When the American League Championship Series gets underway Friday, Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan and executive advisor Nolan Ryan will be keeping a close eye on the battle between the Orioles and Royals.
Both teams feature familiar faces for the Ryans in the dugout, front office and coaching staff from their years in baseball. There are some former Rangers playing for the Orioles, including Chris Davis and Nelson Cruz, as well as a handful of players who came through the Ryan-owned Minor Leagues clubs in Corpus Christi and Round Rock, including Bud Norris and Jimmy Paredes.
Nolan Ryan, former president of the Rangers, is also friends with Royals legend George Brett, who was inducted in to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999 alongside Ryan.
“I’ve kind of pulled for Kansas City for a while now because of the fact that I know a lot of people over there, and I’ve been watching them progress the last few years,” Nolan Ryan said.
The Ryans know plenty of people with the Royals considering the two clubs share the same Spring Training facility in Surprise, Ariz.
“The Orioles and Royals are my sentimental favorites,” Reid Ryan said. “I know a lot of guys over there, as well as John Russell, who was instrumental in my dad’s career.”
Russell, the Orioles bench coach under former Rangers manager Buck Showalter, caught Nolan Ryan’s sixth no-hitter on June 11, 1990.
“He played at [the University of Oklahoma] and so we’ve had fun over the years keeping up with him and his wife, who’s a good friend who I knew at TCU,” Reid Ryan said. “We watched him go through his Minor League managing career and Major League coaching ranks. He’s one of those guys you’re going to hear his name in the next few years as a manager candidate.”
A.J. Hinch went right to work in his first day as manager of the Astros on Tuesday, a day that included a series of meetings, a tour of Minute Maid Park and a get-to-know-you session with All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve.
The work’s only beginning for Hinch, who was hired Monday as the Astros’ 18th manager. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, speaking Tuesday night at a reception for Altuve at Union Station, said the 40-year-old Hinch certainly isn’t without stamina.
“He wore me out,” he said. “We talked about a lot of things. He met a lot of people, and he’s coming back tomorrow morning early and he’ll be here all day. I think one of the best meetings we had was when I took him down, and he spent about 15, 20 minutes with Jose in the clubhouse and there was an instant connection there.”
Altuve, who coming off a season in which he won the Major League batting title by hitting .341 and set a club record with 225 hits, made a solid first impression on Hinch.
“There’s such an energy about him and it looks like it’s infectious,” he said. “Watching him play, getting the chance to meet him, they match. What he does on the field and how he plays on the field, it’s exactly what I expected in his personality.
“He’s a player that wants to win, he definitely feels like an Astro. It’s exciting to have him as a league-leading hitter, but also just the style and the makeup of the type of player that’s fun to be around and fun to have on the team.”
Hinch spent some time bouncing around the office with the baseball operations group and going through the typical first-day routine with human resources. He’s going to return to his home in San Diego on Thursday before returning next week.
“I had some long meetings talking about staff, talking about the first 40 to 50 days, what we’re going to try to accomplish, what I’m going to try to accomplish,” Hinch said. “I met with the entire company in an all-employee meeting and just chipping away at returning texts and phone calls and getting my feet back on the ground after a great day.”
Much of Hinch’s focus in the coming days will be about the coaching staff, which Hinch and Luhnow will assemble. The Astros have said pitching coach Brent Strom is returning, but no other decisions have been made.
Hinch would like to announce a coaching staff sooner than later, and one of the priorities will be having a former manager on his staff. The Astros have an opening for bench coach.
“Tomorrow I’m going to start to reach out to all of the coaches and the players and say hello and have those conversations with them, and I’m going to spend next week doing that,” Hinch said. “But I’m going to come back to Houston next week and try to set up some meetings.”
Luhnow said he and Hinch went over some information about other teams and started talking about the current roster.
“We don’t know when the staffing is going to come together because there may be people we want to speak to that are on playoff teams,” Luhnow said. “The work all happens simultaneously, but having A.J. on board for less than 48 years, the guy works really hard and he’s going to, maybe not burning it too much at both ends, but he’s obviously going to put a lot of time and effort into this.”
The Astros have called a 5:30 p.m. CT news conference today to name A.J. Hinch as their next manager, according to a baseball source.
Hinch managed the Arizona D-backs from May 2009 until July 2010 and was the vice president of professional scouting for the Padres for four years after that, a run that ended in August. He played in the Major Leagues with the A’s, Royals, Tigers and Phillies.
Hinch, 40, graduated from Stanford, where he was a third-round pick after his junior year. He won a bronze medal with the United States at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. In his Major League career, he hit .219 with 32 homers and 112 RBIs in 350 games.
Astros season by the numbers:
Home record: 38-43
Road record: 32-49
Series record: 19-28-5
One-run games: 17-28
Two-run games: 12-14
vs. LH starters: 21-26
vs. RH starters: 49-66
Day games: 21-26
Night games: 49-66
When scoring first: 46-29
Opponent scores first: 24-63
Outhit opponent: 50-11
Outhit by opponent: 16-76
Equal hits: 4-5
When hitting a HR: 53-38
No home runs: 17-54
Come-from-behind wins: 29
Largest comeback: 4 runs
Losses after leading: 37
Last at-bat wins: 17
Largest blown lead: 4 runs
Extra-inning games: 6-5
Different batting orders: 143
Batting average champion: Jose Altuve (.341)
Home run champion: Chris Carter (37)
RBI champion: Carter (88)
Stolen base champ: Altuve (56)
ERA champ: Collin McHugh (2.73)
Wins leader: Dallas Keuchel (12)
Strikeouts leader: McHugh (157)
Innings leader: Keuchel (200)
Saves leader: Chad Qualls (19)
Record in April: 9-19
Longest winning streak: 7 games (May 24-30)
Longest losing streak: 7 (April 13-20)
Most games over .500: 2 (2-0 on April 2)
Most games under .500: 22 (59-79, Aug. 29)
Walkoff wins: 4
Walkoff losses: 9
Players used: 48
Astros third base coach Pat Listach will interview with general manager Jeff Luhnow on Saturday at Citi Field for the full-time managerial position, a source told MLB.com.
Houston interim manager Tom Lawless was also scheduled to interview with Luhnow on Saturday as it searches to find a full-time replacement for Bo Porter, who was dismissed Sept. 1. The Astros have also talked to Triple-A Reno manager Phil Nevin, while A.J. Hinch, Dino Ebel, Torey Lovullo, Don Wakamatsu and Dave Martinez have been mentioned as candidates.
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review reported Saturday that Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister had completed two interviews with the Astros. Banister played at the University of Houston and grew up in the area.
Listach, 47, joined the Astros a year ago from the Dodgers, where he served as the organization’s Minor League infield coordinator in 2013. Prior to that, Listach coached on the Major League staffs for the Cubs (2011-12) and Nationals (2009-10) for two years apiece. He also has nine years of Minor League coaching experience in the Cubs system from ’00-08.
Listach played in six Major League seasons, which included time with the Brewers (1992-96) and the Astros (’97), and was named the ’92 American League Rookie of the Year. He hit .182 in 52 games on the Astros’ division-winning team in ’97, a veteran team that included Jeff Bagwell, Brad Ausmus, Craig Biggio, Sean Berry, Ricky Gutierrez, Tim Bogar, Luis Gonzalez, Darryl Kile and Mike Hampton.
The Astros have received permission to interview former big leaguer Phil Nevin to be their manager, a baseball source confirmed for MLB.com. Nevin, the former No. 1 overall draft pick by the Astros, is managing in the D-backs system at Triple-A Reno.
Nevin, 43, played 12 years in the Major Leagues after being taken by the Astros with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 First-Year Player Draft. He was a bust with the Astros, but wound up having a solid career by hitting .270 with 208 homers and 743 RBIs with the Astros, Tigers, Angels, Padres, Rangers, Cubs and Twins.
Nevin managed three seasons at Triple-A Toledo in the Tigers system before the D-backs hired him to managed this year at Reno.
Astros interim manager Tom Lawless will interview with general manager Jeff Luhnow on Saturday in New York for the full-time managerial position. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported earlier the Astros have interviewed at least five candidates by phone: A.J. Hinch, Dino Ebel, Torey Lovullo, Don Wakamatsu and Dave Martinez.
Whether interim manager Tom Lawless gets a chance to have the job permanently remains to be seen, but he’s worked well so far with interim bench coach Adam Everett. Lawless has been coaching in baseball for years, but for Everett it’s pretty much on-the-job training.
“He’s only been coaching for a couple of years,” Lawless said. He’s learned how to do it. His demeanor is like mine, except he’s a little bit more forceful than I am, which is good. We talk with each other. He can say some things I probably can’t say in the dugout and that’s how it’s worked, and it’s worked out pretty well.
“We have a really good relationship with everybody in the dugout and on the team, and when the atmosphere is that comfortable you can get your point across in different ways. Adam has learned that and Adam can do it, and I think Adam is going to be a very good coach for a long time. He’s knowledgeable, he knows the game, knows how to play the game, knows what to do in the game. To have him a part of what we’re trying to do here, it’s a great thing.”
The batting gloves worn by Jose Altuve when he passed Magglio Ordonez last week to set the record for most hits in a single season by a Venezuelan-born player are on their way to the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame.
Juan Pablo Galavis, a former professional soccer player who was recently featured on the reality show “The Bachelor,” is an ambassador for the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame and is traveling the country to collect donates to improve the facility, as well as gathering memorabilia from Venezuelan-born players.
Galavis, who born was in Ithaca, N.Y., but lived in Venezuela as a child, said Altuve is well-known in his native country.“With baseball being the first sport in Venezuela, every player that gets to the big leagues becomes a name,” he said. “Not only here and what he has done here, but also when he goes back home and he played last year and the year before, [reaching] the finals. They become super stars.”
The Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame, which opened in 2002, was the brainchild of the Cardenas family, which included a young son stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was such a huge baseball fan he wound up writing some books on the sports before passing away in 1994, and his family decided to open the Hall of Fame in his honor.
Galavis saw the Cardenas family story on a documentary and he started traveling to the United States to spread the word about the museum to Venezuelan-born players. He recently designation from the IRS as a charitable organizations, called the Cardenas Sports Foundation Baseball Hall of Fame Inc.
“I found out many of the players didn’t know the museum was there,” he said. “That’s what I stayed with them. It’s easier for me to travel to the United States, getting collectibles for the museum, just like Cooperstown does, than waiting for them to get to Venezuela, because maybe they won’t come, the teams won’t let them play. That’s pretty much what I like to do. It’s my passion.”
Galavis said being a TV celebrity has helped him make more inroads.
“I’ll say it’s helped a lot,” he said. “Obviously, I could so the same thing I did three years, two years ago, but now they see me a little differently.”
Mark Appel, one of the Astros’ top prospects and the No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, threw in the bullpen at Minute Maid Park on Thursday afternoon in front of senior pitcher advisor/special assistant to the general manager Doug Brocail and Astros pitching coach Brent Strom.
The Astros wanted to get Appel in front of Brocail, who served as the interim pitching coach at Double-A Corpus Christi, before the right-hander headed out next week for the instructional league in Florida and ultimately the Arizona Fall League.
“He’s still trying to get cleaned up,” Brocail said. “Personally, I think there’s a lot he needs to do. We’ve talked about it and it’s a matter of trying to clean him up as much as we can until he gets down the instructional league and out of the fall league. I just want to make sure he’s staying on the right path and doing the same things that led him to success at Double-A and he can keep marching up the ladder, versus taking one step back and two steps forward.”
Appel overcame a sluggish start to his first full season in the pro ball this year. He went 1-2 with a 3.69 ERA in seven games (six starts) at Corpus Christi after beginning the season with a 2-5 record and a 9.74 ERA in 12 games at hitter-friendly Lancaster in Class A.
“We got some really good work done in terms of trying to time some things up,” Strom said. “His fastball was extremely explosive, good changeup. There’s some work that needs to be done on the slider, which we did.
“He’s very open to ideas, so it was an excellent session and there’s definitely thunder coming out of his arm, from what I saw in the bullpen. It was firm, and it was four-seam firm with power. I was very excited for him and he did a good job. I loved what I saw, to be honest with you.”
When asked how close he was in the Majors, Strom said: “I saw some fastballs today that could have played last night.”
Brocail said his theory when he got Appel in July was to prepare him to pitch in the big leagues, which meant cleaning up his rhythm and delivery and helping him hold runners better.
“We got him in a five-man rotation and moved forward and didn’t look back,” he said. “Not taking anything away from the other coaches, I told him, I said, ‘Listen, everything that you think worked, keep it. And everything that didn’t, get rid of it. Erase it completely off the slate.’ And he responded very well. He’s intelligent, he has desire to win. I wish I would have had him longer.”
The Astros will have their Triple-A affiliate in Fresno, Calif., next season, the Grizzlies announced via Twitter.
Fresno, which had been partnered with the San Francisco Giants, will replace Oklahoma City, which had served as the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate the previous four years. The Dodgers bought a stake in Oklahoma City and will move their Triple-A operations there.
The Grizzlies play at Chukchansi Park in downtown Fresno. The park, which opened in 2002, seats 12,500 fans and features a semi-irregular field shape with dimensions measuring 324 feet down the left field line, 385 in left center, 400 in center field and 335 to the right field foul pole.
Fresno is in the PCL Northern division with Reno, Sacramento and Tacoma.