Astros manager Bo Porter said Monday morning the task of finding a pitcher or a combination of pitchers to successfully handle the role of closer will be job one this spring. That’s no shocker considering the Astros have blown 48 saves in 111 chances the last two years, which is a Major League-low 56.8 save percentage in that span.
“When you look at the woes in which we had in our bullpen last year, it’s something we set out as an organization to make sure we rectified,” Porter said. “We brought in some guys that have the ability to rectify that portion of our ballclub, and I’m anxious to see how it plays out.”
Porter said newcomers Jesse Crain, Chad Qualls and Matt Albers will all be considered for closer, along with Josh Fields, who handled the duties for part of last season as a rookie after Jose Veras was traded. Qualls spent parts of three seasons as a closer with the D-backs.
“We’ll figure out as the course of spring goes on and the season goes on who’s best suited for that role, but it will be collectively a group effort to get those late outs in the back end of the game,” Porter said. “I think it’s totally open because I think competition brings out the best in all of us. And it’s something that we’re going to let these guys compete and let the competition tell us who should actually have that role.”
Ideally, the Astros would like to have one identified closer, but Porter knows that might not be the case for the start of the season.
“When you have that guy, that’s the ninth-inning guy, you know when it’s a save situation he’s going to get the ball every time,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re not at that point, as far as our team would go. I’m glad we have a multitude of guys capable of manning that role. Again, we’ll let that competition play itself out, and I believe one of these guys, if not two or three of these guys, are going to step up. It’s a good problem to have if you have everyone throw well and now you look and you feel like you have a closer in the seventh, eighth and ninth.”
In addition to experience, which could give Qualls a leg up, the ability to induce weak ground balls is what Porter is looking for in a closer.
“If they do get in trouble, they have something that can get them out of trouble,” he said. “They have to be able to get righties and lefties out because when you bring in a closer, you don’t want to feel like you need to match him up against the opposite hitter. I also think experience plays a huge role in doing that job. It’s a guy that’s been there and understands the moment. The moment is never going to get too big for him. That’s important for well.”
Here the Tweets of the day from the Astros:
Physicals today. 👆 😩—
Peter Moylan (@PeterMoylan) February 16, 2014
We wait all winter for Spring Training, and the first day of workouts is usually anti-climatic. That can be good news considering it means no one got injured and everyone showed up on time, so the fact there was no news coming off the back fields at Osceola Country Stadium on Sunday was definitely good news for the Astros.
Three groups of pitchers got on the mound for the first time, including Scott Feldman, Brad Peacock and Chad Qualls, while all the pitchers worked on fielding practice. Meanwhile, position players who have reported early — a group that’s approaching 20 — hit in the cages and then took batting practice on the back fields. That included newcomer Dexter Fowler, who showed up at camp Sunday to meet his new team.
“This is a time where we have several new guys in camp and I wanted to try to place eyes on as many of the new guys as possible,” said Astros manager Bo Porter, who wandered around the fields. “When you look at the groups, they’re split up to a point where it allows me the opportunity to rove and get to see some bullpens in certain groups and get to see PFP [pitcher fielding practice] in some of the other groups.”
Porter stressed to the pitchers earlier in the day to not try to do too much on the first day. No one is going to make the club throwing in the bullpen.
“The last thing you want is a guy to come out here and try to impress and end up blowing out in the bullpen and not even in a game where the competition is taking place,” Porter said. “I thought the guys did a good job of being as crisp as you could without being 100 percent as far as effort goes, as far as letting the ball go. That’s what you want in your first bullpen session.”
Prior to Astros pitchers and catchers taking the field for the first time Sunday morning on the back fields at Osceola County Stadium, manager Bo Porter met with a group of veteran pitchers he identified as being the leaders of the staff.
Porter sat down with Lucas Harrell, Scott Feldman, Chad Qualls, Matt Albers, Jesse Crain, Jerome Williams and Peter Moylan and told them he wants them to set a good example for the youngsters. They’ll also be involved in some of the morning meetings.
“You look at that group, and it’s guys that had success at the Major League level, they’re veteran guys,” Porter said. “I explained to them, ‘We’re not looking for one leader. We’re looking for a group of leaders.’ This is an unusual situation. A lot of those guys have come here from other organizations. Chad and Albers are a little bit different because they were here at one time and came back. Lucas has been here.
“I wanted to stress to them that this organization and where we’re at right now, it’s not like we have the [Craig] Biggios, the [Jeff] Bagwells, the guys that have been here for many years and you can say, ‘Hey, follow these guys. They know the Astros way.’ We are in the process of creating the Astros way, and our younger guys, I want to make sure they’re following the right people.
“I stressed that to our veteran guys. When you are a young players – and we’ve all been there before – you look around the clubhouse and say, ‘Wow, this guy’s been here 10 years. I wonder how he’s been able to accomplish that?’ Because you’re young, you’re impressionable and you’re going to watch that guy and watch that every move. I told those guys, ‘You will do more by whatever it is you do than you do than by whatever it is that you say.’ So make sure that your actions match what it is you’re saying each and every day.”
While the pitchers did their morning stretch work, Porter emphasized how happy he was that camp was finally underway following an offseason full of roster moves.
“I probably looked at the roster 1,000 times,” he said. “That’s what you do each and every day. You go to the ballpark and sit up at night and you think about the players. It’s good to have the group of talented guys we have here, but more importantly it’s good to be out here and getting started with the 2014 season.”
Astros pitchers and catchers reported to Osceola County Stadium on Saturday, and Tag’s Lines compiled some of the best tweets from those in uniform…
First official spring nap in the books.—
Peter Moylan (@PeterMoylan) February 15, 2014
Astros pitchers and catchers reported for Spring Training on Saturday. Here are some notes, as well as some photos:
White progressing steadily
Right-hander Alex White continues to progress steadily from the Tommy John surgery he underwent nearly a year ago. White threw batting practice Friday, tossing 23 pitches, including some changeups to a few hitters.
“We’re coming along pretty good,” he said. “My off-speed stuff is really good, and I’m waiting on the fastball to come along. I think it will come. We’re really just at 10 months right now. A couple of more months we should be there.”
Off-season work beneficial to Castro
Considering he had more time to work out this off-season, All-Star catcher Jason Castro is coming to camp with his surgically repaired right knee feeling stronger than it was even a year ago.
“I put in a lot of work this off-season and I feel like I put myself in a good spot coming back, even better than I was last year,” he said.
That’s a tremendous sign for Castro, who a year ago at this time said his knee was feeling 100 percent.
“I was able to work out for a longer period this off-season than I ever had,” said Castro, who earned a degree from Stanford in the off-season. “I was back in school pretty much right after the season ended, and I was recovering and doing some rehab stuff. I started my off-season.”
Appel recovering from appendectomy
Astros pitcher Mark Appel is still a little sore, but otherwise on the road to recovery after having to undergo an appendectomy Jan. 30 in Houston.
Appel, who lived with his parents in Houston in the off-season, woke up in the middle of the night and thought he had indigestion. The pain lingered, and he soon rustled his father in his sleep to tell him to take him to the hospital.
“Usually if I have food poisoning, I’ll just grab some Tums or something like that,” he said. “I did that after the first time I threw up, and I woke up again maybe an hour later and the same thing and the pain’s worse. I knew something was up, and I just said, ‘Hey dad, I think we need to go to the emergency room to be sure.’ Sure enough, I had appendicitis. It was pretty crazy.”
Wallace focusing on making roster
The fact that Brett Wallace is in camp this year as a non-roster invitee after being designed for assignment last week doesn’t change his mindset: he’s coming to camp to try to win the starting job at first base.
“It’s something I’ve never been through,” he said. “I had some friends and people you play with go through it. It’s definitely a new process but something that, honestly, I can’t control. In the same aspect, I’m coming in camp to win a job. I’m going to keep my head down and keep working and then whatever is happening with all that, I just try to put it to the side and keep preparing.”
Here are some photos:
Fellow 3,000-hit member Craig Biggio counts himself has a huge fan of Yankees legend Derek Jeter, who announced on Wednesday he was retiring at the end of this season. Biggio, a New Yorker and 20-year Astros legend, has great admiration for Jeter and the way he played the game.
“I guess you know all good things come to an end,” he said. “For Derek, he’s had an unbelievable career. his legacy with the Yankees and in baseball is really second to none. He’s got a long of things to be proud of. I think the biggest thing is, the most important thing, is the respect he got from his teammates and the respect he got from other players.”
Biggio announced he was retiring before the 2007 season, so he knows what Jeter will be going through when he makes the rounds to different ballparks. He received several gifts along the way, including a grill and a supply of bratwurst prior to his final games in Milwaukee.
“I just think the biggest thing is to enjoy it, and I think it’s such a classy move,” he said. “If you know what you’re going to be doing, to be able to announce to the fans so they can get an opportunity to watch you play one more time, that’s great. A lot f times when players don’t know or keep holding on, the fans will be held at bay because the players don’t know. If they know it’s going to be the end, the fans could go out and show their kids and grand kids and say ‘Hey, I watched him his whole career. He played the game the way you were supposed to play.’ It’s a classy move on his part. He knows what he wants to do, and I think it’s just great.”
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has no inhibitions about the team’s hiring of Nolan Ryan, who’s coming aboard as an executive advisor. Ryan will assist not only Luhnow, but also president of business operations Reid Ryan in the operations of the club.
How big of a role Ryan has remains to be seen. He’s not going to be a daily fixture at Minute Maid Park because he prefers to commute occasionally from his home in Georgetown, Texas, but the Astros certainly would be wise to lean heavily on Ryan. He was the CEO of the Rangers, who were successful under his tenure, and he definitely knows a thing or two about pitching.
“He has so much experience and I think he can be used in a variety of ways,” Luhnow said Tuesday. “He definitely is going to have his opinions about our players and opinions about players on other teams. He’ll help us from a player evaluation standpoint ‘cause the more points of views you get, not only on your own players but on players you’re potentially trying to acquire outside the organization, the better off you’re going to be.
“From a player development standpoint, he’s got experience and can help us there. There’s countless areas where he can assist and help out. He’s been part of the game for so long and done so many different types of things.”
Luhnow has helped rebuild the Astros farm system the last two years, and it’s widely considered the deepest in the game. The club has sacrificed success at the Major League level to get that done, but Luhnow believes the Astros are poised to begin trending upward. The arrival of Ryan won’t hinder his plan, which is based heavily on data analysis.
“Clearly Nolan Ryan on board is huge for the city and organization,” he said. “I did spend over an hour with him [two weeks ago] and had several conversations with him prior to that as well, really trying to understand what the role would look like so he was comfortable with it and it made sense. He’s really anxious to help out, he’s anxious to be involved in various areas. The role that ultimately we created for him is going to allow him to help out across all the areas of the organization, which will maximize his impact.”
The Astros have a wealth of young, promising starting pitching – arms that will be able to learn from Ryan, as well as special advisor Roger Clemens.
“He already knows some of our players by being with the Rangers and living near Round Rock (Texas) and seeing Triple-A players and going to Corpus Christi and so forth,” Luhnow said. “He’s got a pretty good feel for our players right now.
“I do expect he’s going to deepen that understanding of our own players and be able to provide his point of view. I don’t know if he’ll go out and see players for the Draft, but our Triple-A players, Double-A, Major League players, he’ll be able to give us valuable opinions about.”
Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, one of the most popular players to ever wear an Astros uniform, is returning to the organization in an advisory role, a source told MLB.com on Tuesday.
The team wouldn’t confirm the agreement, but an announcement could be made later Tuesday.
Ryan met with Astros owner Jim Crane and president of business operations Reid Ryan, Nolan’s son, last month, and Nolan Ryan has been mulling an offer to return to Houston since. He worked for former owner Drayton McLane in an advisory role from 2004-08.
Nolan Ryan, citing a desire to spend more time on his ranch and with his family, stepped down as the chief executive officer of the Rangers at the end of October.
“I think to have an opportunity to work with Reid and what is an organization that is headed in the right direction and has turned the corner and the potential they have, to be involved in that would be fun and be exciting,” Nolan Ryan said last month.
Nolan Ryan grew up near Houston and pitched nine of his 27 years with the Astros (1980-88), before finishing his playing career in Arlington. He was hired by former Rangers owner Tom Hicks as club president on Feb. 6, 2008.
Ryan later joined with an ownership group put together by Chuck Greenberg that submitted the highest bid in a bankruptcy auction on Aug. 12, 2010. When Greenberg was forced out in March 2011, Ryan added the title of CEO.