A affiliate in Reno, Nevada, in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

“I’m excited,” he told MLB.com “It’s a new opportunity. It’s a fresh start, a chance to go out there and work on some of the things I wasn’t doing well, which was causing me to be unsuccessful with the Astros. Hopefully I’ll get it all corrected and make it back to the big leagues.”

Harrell’s stock had fallen significantly since his breakout 2012 campaign in which he was 11-11 with a 3.76 ERA in 32 starts. He’s at this best when he has his sinker working and is working at a quick tempo and had flashes last year that were reminiscent of the 2012 Harrell. He allowed two or fewer runs in 11 of his 22 starts and finished seventh in the American League with a 1.93 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio.

Harrell had a solid April before having a rough stretch in May in which he went 1-4 with a 7.53 ERA in six starts. By July, he was out of the rotation and banished to the bullpen.

“I had a good year and a half,” he said. “The first of last year was pretty good and then I struggled. I kind of got what I deserved because you don’t pitch well you don’t get an opportunity to stay.”

Claimed off waivers from the White Sox in July 2011, Harrell wound up being the Astros most effective starting pitcher in 2012 before going 6-17 with a 5.86 ERA in 36 games (22 starts) in 2013.

Harrell on Monday thanked former owner Drayton McLane and general manager Ed Wade in showing faith in him and current GM Jeff Luhnow in giving him a chance.

“The fans were great,” Harrell said. “Hopefully, [the Astros] will get everything figured out, what they want to figure out, and they can start winning some ballgames for the city. The city will be behind the team if they’re winning, and hopefully they can get back to where they were in 2005.”

Porter not fan of Springer’s headfirst slides

With high-flying Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday with a sprained left thumb, manager Bo Porter — who worked with Harper while a third-base coach of the Nationals for two years – expressed concern of the danger of sliding head first on the bases.

Astros rookie right fielder George Springer, who like Harper plays with ultra aggressiveness, has slid headfirst at least a couple of times since was called up, including once into home plate. Harper hurt the thumb Friday against the Padres when he slide headfirst following a three-run triple and jammed the finger into the base.

He said he’s told his players he prefers them sliding with feet first.

“I don’t like headfirst slides,” said Porter, who still communicates with Harper via text messages. “It just exposes too much of your body and you can get finger hands [hurt]. I really don’t like headfirst slides. Players, for whatever reason, guys that like to slide head first, it’s more of a knee-jerk thing as far as their sliding technique. It’s something I really don’t like, especially when you talk about first base and home plate and the risk of injuries that could happen.”

Porter admitted than when he was a player he would try not to slide head first, but sometimes instincts take over.

“I think sometimes with guys, it’s just a reaction,” he said. “You may even want to slide feet first and the ball could take the person one way or another, and before you know it your instincts take over.”

Earlier this year, Angels slugger Josh Hamilton tore a ligament in his left thumb after sliding headfirst into first base and is expected to miss six to eight weeks. Harper will be sidelined when the Nats visit Minute Maid Park on Tuesday and Wednesday.


Astros vs. Mariners lineups

Astros vs. Mariners
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 – Safeco Field (2:40 pm)
Astros (7-14)   Mariners (7-13)
Player   Player
27 Jose Altuve 2B   36 Abraham Almonte (S) CF
21 Dexter Fowler (S) CF   5 Brad Miller (L) SS
15 Jason Castro (L) C   22 Robinson Cano (L) 2B
4 George Springer RF   27 Corey Hart DH
18 Marc Krauss (L) 1B   17 Justin Smoak (S) 1B
8 Alex Presley (L) LF   15 Kyle Seager (L) 3B
23 Chris Carter DH   6 Nick Franklin (S) RF
30 Matt Dominguez 3B   13 Dustin Ackley (L) LF
6 Jonathan Villar (S) SS   3 Mike Zunino C
Starting Pitcher   Starting Pitcher
48 Jarred Cosart RHP   53 Chris Young RHP


Astros-Mariners lineups

Astros vs. Mariners
Tuesday, April 22, 2014 – Safeco Field (9:10 pm)
Astros (6-14)   Mariners (7-12)
Player   Player
27 Jose Altuve 2B   36 Abraham Almonte (S) CF
21 Dexter Fowler (S) CF   13 Dustin Ackley (L) LF
15 Jason Castro (L) C   22 Robinson Cano (L) 2B
4 George Springer RF   27 Corey Hart DH
18 Marc Krauss (L) 1B   15 Kyle Seager (L) 3B
8 Alex Presley (L) LF   17 Justin Smoak (S) 1B
23 Chris Carter DH   55 Michael Saunders (L) RF
30 Matt Dominguez 3B   3 Mike Zunino C
6 Jonathan Villar (S) SS   5 Brad Miller (L) SS
Starting Pitcher   Starting Pitcher
31 Collin McHugh RHP   50 Erasmo Ramirez RHP

Astros vs. Mariners lineups

Astros vs. Mariners
Monday, April 21, 2014 – Safeco Field (9:10 pm)
Astros (5-14)   Mariners (7-11)
Player   Player
27 Jose Altuve 2B 36 Abraham Almonte (S) CF
21 Dexter Fowler (S) CF 13 Dustin Ackley (L) LF
15 Jason Castro (L) C 22 Robinson Cano (L) 2B
4 George Springer RF 27 Corey Hart DH
18 Marc Krauss (L) 1B 17 Justin Smoak (S) 1B
8 Alex Presley (L) LF 7 Stefen Romero RF
30 Matt Dominguez DH 15 Kyle Seager (L) 3B
9 Marwin Gonzalez (S) 3B 3 Mike Zunino C
6 Jonathan Villar (S) SS 5 Brad Miller (L) SS
Starting Pitcher Starting Pitcher
60 Dallas Keuchel LHP 34 Felix Hernandez RHP

Astros place Feldman on DL

Astros right-hander Scott Feldman is headed to the 15-day disabled list with biceps tendinitis, general manager Jeff Luhnow said Monday.

Feldman will miss two starts after being placed on the DL on Monday, including his scheduled start Tuesday against the Mariners at Safeco Field. Collin McHugh will be called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City to take Feldman’s spot in the rotation.

“It’s nothing too concerning,” Luhnow said. “We debated putting him on the disabled list, but considering he’s going to miss a start [Tuesday], we kind of want to be cautious with any discomfort. We’re going to skip his next start [following Tuesday] as well, and given we have two days off next week, it made more sense to put him on the DL.”

Feldman, signed to a three-year, $30-million deal this winter, is 2-1 with a 1.69 ERA in four starts. He was 1-0 with a 0.44 ERA through three starts before giving up nine hits and four earned runs against the Royals on Thursday in Houston.

“When he was throwing between starts, he felt a little bit of discomfort, so we were very cautious with him and brought him to Houston today to see [team medical director] Dr. [David] Lintner,” Luhnow said. “We made the determination that was the best course of action not to start tomorrow and probably take another start off to recuperate.”

McHugh was scheduled to follow Nick Tropeano in Oklahoma City’s tandem starter rotation Monday. Instead, he’ll head to Seattle. He threw Thursday in Colorado Springs and allowed one run and three hits with no walks and three strikeouts in five innings.

McHugh appeared in at least two games with five different teams within two organizations last season. He spent the majority of 2013 in Triple-A with Las Vegas and Colorado Springs going a combined 5-4 with a 3.69 ERA in the PCL. He began the season in the Mets organization and was traded to Colorado on June 19 for outfielder Eric Young, Jr. The Astros claimed McHugh off waivers on Dec. 18, 2013 from Colorado.

DeShields Jr. suffers broken cheekbone

Astros outfield prospect Delino DeShields Jr. is expected to be out several weeks after suffering a broken cheekbone when he was hit in the face by a 90-mph fastball in Double-A Corpus Christi’s game in Frisco, Texas, on Friday night.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Saturday that DeShields, the team’s No. 7-ranked prospect, has a non-displaced maxillary sinus fracture in his left cheek. He said he will be further evaluated today, but the team doesn’t know how long he’ll be out.

“He’s lucky considering,” Hooks manager Keith Bodie said. “It could have been horrific, could have been catastrophic. He never saw the ball out of the pitcher’s hand and took a 90-mph fastball right in the face. You can imagine how lucky we are that he’s only got a fracture of his cheekbone. His head looks like a beach ball right now.”

Bodie said DeShields was released from the hospital early Saturday morning and spent the night at the team hotel, where teammates kept a close eye on him. He said he was resting with no problems, other than some major swelling.

“I’m sure that when we get back to Corpus they may want to take a look at him in Houston and go from there,” he said. “He’s going to be around us today and we need to keep an eye on him. He did OK through the night and that’s good news. Hopefully he’s on the road back to being mended.”

Bodie suggested the fact DeShields didn’t see the pitch could be a silver lining.

“So it doesn’t leave any lasting impressions imprinted in his mind in the future where he might be leery,” he said. “On the other hand, it was just a horrible thing to see. It’s going to be a very uncomfortable road back for him.”

DeShields went 1-for-3 and is hitting .259 with two homers and four RBIs this season as the Hooks starting center fielder.

DeShields, 21, hit .317 with five homers, 54 RBIs and 51 stolen bases last season at Class A Lancaster. Following the season, he made the move back to center field after playing a few season at second base.

Luhnow discusses Springer, Singleton and more

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Wednesday he had been thinking about calling up outfield prospect George Springer for several days prior to finally pulling the trigger. Springer will be in uniform for tonight’s game against the Royals at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros also reinstated right-hander Scott Feldman from the bereavement list and designated right-hander Lucas Harrell for assignment. Outfielder Robbie Grossman was optioned to Triple-A.

Springer was hitting .353 with three homers and nine RBIs at Triple-A Oklahoma City. He was the Astros’ first-round pick (No. 11 overall) in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Luhnow said a combination of factors led to his decision to call on Springer.

“We’ve been in touch with the crew at Oklahoma City and he’s been playing some right field, some center field,” he said. “Part of what we wanted to do was give him enough reps in right field to get used to reading the ball off the bat and all that. We feel pretty good with the reps he’s got in Spring Training and the reps he’s gotten so far during the season that defensively he’s ready to go.

“Offensively, he’s been heating up the last week or so and we want to get a guy when he’s hot. Flip side of the equation is, we’ve got guys here that are really struggling offensively and we’re hoping he adds that spark to our offense and gets everybody going. We need to get [Jason] Castro, [Chris] Carter, [Matt] Dominguez – you name it — everybody needs to get going with the exception of maybe [Jose] Altuve. Even [Dexter] Fowler’s been off since he came back. What better way to get them going than to bring up the rookie that potentially could be a game-changer.”

Luhnow had initially given himself a deadline of the end of this series against the Royals to call up Springer if the club was still struggling on offense like it’s been.

“After Saturday’s game when we scored those five runs in that one inning, I thought ‘OK, well maybe we’ve turned around and I’ll give it a little more time,’” he said. “When you start a season with a group of players, you want to give them enough time to succeed, but the reality is we’re at the point where we can’t afford to have players underperforming and playing every day. We can’t have that, so in the case of both Lucas and Grossman, it was time to make a change.

“We’re not in a position where we can let players struggle for long periods of time in Houston. That’s what Triple-A is for and there are other options, and we have enough talent in our organization where everybody needs to realize that if you’re not performing there’s another option for us, and we’re going to go and get that option at some point.”

Luhnow did admit he’s worried about the pressure Springer will face being viewed by most as the man who will save the team on offense.

Last year, Springer batted .303 with a .411 on-base percentage while slugging .600 with 37 homers, 45 steals and 83 walks between Double-A Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City en route to being named the Astros’ Minor League Player of the Year.

“I am concerned about that, but not enough to not make the move happen because the reality is he’s got a history of being an exciting player who can hit home runs and steal bases and play good defense,” he said. “If he just sticks to what he’s good at, he’s going to be fine. We think he’s ready. Everybody has some transition when they get to the big leagues, and I expect he will have some transition.

“He will have our support and I fully believe that he is a type of worker and player that will quickly address any deficiencies that reveal themselves and he will be what everybody hopes and expects him to be, which is a very good to great player.”

Of course, Springer wasn’t the only player off to a great start for the RedHawks. First baseman Jon Singleton has been crushing the ball, but his arrival in Houston isn’t imminent.

“We’re happy that Singleton is off to a good start,” Luhnow said. “He does not have the Triple-A track record that Springer has yet. We feel he needs to develop that track record. We’re always going to be in a position where our fans want our top prospects to come up here sooner than we think they’re ready to come up here.

“Last year, it happened to [Jarred] Cosart. We did bring Cosart up at the right time and when he came up he contributed and helped us win ballgames. He still is showing that deserves to be at this level and is ready to help us win.

“I believe Springer, this is the right time for him. I think he’s ready defensively. He’s not going to a perfect player, but he’s going to be a darn good player and has a chance to be a very special player. We don’t feel the rest of the guys are quite there yet. We monitor it on a week to week basis and that could change.”

Grossman went 0-for-4 on Tuesday, was hitting .125 with six hits in 48 at-bats and has had a few misplays on defense. The rough start came as a surprise to Luhnow, but he hasn’t lost faith in Grossman.

“We saw what he’s capable of doing at the end of last year,” he said. “He’s capable of being a very effective two-way player and we handed him that left-field every day job and he played every game so far this year. He was given every opportunity. It was disappointing for him primarily, but also to us. I’m fully confident that Robbie will go to Triple-A and find his stroke and sort everything out and make it back here later this year and will help us win ballgames. I’m confident of that.”

When it comes to Harrell, the team was left with little choice after he went 0-3 with a 9.49 ERA to start the season. He was 11-11 with a 3.76 ERA in 32 starts in a breakout 2012 season and faltered last year and led the league in walks and losses. The Astros have 10 days to trade him, release him or send him to the Minor Leagues.

“I think the reality is we gave him all of last year and three starts this year,” Luhnow said. “He deserved all that opportunity because he was good for us in 2012, but quite frankly we feel like at this point a change of scenery may be in the best interest of both Lucas and the Astros. Whether that means with another club or Triple-A, it’s not something we feel like we can continue to do in Houston at this point.”

Luhnow said either Jerome Williams or Brad Peacock would occupy the final spot in the rotation, replacing Harrell. They both were competing for it in Spring Training before being moved to the bullpen.

“I’ll talk to Bo [Porter], but my assumption would be to give the first opportunity to both of those two guys,” he said.

Debuts of other Astros prospects

The Astros are finally calling up George Springer, who will join the team today. With the way the offense has been struggling and the way Springer has been swinging the bat at Triple-A, it certainly doesn’t come as a surprise. His debut will be the most anticipated for an Astros player since perhaps Hunter Pence. With that in mind, here’s how some other Astros players performed in their Major League debuts for the club:

Ken Caminiti

Date: July 16, 1987.

Age: 24.

Result: He started at third base and went 2-for-3 with a homer and a triple in a 2-1 win over the Phillies in the Astrodome.

Notable: Danny Darwin pitched a complete game for the Astros, allowing four hits and one run.

Aftermath: Caminti was one of the most beloved players in Astros history, playing 10 of his 15 seasons in two stints in Houston. He won the NL MVP with the Padres after hitting 40 homers in 1996 and died unexpectedly in 2001 at 38 years old.

Craig Biggio

Date: June 26, 1988.

Age: 22.

Result: He started at catcher and went 0-for-2 with a run scored, a walk and a strikeout in a 6-0 win over the Giants in the Astrodome.

Notable: Jim Deshaies started and won the game for Houston.

Aftermath: Biggio went on to play 20 seasons with the Astros and had a club-record 3,060 hits, as well as establishing franchise records in games played, runs, doubles, at-bats and total bases. He’ll likely reach the Hall of Fame next year.

Jeff Bagwell

Date: April 8, 1991.

Age: 22.

Result: He went 0-for-3 with a walk while starting at first base in the Astros’ 6-2 loss to the Reds in Cincinnati.

Notable: Darryl Kile pitched one inning of relief for the Astros.

Aftermath: Bagwell played 15 seasons with the Astros and retired following the 2005 season as the club’s all-time leader in home runs (449) and RBIs (1,529). He was the 1991 NL Rookie of the Year and 1994 NL MVP.

Lance Berkman

Date: July 16, 1999.

Age: 23.

Result: He grounded into double play as a pinch-hitter in a 2-1 win over the Tigers in the Astrodome.

Notable: Craig Biggio scored Glen Barker with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth.

Aftermath: Berkman went on to become one of the most dominant offensive players in team history, playing 12 of 15 years in Houston and hitting 326 homers with the Astros. He was traded to the Yankees midway through the 2010 season and recently retired.

Hunter Pence

Date: April 28, 2007.

Age: 24.

Result: He started in center field and went 1-for-3 with a run scored and a strikeout in a 10-1 win over the Brewers at Minute Maid Park.

Notable: Craig Biggio, in his final season, tripled and homered in this game.

Aftermath: Pence finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in ’07, hitting .322 with 17 homers and 69 RBIs. He made the NL All-Star team in 2009 and 2011 before being traded to the Phillies midway through 2011 season for Jon Singleton, Jarred Cosart, Josh Zeid and Domingo Santana.

Jason Castro

Date: June 22, 2010.

Age: 23

Result: He started at catcher and went 1-for-4 with a run scored in a 3-1 loss to the Giants at Minute Maid Park.

Notable: Seven of the eight players in the starting lineup with Castro for his debut were traded away within two years.

Aftermath: Castro missed the entire 2011 season following ACL surgery, but he had a breakout season in 2013 and was the Astros’ first AL All-Star.

Jose Altuve

Date: July 20, 2011.

Age: 21.

Result: He started at second base and went 1-for-5 in a 3-2 win over the Nationals at Minute Maid Park.

Notable: Altuve’s first hit was a ninth-inning single off Tyler Clippard.

Aftermath: Altuve has blossomed into a cornerstone player for the Astros, with a career .284 batting average in his first 370 Major League games.