The agent for Japhet Amador, the burly slugger who didn’t report to Spring Training because of a family emergency, said Tuesday he could report to camp later this week. He has been at home in Mexico dealing with his ailing wife.
The Astros are attempting to have him report to camp by Friday, general manager Jeff Luhnow said.
“We’re talking right now,” agent Oscar Suarez said. “We’re just trying to figure it out.”
Amador was signed last year after he hit 36 home runs for Diablos Rojos del Mexico. He led his team in homers and RBIs with 121. In 104 games and 449 plate appearances, Amador struck out only 59 times. He represented the Astros in the Arizona Fall League.
In an effort to ramp up the intensity while promoting some camaraderie, Astros position players ended their workout Tuesday with a hitting competition that pitted a team picked by Jason Castro against a team picked by Brett Wallace.
The teams took turns batting against a pitching machine while trying to execute in different situations – squeeze bunts, man on third and one out, etc. – with manager Bo Porter standing behind a net and playing umpire, determining whether the batted ball would have done the job in real life.
Each team was awarded points for proper execution, and Wallace’s team won the competition on a walk-off homer run by catcher Rene Garcia.
“I thought it was great,” Porter said. “Those guys started ragging each other a little bit. It’s always good to add a little fun to Spring Training, but at the same time you keep it intense and competitive, and I felt the guys did a great job.”
The losing team had to pick up more than 500 baseballs that were scattered around the outfield and the bullpens, while the winning team headed to the clubhouse.
“We’ve been working on a lot of those situations,” Wallace said. “It’s been a big focus for us this whole camp for everybody. Not only was it like competing against yourself, the guys in your group, but you’re putting the whole team in a real competitive situations.
“It’s the closest we’re going to get to a game right now. Any time you’re out on the field in a separate dugout competing against each other, it’s going to make it more real.
Garcia proved to be an unlikely hero.
“He called it, too,” Wallace said. “After everybody went through [and hit], you could pick who you wanted to go up. I went a couple of times and some other guys went up, and Rene was like, ‘I got it, I want to go.’ He called it and requested it and went up there and delivered. It’s pretty neat he did that.”
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Feature story and video: J.D. Martinez has revamped his swing from head to toe…literally.
Here is the day in pictures:
The Astros have made an effort to ramp up the intensity this spring, and that’s been evident in several areas. Instead of just taking batting practice daily, the hitters are given situations – counts, men on base – when they step into the box so it gives them something to think about while they’re getting in their swings.
The team has gone as far as putting runners on base – behind a screen, of course – during batting practice so that even the runners get practice reacting to balls as they are hit. On Tuesday, there will be a competition between teams led by Jason Castro and Brett Wallace, who will have to pick a hitter to step into the plate in a scenario laid out by the hitting coach.
“From a staff standpoint, it does a number of things,” manager Bo Porter said. “One, we’re putting them in a competition where they’re going to compete. There will be something in which the losers will have to do at the end of the game. Two, it lets us know from a staff standpoint that they understand not only who they are but they also understand who their teammates are by who they pick to execute different situations.”
The hitting coaches have been keeping a points tally, and the winning team will get a reward.
Here are a couple of injury updates:
- Right-hander Asher Wojciechowski is awaiting results from an MRI performed Monday on his lat, which is a large back muscle that helps control the shoulder. He suffered the injury Feb. 1 and has yet to throw off the mound. He expressed some frustration Tuesday.
“This is taking longer than I thought I would,” he said.
- Right-hander Jesse Crain said his ailing right calf is progressing nicely. Crain is continuing his throwing program while recovering from biceps tendinitis surgery he had in October.
“The calf’s getting a lot better,” he said. “I should be out and hopefully running within the next week. The good thing is if I was on the mound throwing and getting ready for the season and this happened, it would be a setback. As far as where I am with my throwing program, it didn’t affect any of that. That’s a good thing and it’s still process, day by day thing and building my arm strength back up. Hopefully every day it’s getting stronger, which it is.”
The day in pictures from Astros camp:
Here are the Astros tweets of the day:
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.”
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.”
– 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.
Here are the Astros tweets of the day:
"I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become."—
Jerome Williams (@pinkpuka36) February 23, 2014
I failed to inspire my team. So proud of Adam's players. A clear message was sent.My hope is that our guys recognize what just happened.—
Morgan Ensberg (@MorganEnsberg) February 23, 2014
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:
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.