Game 25: Williams roughed up in loss to Cards

The fact: Jerome Williams allowed six runs and nine hits, including three home runs, in four innings as the Astros lost for the ninth time in 10 games, 6-3, on Sunday afternoon at Roger Dean Stadium (boxscore).

Not that it matters much, but the Astros have lost nine of 10 to fall to 8-15.

What we learned: The fact Williams is a lock to make the club, something which manager Bo Porter said earlier Sunday, doesn’t change his approach to anything the rest of the spring.

“I’m just going to keep on going day-by-day until Opening Day comes,” he said. “I’ve been around this game for a long time, and I’m not satisfied until I’m there Opening Day. Even though it was said by the manager I was there, I’m going to try and work my butt off and try and be that pitcher that I always want to be and try and compete and do well.”

Williams, who’s battling with Dallas Keuchel, Brad Peacock and Lucas Harrell for the two final spots in the starting rotation, didn’t help his case Sunday when he was rocked for nine hits and six runs in four innings in a loss to the Cardinals.

“I’ve just got to work on throwing a ball not to bats,” he said. “It was one of those days where balls were just finding bats, and balls were finding holes. I left like three or four pitches up and they took advantage of it. It’s kind of bad that it’s happening now at the end of spring. Hopefully, I can just try and turn it around before the season starts.”

Read more about Williams here.

Player of the game: SS Jonathan Villar went 1-for-3 with a triple and made a pair of great catches. In the sixth inning, he made an all-out diving grab along the left-field line, and an inning later caught a foul pop while navigating the bullpen along the left-field line.

“That’s a tough play when you start dealing with the bullpen mound and the different things that’s down there,” manager Bo Porter said.

What went wrong: The Astros, who were without the top three hitters in their lineup — Dexter Fowler, Jose Altuve and Jason Castro — were held to three hits and didn’t get a hit until Villar led off the sixth with a triple. … C Carlos Corporan had a throwing error in the seventh inning.

Notable: LF Marc Krauss made a great diving catch to rob Matt Carpenter of a hit to start the game. … RHP Anthony Bass and RHP Jorge De Leon each threw 1 2/3 innings of scoreless ball. LHP Raul Valdes threw two-third scoreless.

Quotable: “Jerome has really good command, and sometimes you can throw too many,” — Astros manager Bo Porter on starting pitcher Jerome William’s tough outing.

Up next: LHP Dallas Keuchel gets another shot to win a spot in the rotation when the Astros face the Braves at 5:05 p.m. CT Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Keuchel got off to a nice start this spring with three consecutive scoreless outings before getting rocked for 13 hits and seven runs March 18 against the Marlins in Jupiter. He’s battling with Jerome Williams, Brad Peacock and Lucas Harrell, though either one of those pitchers could wind up in the bullpen as well.

Injuries: RHP Alex White (recovering from biceps tendinitis surgery), RHP Asher Wojciechowski (lat strain), RHP Jesse Crain (biceps tendon surgery recovery), RHP Peter Moylan (UCL tear).

Links of the day:

Astros to open the season without a set closer

Former first-round Draft pick Jio Mier hopes to rebound in 2014

Tweet of the day:

Game 22: Wacha dominates Astros as Altuve homers

The fact: Michael Wacha held the Astros to four hits and two runs in seven innings, and the Cardinals jumped on Brett Oberholtzer for four runs in the first inning and got a solo homer from Matt Adams in the third to beat the Astros, 5-2, on Saturday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium (boxscore).

What we learned: It’s late in spring, but pitchers are still ironing out the kinks. LHP Brett Oberholtzer worked his way through a stressful first inning, giving up four hits and three runs, and settled down to give the Astros five innings while throwing 87 pitches. He’ll have one more spring start before taking the ball against the Yankees on April 3.

“Obviously, the first inning the results aren’t what I’m after,” he said. “The overall body of work, I was satisfied in keeping my team in the game. [Matt] Adams hit the home run in the third and I had put up a couple of zeroes in between. Over the course of a season, that’s going to happen to us, and I’m sure it will happen to a lot of us when they jump on you early. But more [importantly] is how you handle yourself over the course of a whole game. There’s still some things I need to work on, but I was pretty satisfied with how I went along after the first.”

Player of the game: CF Dexter Fowler, celebrating his 27th birthday, went 2-for-4 with a run scored.

What went wrong: Oberholtzer struggled in the first inning, putting the Astros in a 3-0 hole they couldn’t escape. After getting the first out of the game, he allowed the next four batters to reach and three of them scored. … SS Jonathan Villar made his sixth error of the spring with an errant throw to first base in the third. … The Astros mustered only five hits, including four singles.

Notable: RHP Josh Fields didn’t allow a run for his fifth consecutive outing. He’s scoreless in his last six innings, allowing four hits in that span. … RHP Ross Seaton, a former high draft pick who was in camp with the Astros last year, worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning. … IF Marwin Gonzalez went 1-for-3 and actually lowered his average to .436.

Quotable: “I’m the fourth hitter, that’s what I’m supposed to do,” — Astros second baseman Jose Altuve on hitting a homer out of the cleanup spot.

Up next: The race for the final two spots in the pitching rotation takes center stage Sunday in Jupiter, Fla., when Jerome Williams gets the start for the Astros against the Cardinals at 12:05 p.m. CT. Williams is battling with Dallas Keuchel, Lucas Harrell and Brad Peacock for the final slots, though either of them could wind up being in the bullpen, as well.

Injuries: RHP Asher Wojciechowski (lat strain), RHP Jesse Crain (biceps tendon surgery recovery), RHP Alex White (Tommy John recovery) and RHP Peter Moylan (torn UCL).

Links of the day:

J.D. Martinez, who tore through the Minor Leagues and was called up to replace Hunter Pence in 2011, was given his release

The Astros roster is taking shape, but middle infield remains key piece

Astros expanding video capabilities in Minor Leagues

Crain among pitchers to start the year on the DL

Jose Altuve wants to play 162 games this year

Qualls, Albers pitch for second day in a row

Tweet of the day:

Picture of the day:

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J.D. Martinez: “I’m sad to leave Houston”

J.D. Martinez, who was called up straight from Double-A the day after Hunter Pence was traded nearly three years ago and had a terrific first month in the Major Leagues, saw his tenure with the Astros come to an end Saturday.

The Astros released the 26-year-old outfielder, who had struggled to get on track offensively this spring without routine playing time. They team also announced it had optioned left-hander Darin Downs to Triple-A and reassigned first baseman Japhet Amador and infielder Gregario Petit to Triple-A.

As Martinez packed up his things in the Osceola County Stadium clubhouse early Saturday, a steady stream of teammates came over and exchanged hugs, handshakes and well-wishes.

“It’s alright,” Martinez said. “I’m not really down about it. It is what it is. Obviously, Houston is the team that brought me up and where I want to be. Everything happens for a reason.”

Martinez, who was vying for a spot in left field or right field, hit .167 with one RBI in 18 at-bats this spring. He was taken off the 40-man roster prior to camp, and the Astros have younger players like L.J. Hoes, Robbie Grossman and top prospect George Springer competing for playing time in the outfield as well.

“We had a lot of history with J.D. and he’s got some value as a right-handed power hitter, outfielder,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “We really feel like to a certain extent we’re a victim of our own success. As we continue to develop young talent, we’re going to end up not having room for some players who fit in in the past and could fit in with other clubs. We wish him the best. We still think he’s a Major League player. It’s just not a fit for our club right now.”

Martinez spent parts of three years in the Major Leagues with the Astros, hitting .251 with 24 homers and 126 RBIs. His best year was his rookie season of 2011 when he hit .274 with six homers and 35 RBIs and started 52 of the final 55 games after being called on July 29 to replace Pence in the lineup.

He drove in 28 runs in August 2011, which ranked second in the National League and were a record for an Astros rookie in any month.

“Obviously, I’m sad to leave Houston,” he said. “I love the fans and players and everyone here. I feel like they have a lot of guys coming up, and if there’s not room for me to get at-bats and not room for me to play, it’s best to let me go and not try to hold me back, and I commend them for that and I thank them for that.”

Martinez knew he had to play winter ball to post some numbers. He batted .312 with six homers and 18 RBIs in 24 games in Venezuela last off-season. The experience was a good one, even though he lost 16 pounds because of sickness.

Still, with Springer and Hoes getting time in right field along, Martinez’s at-bats were limited this spring.

“I feel that it was very tough, given my situation, of how I was going into games and stuff,” he said. “I know how it works. I know in Venezuela I hit the ball really well down there. Let’s say I have a new respect for guys who come off the bench every day. That’s not easy to do.”

Martinez hopes to be able to land with another team.

“Jeff was telling there’s a lot of teams that were looking around,” he said. “I was supposed to make a lot of money in Triple-A and because of that it’s kind of spooked teams away. Now it will be a lot easier to get picked up type of deal.”

The move with Petit mean that Marwin Gonzalez and Cesar Izturis are left battling for a backup middle infield spot, and Downs’ potion leaves Raul Valdes and Kevin Chapman as the only two lefties remaining in the bullpen.

“We still have a couple of cuts to make and it’s starting to come into focus and we still have enough games to make the final determinations,” Luhnow said.

Moylan has a UCL tear, seeking second opinion

Astros relief pitcher Peter Moylan has been diagnosed high-grade tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and is hoping to meet next week with renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion.

Moylan, a non-roster invitee to camp who was having a strong spring in his battle to win a spot in the bullpen, told MLB.com Friday he injured his elbow while throwing in a game Saturday against the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla.

“I was having control issues and it kind of felt weird in my elbow, but not weird enough I was willing to come off the field,” he said. “I kept pitching and I got through the inning. The nastiest three pitches I threw were the three I struck out [Alex] Avila with. I went to the field the next day and tried to play catch and couldn’t do it.”

Moylan had an MRI earlier in the week and found out the results Friday morning after he returned from Atlanta, where he spent a couple of days dealing with a family matter.

Moylan had pitched in five games, allowing two runs and four hits this spring. An eight-year veteran who had some great success with the Braves from 2006-10, Moylan spent last season split between the Minor Leagues and the Dodgers, appearing in 14 games.

Game 21: Bad inning hampers Feldman

The fact: Garrett Jones hit a two-run homer in the first inning off Scott Feldman and added an RBI single in a three-run fifth inning to lead the Marlins to a 7-2 win over the Astros on Friday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium (boxscore).

What we learned: The Astros bullpen should be improved, as we expected considering the additions they made. RHPs Josh Zeid, Matt Albers and Chad Qualls each pitched in relief and were impressive. Zeid went two innings and allowed two hits and one run while striking out four, Albers threw a scoreless inning and Qualls allowed a run in the ninth. Still, they appeared more in control and polished than earlier in the spring.

“Albers threw the ball really well,” manager Bo Porter said. “He had some late life to his fastball. His sinker looked like it was really sinking today and he threw a couple of really good sliders. …  Zeid was tremendous today. He had that one outing where he really got away from his fastball and establishing his fastballs, but he’s gotten back to attacking the strike zone with his fastball and his split-finger and slider have come along as well.”

What else: RHP Scott Feldman retired 13 of the 14 batters after Garrett Jones took him deep to right field in the first inning, but he labored in the fifth as the Astros made a pair of errors behind him. All three runs the Marlins scored in the fifth came after the first two batters were retired. He threw 88 pitches in five innings, giving up  seven hits and five runs (four earned) with one walk and three strikeouts.

“The goal was 90 [pitches],” Feldman said. “It would have been nice to get out of that fifth a little bit quicker and get out there for a sixth. Really overall, the result weren’t there in that fifth inning but I made some good pitches. I think overall on the day, a couple of bad pitches. For the most part I was executing my pitches pretty well. The results aren’t always going to be there. If I can throw the ball like the results will be better.”

Player of the game: RHP Matt Albers. He breezed through the eighth inning, retiring all three batters he faced, with one strikeout.

What went wrong: The Astros made a pair of errors in the fifth. LF Robbie Grossman overthrew third base, which led to a run, and RF L.J. Hoes allowed a ball to roll under his glove for a two-base error. … The Astros went 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

Notable: C Jason Castro was scratched from the starting lineup because of flu-like symptoms.

Quotable: “I’m trying to stay away from both of them. I told Dave I don’t need one of them touching the lineup card.”— Astros manager Bo Porter on coaches Pat Listach and Dave Trembley, both of whom are dealing with flu-like symptoms.

Up next: LHP Brett Oberholtzer, who will start the third game of the regular season, gets the call when the Astros play their third consecutive home game at 12:05 p.m. CT Saturday against the Cardinals at Osceola County Stadium.

Injuries: RHP Asher Wojciechowski (lat strain), RHP Jesse Crain (biceps tendon surgery recovery), RHP Alex White (Tommy John recovery)

Links of the day:

Feature story: You won’t find a more likeable teammate that Carlos Corporan, who’s done a nice job as backup catcher, too

Marc Krauss has put himself in good position to make the club

Darin Downs know how serious a line drive off the head can be

Alex White likely headed to extended Spring Training to continue rehab

Tweets of the day:

Picture of the day:

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Mark Appel throws in Minor League game

Astros’ Appel gets in game for first time

With general manager Jeff Luhnow, several members of the front office and a handful of scouts watching from one of the back fields at Osceola County Stadium, Astros right-hander Mark Appel took the mound in a game for the first time Friday in a game this spring.

Appel, the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s First-Year Player Draft who was slowed by an appendectomy performed in late January, threw 37 pitches in 1 2/3 innings of work while starting a Minor League game for Class A Lancaster. He allowed three doubles, one run, one walk and struck out a pair of batters.

“It was good to get back out there,” said Appel, who was sent to Minor League camp Thursday. “It’s good to face batters. I think it had been close to seven months since I last got to face a hitter in a game situation [last season at Stanford]. I’m just happy to be back and be healthy after the appendectomy and just ready to get going and ready for the season to start.”

Appel started the game by allowing back-to-back doubles and a walk before settling down to strike out two of the next three batters and escape the inning with only one run allowed. He threw 10 pitches in the second inning, getting a pair of groundouts before leaving the game after allowing a double and reaching his pitch limit.

“First time you step on the mound in a couple of months, I felt like my timing was a little bit off and I felt like I was a little bit anxious, maybe rushing a little bit,” he said. “Just kind of the excitement and the nerves of getting to face hitters, no matter if you’re in Little League or the big leagues, you’re going to get excite to do what you love and you just find joy in it. I enjoyed getting to play today.”

Appel admitted he wasn’t in the same physical condition he was in midseason at Stanford, but he still tried to let it fly as much as he could. His fastball was sitting in low 90s according to one scout’s radar gun.

“That’s what the point of Spring Training is and the point of getting to go out over the season,” he said. “That’s why they call it midseason form. I hope to be in the best physical shape of my life by the middle o the season this year, and I’m doing everything each and every day to get to that point.”

Appel, who will pitch again Wednesday, said he threw more curve balls in the second inning. He said the hitters weren’t catching up to his fastball in the first inning.

“I was expecting it, and I left it up and they hit it well,” Appel said. “Besides that, what I could tell they were waiting fouling it off, so I wanted to try to set them up with the fastball and work on a good strikeout curveball.

“I didn’t quite get there today. I was leaving some of my off-speed pitches up. I threw one or two good ones of each, but for the most part it’s still something I need to work on. I’m never done improving, never done getting better. Overall, I’m pleased with being able to go out and compete. I had fun today.”

Game 20: Harrell makes his case for rotation spot

The fact: Right fielder Bobby Abreu went 3-for-4, including a tiebreaking double in the sixth inning, to lead the split-squad Phillies to a 6-3 win over the Astros on Thursday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium (boxscore).

What we learned: Don’t count out RHP Lucas Harrell for a spot in the starting rotation. Harrell, who coughed up 12 hits and nine earned runs in his previous start on Saturday, pitched well Thursday by allowing six hits and one earned run in 4 1/3 innings. He wasn’t efficient, though, needing 91 pitches.

Harrell, who’s among four battling for the final two spots in the Houston rotation, has allowed one earned run in four of his five starts this spring.

“Some of the good things I’ve been taking out of my outings are weak contact,” he said. “I felt like I got some weak contact today, some balls on the ground, and that’s mainly what I’m looking for.”

Player of the game: CF Dexter Fowler went 2-for-2 with a walk, a double and a run scored at the top of the lineup to raise his spring average to .250.

What went wrong: LHP Kevin Chapman, who took the loss, came into a jam in the fifth and got a pair of strikeouts before allowing a pair of runs (one earned) in the sixth. … LHP Darin Downs gave up five hits and three earned runs in two innings of work, raising his spring ERA to 6.75. … Marwin Gonzalez played a few innings in CF as promised and sailed a throw to the plate in the sixth inning well over the catcher’s head.

“I think it’s a matter of getting to know the position and getting his arm stretched out,” manager Bo Porter said. “Obviously, that’s a different throw than any of the throws he’s had to make from short, second or third. Again, we’re going to put him out there. He gives us flexibility. I thought he made a really good play on a ball doing to left-center. He’s going to add some versatility to our ballclub.”

Read more about how Gonzalez could shape the Astros roster here.

Notable: Harrell picked off Reid Brignac at second base in the third inning. … C Carlos Corporan was charged with a passed ball in the fifth inning. … RHP Josh Fields is having a strong spring. He struck out all three batters he faced in the ninth inning. … SS Jonathan Villar went 2-for-4, and C Jason Castro was 2-for-3.

Quotable: “It takes three pitches to strike somebody out and one pitch to have them hit a ground ball,” — Astros manager Bo Porter when asked about Harrell not having any strikeouts.

Up next: RHP Scott Feldman, who will start for the Astros on Opening Day against the Yankees on April 1, will make his second-to-last start of the spring when the Astros face the Marlins at 12:05 p.m. CT Friday at Osceola County Stadium. He’s scheduled to throw 90 pitches across six or seven innings

Injuries: RHP Asher Wojciechowski (lat strain), RHP Jesse Crain (biceps tendon surgery recovery).

Links of the day:

Full story and video: Astros cut six prized prospects from camp.

Oberholtzer and Cosart to follow Feldman in rotation

X-rays show no fracture for Correa

Tweets of the day:

Appel ready to get on the mound

Astros right-hander Mark Appel, who’s spent most of the spring recovering from an appendectomy performed in January, is scheduled to appear in a game for the first time this spring. That will happen Friday, likely in a Minor League game and not the Grapefruit League game against the Marlins.

Appel, the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s First-Year Player Draft, has been taking it slow since undergoing an appendectomy in Houston, just weeks before the start of camp. He said Wednesday he’ll be prepared to throw an inning or two.

“I’m really excited,” he said. “It’s going to be good to actually toe the rubber in a Spring Training game. It’s been a long time coming, so I’m real excited and grateful to have the opportunity to go out and compete with my teammates.”

Appel was never really considered a candidate to make the big league team to start the season, though he’s about as polished as you get considering he spent four years at Stanford. That being said, he would like to break camp with a team – likely Class A Lancaster – instead of having to stay in Kissimmee for extended Spring Training.

“I want to be ready for Opening Day, wherever I go,” he said. “I believe I can be ready physically, and that’s what my goal is. It hasn’t changed since the beginning of Spring Training. Since I had an appendectomy, I made the goal to be ready for the Opening Day of the season.

“That’s what my plan is. If the trainers and other people involved in making that decision say otherwise, there’s not much I can do about it. I’m going to make the most of it one way or another, but I believe I can and will be there for Opening Day, wherever I go.”

Game 17: Relievers on display in rain-shortened loss

The fact: Dan Uggla hit his third home run of the spring in the second inning Monday afternoon and added a two-run triple an inning later to lead the Braves to a 4-0 short-shortened win over the Astros in five innings at Osceola County Stadium (boxscore).

What we learned: LHP Brett Oberholtzer and RHP Jerome Williams are progressing nicely as they battle for a spot in the rotation. Oberholtzer is pretty much a lock to get a rotation spot at this point it appears, and Williams should have a spot on the club as either a starter or a reliever.

Both pitchers started a Minor League intrasquad game between the team’s Double-A and Triple-A affiliates at 9 a.m. ET Monday. Oberholtzer threw 75 pitches in five innings, and Williams threw 75 pitches in six innings.

“The last thing you want in Spring Training is to get your starters backed up and you’re trying to find innings as you go along and you can’t get an opportunity to get them built up,” manager Bo Porter said. “It’s been great to have these camps games and allow these guys to stay on turn and get their work in and get built up.”

More on Oberholtzer and Williams can be found here.

Player of the game: LHP Darin Downs. Starting the game in place of Oberholtzer, Downs worked two innings and gave up a solo homer to Dan Uggla. Regardless, it was a strong outing for the veteran in his quest to win a rotation spot.

What went wrong: LHP Kevin Chapman, who hadn’t allowed a run in his first four spring starts, was hit for three earned runs and five hits in one inning. … The Astros were 2-for-18 with six strikeouts against Braves starter Alex Wood.

Notable: RHP Ross Seaton, who was in Major League camp with the Astros last year, pitched an inning in relief and looked sharp. … IF Jio Mier, the club’s former first-round Draft pick, had a double a single against Williams in the morning intrasquad Minor League game. … CF Dexter Fowler went 1-for-2 with a bunt hit and a strikeout and had a nice diving catch to end the first inning.. … LF Robbie Grossman had the Astros’ only other hit.

Quotable: “Once we talked to the grounds crew and the umpire and myself and Fredi [Gonzalez], we walked out there and it was standing water at third and they had no plans to cover the field. At that juncture, you don’t want to put our players or their players in jeopardy of somebody suffering an injury with the grounds just not being safe,” — Astros manager Bo Porter on decision to call the game after five rain-soaked innings.

Up next: Left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who hasn’t allowed a run in three spring outings covering nine innings, tries to fortify his spot in the rotation when he starts against the Marlins in Jupiter, Fla., at 12:05 p.m. Tuesday. Keuchel is scheduled to throw about five innings.

Injuries: RHP Mark Appel (recovering from appendectomy), RHP Asher Wojciechowski (lat strain), RHP Jesse Crain (biceps tendon surgery recovery).

Links of the day:

Story and video: Feldman named Opening Day starter

Video: Carlos Correa giving his Quad Cities teammates an impromptu speech Sunday

Bass ready for closer role if asked

Chapman bullish on Gators in NCAA Tourney

Tweets of the day:

Picture of the day:

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Jio Mier hitting a single against Jerome Williams

 

Feldman gets the Opening Day nod from Astros

Astros manager Bo Porter made official Monday what everyone had suspected by announcing veteran right-hander Scott Feldman will start on Opening Day for the Astros against the Yankees at Minute Maid Park.

The Opening Day assignment will be the second for Feldman, who signed with Houston on a three-year, $30 million deal in the winter to provide veteran leadership to the Astros’ young rotation. Porter didn’t say how the rotation could shake up beyond Feldman’s April 1 start.

“You look at his track record and the fact he’s a former 17-game winner and the fact that he gives us a great opportunity to win a ballgame each and every time he takes the mound,” Porter said.  “He’s a strike-thrower, he’s a competitor.”

Feldman will be the fifth different pitcher to start on Opening Day for the Astros, joining Bud Norris (2013), Wandy Rodriguez (2012), Brett Myers (2011) and Roy Oswalt (2003-10).

The 6-foot-7 Feldman went 12-12 with a 3.86 ERA in 30 starts with the Cubs and Orioles last season. Earlier this spring, he said being the veteran of a young staff probably comes with less pressure considering he’s locked into a contract.

“When you’re always playing for a contract or going year to year or stuff like that, I think it can put a lot of pressure on guys,’ he said. “For me, I don’t put too much pressure on myself to begin with. I try to remember I’m playing a game, and it’s a lot of fun and I really enjoy what I do. Just go out there and try to have fun.”

Feldman made his first 73 career appearances out of the bullpen from 2005-07 before being moved to the rotation in ’08. His best season came in 2009, when he went 17-8 with a 4.08 ERA in 34 games (31 starts). Feldman is a ground-ball pitcher who allowed only 159 hits in 181 2/3 innings last season with 132 strikeouts and 56 walks.

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