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.”
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.”
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:
After the Astros finish the second day of full-squad workouts on Friday, manager Bo Porter and bench coach Dave Trembley will take part in a meeting with Joe Torre, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations, and Peter Woodfork, senior vice president for baseball operations, to get the lowdown on instant replay.
Porter said the bench coaches from the Tigers and the Braves, both of whom train relatively close to Osceola County Stadium, will also take part in the meeting. MLB approved the use of expanded replay for the 2014, which includes managers being able to challenge calls.
Porter has been a proponent of replay.
“You have something in your pocket that can definitely impact the game, and we didn’t have that in previous years,” he said. “I’ve always been an advocate to do everything we can to get it right, and this is a huge step forward for Major League Baseball, given the amount of technology we have. It puts us in position get the calls right.”
In injury news, right-hander Jorge De Leon is nursing a strained right quad.
Friday was photo day for the Astros, which meant they took turns at various photo stations prior to workout:
With almost all of the position players have reported to camp Wednesday, the Astros will hit the field Thursday for the first full-squad workout of the spring. There was no shortage of news Wednesday, with the arrival of Roger Clemens, a calf injury to Jesse Crain and news Japhet Amador wasn’t reporting.
Many position players have been here for days, hitting in the cages and on the field in groups later in the day. They’ll be hard at it Thursday doing defensive drills and conditioning working along with the pitchers and catchers, who have four days of camp under their belts.
“When you have this many guys show up early, it almost feels like you’ve had a full workout just because we had so many guys that are here,” Astros manager Bo Porter said. “I just got finished commending the position players. It’s not every day you have pretty much your entire contingent of position players show up two, three, four days early and have the type of workouts and size of workouts they’ve been able to have.
“I think after we’ve had so many guys here already, it almost feels like we’ve had the whole team here.”
One player who had yet to report to camp as of 1 p.m. ET Wednesday was first baseman Jonathan Singleton, who was expected to be on the field Thursday.
“I think he will be here,” Porter said. “One of the guys told me they went to call him and the phone went to voice mail, so they think he’s on his way here on a flight. … I commend those guys who came in early, but at the same time it is voluntary and you don’t have to be here until Thursday.”
Porter will have different groups of position players lead the daily “break point” drills, when the players are given an in-game scenario to execute at the end of workouts. And like last year, there will be the daily shaking of hands on the field reminiscent of what takes place when the Astros win.
“We’re looking forward to it as a staff, and I’m pretty sure the players will be excited about it,” he said
Porter said he plans to address the full squad Thursday like he did five days earlier when pitchers and catchers worked out for the first time. Owner Jim Crane is not expected to be in camp Thursday to talk to the team.
“I’ve said this to the catchers and pitchers and the position players will hear the same message tomorrow,” Porter said. “The training wheels are off. It’s either you can ride a bike without training wheels or you’ll find down and we’ll pick you up and get you on your way.”
When manager Bo Porter addressed the Astros pitchers and catchers on the field prior to Wednesday’s workout, he could be overheard raising his voice and telling his team they’re actions were “disrespectful.” Porter was asked about the incident following the workout and said it stemmed from the daily 9 a.m. ET meeting, which he calls a “synergistic chemistry lab” for the players. Seven-time Cy Young award winner and Astros special advisor Roger Clemens was visiting camp to speak to the club and not all the players were ready.
“Obviously, as an organization we’re fortunate to have some people like Roger Clemens and Craig Biggio and different people that will come in here over the course of the year and speak to our ballclub,” Porter said. “Even that being said, we have the 9 o’clock meeting when it comes to the synergistic chemistry lab.
“Out of respect to your teammates, out of respect to the people that take time out of their day to come out there and try to do everything they can to help this organization, it’s the right thing to do to make sure you’re dressed and ready and attentive when that person shows up or when it’s time for a team meeting.”
Porter appointed a handful of veterans earlier this week to lead a closed-door players-only team meeting each day at 9 a.m. He’s not in the meetings, but he walked Clemens into the clubhouse Wednesday and didn’t like what he saw from some players.
“From a respect standpoint, you should give them that respect,” he said.
Pitcher Brett Oberholtzer said Porter brings the passion every day. “As a manager, you have to be that way I feel like,” he said. “With a younger ballclub in the Major League, it works.”
Seven-time Cy Young award winner Roger Clemens arrived in Astros camp Wednesday and went right to work, watching two groups of pitchers throw in the bullpen. He pulled a few of the guys aside to work on mechanics, including Lucas Harrell and Jared Cosart.
“I love it because when I was young, I was fortunate to have some veteran players around that I wasn’t afraid to ask pointed questions,” Clemens said. “I paid attention to detail and enjoyed watching. If I can fire them up and get them all excited and still give them a little reality, that’s good.”
Clemens, who will be in camp again Thursday and plans to show up next month at some point, is a special advisor to the club. He said the team’s young pitchers need to step up this year, a point he made when he addressed the pitchers and catchers.
“It was pretty straightforward,” Clemens said. “We talked about the expectations that there’s more than a handful of guys that have opportunity, and they need to take a big step forward. Spring Training, everybody’s all giddy right now and then you start the season and everybody gets punched in the face, and it’s not a lot of fun. I think they’re taking the kid gloves off them a little bit and asking a lot of them to step up.”
Clemens revels in the chance to help young pitchers, and the Astros certainly have no shortage of those guys. His impact with the Astros goes beyond Spring Training. Last year, he was sent on special assignments to watch some Minor League players and potential Draft picks, and the Astros sent him to Los Angeles last month to try to lure Masahiro Tanaka.
But the chance to work one-on-one with the pitchers in the spring is what he finds the most enjoyable.
“That was something that was said today also — obviously, it’s not working for some of you so you need to re-evaluate what you’re doing,” he said. “If you need to do some extra work, conditioning, whatever, it might be to make you mentally tougher than the next guy. With all the conditioning I did over my career, that really helped me feel like I had an edge over the next guy.”
The Astros will executive advisor Nolan Ryan in camp sometime next month as well.
“Last year, I was in the clubhouse when he spoke to the players,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said of Clemens. “He able to not only give the appropriate messages to the pitchers, but also to the catchers and position players [Clemens didn't address position players Wednesday]. He really understands our philosophy as an organization. He’s been a part of this organization for a long time and he sees eye to eye with everything we’re doing, and it was so much credibility from a player who’s won seven Cy Young awards.”
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Wednesday morning right-handed pitcher Jesse Crain suffered a right calf strain Tuesday when he was doing exercises in the gym and will undergo an MRI to make sure there’s no structural damage.
“He came in feeling better this morning,” Luhnow said. “It was sore, so we’re going to modify his throwing program a little bit in light of that. We’ll know more information the next couple of days, but that will be some sort of setback. We’ll continue to try and get him to work on his arm strength, but we’ll keep the calf injury in mind.”
Crain has yet to throw off the mound and is recovering from biceps surgery performed in October. Luhnow said he’ll probably have to throw from his knees during workouts to keep his arm loose.
He was an All-Star in 2013, posting 0.74 ERA in 38 games with the White Sox, striking out 46 and walking only 11 in 36 2/3 innings, including a 29-inning scoreless streak. He didn’t pitch after being traded to the Rays on July 29 because of the injury.
Meanwhile, first baseman Japhet Amador won’t report to camp on Wednesday or any time soon, Luhnow said. Amador is in Mexico with what would only call a family emergency.
“He’s not going to be here, and we don’t know what the next steps are with him,” Luhnow said. “For now, he needs to spend some time with his family, so he won’t be showing up here today. Other than that, we expect everybody else to be here.”
Amador, a 6-foot-4, 311-pound slugger who signed out of the Mexican League last year and played in the Arizona Fall League, was going to compete at first base with Jesus Guzman, Brett Wallace, Jonathan Singleton and Marc Krauss at first base.
“When things happen to your family, you tend not to think about next steps,” Luhnow said. “We’re going to give him the time that he needs, but right now we’re proceeding as if he’s not going be here during Spring Training. He was one of the players that was going to be in the mix for first base, but we have several others here who are going to compete hard for the position and we’ll find the right guy or pair of guys.”
The day in photos:
The Astros and the Nationals could possibly share a Spring Training site in Palm Beach County, Fla., the team’s general counsel said Tuesday.
Giles Kibbe, who’s spearheading the team’s efforts to relocate its Spring Training operations from Kissimmee, Fla., following the 2016 season, said he met with Palm Beach County representatives last week and has also a brief conversation with the Nationals.
“I know that the Washington Nationals have now expressed an interest in moving down to Palm Beach County and they’ve met with Palm Beach County representatives, so we’re just kind of looking forward to seeing the different potential site sand trying to make this happen,” Kibbe said.
Kibbe said the team is going to meet again in a couple of weeks to look at some potential sites and to discuss some financing issues.
The Astros had hoped to build a two-team facility to share with the Blue Jays in Palm Beach Gardens, but that plan fell through following stiff opposition from residents. The team has since explored other options in Palm Beach County – its preferred location – and even Arizona.
“I know that Palm Beach County has met with the Nationals,” Kibbe said. “I don’t know if they’ve met with the Blue Jays recently, so I don’t know where the Blue Jays stand on this.”
The Astros’ lease at Osceola County Stadium expires at the end of 2016, so construction on a new site would have to begin by the end of this year for completion in January 2017. The Astros prefer a two-team facility for financial reasons.
The Nationals would like to leave Viera, Fla., and put their spring site closer to other teams. Their lease at Space Coast Stadium expires at the end of 2017.
Though you’ll never hear anyone say it, a handful of the 65 players the Astros have in camp have little to no chance to make the Opening Day roster. Some are prospects who have yet to get their feet wet in Triple-A, and there are non-players who were signed to fill out some depth on Minor League rosters.
For a team that suffered 111 losses last year, the Astros have surprisingly little competition outside of their starting rotation and bullpen. Of the eight field positions, right field and first base have the most uncertainty, though manager Bo Porter said Tuesday that only center field, second base and catcher are sure things at this point.
“When you start to answer the question on the second or third day of Spring Training of this person definitely playing this position, we pretty much have competition going at every position,” he said. “If I had to look at our roster, I would look at say from a position-player standpoint Dexter Fowler is going to play center field, Jose Altuve is going to play second base and Jason Castro is going to catch.
“Outside of that, you can look at all the positions and you can say that there is some competition. It may be more competition at one position than the other, but competition is great. Competition is not what takes place between one player or two players or three players. Man to a man, you ask all these guys in the clubhouse, they’re competing with themselves as well to put up their best performance to show that they deserve to be a starter in the Major Leagues.”
But at this point it would likely take an injury or trade to keep third baseman Matt Dominguez, designated hitter Chris Carter and shortstop Jonathan Villar from starting at their positions. Robbie Grossman is the expected starter in left field