McHugh to remain in Astros rotation

With veteran right-hander Scott Feldman set to come off the disabled list Friday and start against the Orioles, it’s still unclear who’s coming out of the starting rotation to make room for him.

What is known is that right-hander Collin McHugh, who made three starts in place of Feldman, will remain in the rotation and make his fourth start Saturday against the Orioles in Baltimore. Jarred Cosart will start Sunday’s series finale at Camden Yards.

Astros manager Bo Porter said the club will make a corresponding roster move prior to Friday’s game to open up a roster spot for Feldman, who will make his first start since April 17. It appears either Dallas Keuchel, Brad Peacock or Brett Oberholtzer will be removed from rotation.

McHugh was dazzling in his first two starts in place of Feldman. He struck out 12 batters in 6 2/3 innings April 22 at Seattle and held the A’s to one run and two hits in 8 2/3 innings April 27. He struggled a little bit in his previous outing Sunday against Seattle, allowing five earned runs and eight hits in four innings.

“He threw the ball well,” Porter said. “Even in the last start against Seattle, I felt like he battled. He still had his secondary stuff. It wasn’t as sharp as it was the first two times out, but you look at the body of work in the three starts, and I feel he deserves an opportunity.”

Astros recall Zeid, option Fields

In a move that came as no surprise, the Astros optioned struggling relief pitcher Josh Fields to Triple-A Oklahoma City and recalled right-hander Josh Zeid, who was in uniform for Wednesday’s game at Comerica Park.

Zeid spent three days on the Major League roster last month while Matt Albers was on paternity leave. He pitched two games in Toronto and allowed two earned runs and four hits in three innings. He’s served as the closer at Oklahoma City and picked up his fifth save Tuesday night.

He had pitched in 11 games for the RedHawks this year and was 2-1 with a 2.19 ERA with 13 strikeouts and three walks.

Fields allowed five runs and six hits in two-thirds of an inning in Tuesday’s loss to the Tigers. In his last five outings, he had given up 14 earned runs and 14 hits in three innings after starting the season with a 2.00 ERA in his first nine games.

“I was throwing strikes and pitching the ball down in the zone,” Fields said Tuesday. “They were making some good swings on some pitches.”

Qualls recalls mentorship from Ausmus

When Astros pitcher Chad Qualls made his big league debut nearly 10 years ago, he leaned heavily on veteran reliever Russ Springer to learn how to carry himself and veteran catcher Brad Ausmus to learn about the nuances of pitching in the Majors.

Qualls, who returned to Houston this year on a two-year deal, took some time this week to catch up with Ausmus, who’s in his first year as manager of the Tigers. As a young pitcher, Qualls learned quickly to put his compete trust in Ausmus.

“Brad was really good,” Qualls said. “I was open-minded about pitching, so there was numerous times when I had two strikes or something on a guy and he would signal for a sinker and I would shake him off. I wanted to throw a slider in the dirt. He’d put down for a sinker, and I would shake. He’d put down sinker again and I would shake, and he would put down sinker down and stare at me. I was ‘OK, I have to throw that pitch.’”

Qualls would then take the opportunity to talk to Ausmus in the dugout and ask him about the pitch sequence.

“I would just ask, ‘Why would you want me to throw a sinker there?’ Because I didn’t know,” he said. “He said the guy had no chance on my fastball. Sure enough, it worked. He’s really in tune with the game and just taught me that sometimes you don’t always have to throw sliders. I can get guys out with my fastball with two strikes.”

Even back then, Qualls could tell Ausmus was managerial material.

“Everybody knows he’s a Dartmouth guy and a smart guy,” he said. “Not only is he smart, but he understands that there’s different individuals in the clubhouse. Everyone is different. He really was a great catcher. You don’t hit .200 every year – OK, I’ll give him .225 – and play for like 15 years. He definitely knows the game of baseball and knows what to do and how it’s supposed to be played.

“He’s a well-respected guy. When he retired and when I would read he wanted to manage, I knew it would come along. He just had to wait for the right opportunity, and he inherited a team that had 90-something wins last year and some great players. He deserves it.”

Photos from Comerica Park

Road series photos are back:

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J.D. Martinez talks with Miggy Cabrera

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Brad Ausmus throws BP

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Two great baseball men: Gene Lamont and Dave Trembley

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Miggy Cabrera jokes with Astros

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Ausmus talks to Geoff Blum and Alan Ashby

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Victor Martinez greets Jesus Guzman

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George Springer dances

Martinez enjoying time in Detroit

J.D. Martinez has found a home in Detroit, but the former Astros outfielder was looking forward to seeing some of his friends and former teammates this week during the Tigers’ series against Houston.

“It’s going to be exciting seeing the guys again,” said Martinez, who was drafted and developed by the Astros before being released in March. “It’s weird. You look across and everybody is looking at you and waving at you and you want to go over there and hang with them and say hi, but you can’t. I can’t explain it. It’s just exciting.”

Martinez was called up by Detroit after hitting .308 with 10 homers and 22 RBIs in 17 games at Triple-A Toledo. He wasn’t in the lineup for Monday’s series opener, but was hitting .278 with four RBIs in 18 games off the bench.

Martinez said being on a winning team with a deep lineup has removed some of the pressure he felt with the Astros, where often felt a burden to drive in runs.

“There’s so many guys in the lineup here that you don’t feel like you have that pressure on you,” he said. “We have a really good lineup over there, but it’s different. These are experienced guys, they’re the guys that have done it. You kind of just go out there and if there’s guys on, you try hard to get them, but if not it’s not the end of the world. I know the guy behind me is just as good, and he’s probably going to get him. When you’re winning, there’s a lot less pressure.”

And Martinez admitted he was caught off guard when he found out how down-to-earth stars like Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer were.

“All these guys have been around the game for so long and done so much,” he said. “You think they would have egos and stuff, and it’s the complete opposite. None of the guys have egos. They’re all like little kids. It was the coolest thing, talking to Miggy and the way he was and the way he talks. He was so humble. I had an out-of-body experience talking to him. You’re like, ‘Wow, is this really the Triple Crown winner?’”

Martinez credits much of his success this year to the adjustments he made in winter ball and again in Spring Training, where he worked on keeping his bat in the zone longer.

“Once I got my timing, I felt like, ‘OK, it got it now’ and it kind of rode into the season,” he said.

Astros announce Minor League Players of the Month

The Astros’ player development department has named April’s Minor League Pitchers and Players of the Month at each of their four in-season minor league affiliates. These awards are chosen every month by the field staff of each team.

At Triple-A Oklahoma City, LHP Rudy Owens was named Pitcher of the Month after going 2-0 with a 3.95 ERA in seven games (four starts) in April. Owens struck out 26 batters and walked just two in his 27 1/3 innings while holding opponents to a .233 batting average. The club’s Player of the Month honors went to IF Jon Singleton, who led the Pacific Coast League in homers (nine) and ranked second in RBIs (27) during the month of April. In his 26 total games in April, Singleton hit .293 (29-for-99) while adding six doubles, one triple and a 1.045 OPS.

LHP Tommy Shirley was named Double-A Corpus Christi’s Pitcher of the Month after going 2-2 with a 1.27 ERA and 34 strikeouts in six April games (four starts) as part of the Hooks piggy-back starting rotation. Shirley posted the third-lowest ERA in the Texas League during the month, striking out 34 batters and walking just four in his 28 1/3 innings. OF Preston Tucker earned the Hooks Player of the Month honors after hitting .295 (31-for-105) with nine doubles, six homers, 17 RBIs and a .909 OPS across 26 games in April. The 2012 seventh-round pick shared a tie for the Texas League lead in homers and RBI for the month, and led all league hitters in extra base hits (15) and total bases (58).

RHP Kyle Smith earned Class A advanced Lancaster Pitcher of the Month honors after compiling a 4-0 record with a 2.60 ERA and 31 strikeouts in seven games (three starts). Acquired by the Astros from Kansas City last season in the Justin Maxwell trade, Smith was promoted to Corpus Christi after his strong month in the hitter-friendly California League. Lancaster’s Player of the Month award went to 2B Tony Kemp, who leads all Astros’ Minor Leaguers in batting average (.325) and hits (38). A fifth-round selection by the Astros in last year’s draft, Kemp hit .311 (32-for-103) with seven doubles, three triples, two homers, 11 stolen bases and a .911 OPS in 26 games in April for the JetHawks.

At Class A Quad Cities, RHP Gonzalo Sanudo was named the River Bandits’ April Pitcher of the Month after going 3-0 with a 0.50 ERA and 14 strikeouts in five games (two starts) during the month. He gave up his first run of the season on April 27, which snapped a streak of 40 consecutive scoreless innings dating back to July 9 of last season. The Mexican-native was acquired by Houston from Minnesota in exchange for OF Mike Kvasnicka on March 25, 2013, and was converted to a starter this season.The Quad Cities Player of the Month award went to OF Brett Phillips, who hit .301 with three triples, two homers and an .840 OPS in 23 games in April. Phillips was a sixth-round Draft selection by the Astros in 2012.

 

Astros targeting May 29 for Crain return

The Astros are targeting May 29 – the date he would be eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list – as the date for injured right-handed pitcher Jesse Crain to be added to a roster, whether at a Minor League affiliate or with the Astros.

Crain, who hasn’t pitched since the middle of last season, was moved from the 15-day disabled list Friday to make room on the 40-man roster for reliever Tony Sipp, who was signed. Crain began spring rehabbing from biceps tendinitis surgery and is now dealing with mostly bursitis in the shoulder, general manager Jeff Luhnow said.

“We’re setting his date as a goal that he’s out with us or one of our Minor League affiliates in games,” said Luhnow, who talked to Crain via phone Friday from Florida, where he’s been rehabbing. “He’s been making progress. He’s feeling better.”

Crain is still only throwing off flat ground, but Luhnow said he’s scheduled to get on the mound in the next few weeks. His throwing program been mapped out for the month.

Crain was an All-Star in a 2013 season in which he posted a 0.74 ERA in 38 games with the White Sox, striking out 46 and walking only 11 batters in 36 2/3 innings, including a 29-innings scoreless streak. He didn’t pitch after being traded to the Rays on July 29 because of biceps tendinitis that eventually required surgery.

In 10 Major League seasons with the Twins (2004-10) and White Sox (2011-13), Crain has posted a 45-30 record with four saves in 532 appearances (all in relief) with a 3.05 ERA and a .229 opponents’ average.

Astros agree to terms with Sipp

The Astros bolstered their bullpen Friday by agreeing to terms veteran left-hander Tony Sipp to a Major League contract. To make room for him on the roster, right-hander Paul Clemens was optioned to Triple-A, and right-hander Jesse Crain was transferred to the 60-day disabled list.

Sipp’s agent, Hunter Bledsoe, said he could earn up to $700,000 with incentives.

Sipp had appeared in 11 games this season at Triple-A El Paso of the San Diego organization, going 1-1 with a 4.30 ERA in 14 2/3 innings. He asked for his release from the Padres after it became clear a big league opportunity wasn’t on the horizon.

The 30-year-old comes to the Astros with a career 3.84 ERA in 304 appearances with the Indians (2009-12) and the D-backs last season. He’s held lefties to a .224 average in his career and righties to a .209 mark.

“It’s definitely kind of a better chance coming to a club searching for some kind of stability and me just, not trying to make a name for myself, but to almost prove to yourself that you still have the same success that you had the last few years,” Sipp said. “I had a down year last year, and to get an opportunity to go out there and prove yourself, prove to everyone else that this is where you belong, that’s what every player wants. I want to make a home, and there’s no better place than Houston.”

He’ll provide help to an Astros bullpen that ranks last in the Majors in ERA at 5.86 and is tied for the most blown saves with six. He’ll join Raul Valdes, who allowed three earned runs and three hits in 3 1/3 innings in seven games this year, as the lefties in the bullpen. Kevin Chapman began the year as the lefty specialist, but was optioned to Triple-A after giving up five runs and five hits in 3 2/3 innings.

Sipp joins fellow veterans Chad Qualls and Matt Albers in the bullpen, though Albers is on the disabled list.

“Just like anything, you want to sit back and get acquainted with the guys before I start giving my input,” he said.

Clemens, 26, has made four appearances for the Astros this season, posting a 4.73 ERA. He pitched on Wednesday against Washington, tossing 3 1/3 innings, while allowing one run.

Crain, 32, has been on the disabled list the entire season while recovering from offseason surgery on his right biceps. He currently is rehabbing at the Astros’ Spring Training complex in Florida, throwing off flat ground, after being diagnosed with bursitis last week.

Sipp on his away to help Astros bullpen

The Astros will sign veteran left-hander Tony Sipp to add to their bullpen, a source confirmed for MLB.com on Thursday. The team hasn’t commented.

Sipp had appeared in 11 games this season at Triple-A El Paso of the San Diego organization, going 1-1 with a 4.30 ERA in 14 2/3 innings. He asked for his release from the Padres after it became clear a big league opportunity wasn’t on the horizon.

Sipp, 30, comes to the Astros with a career 3.84 ERA in 304 appearances with the Indians (2009-12) and the D-backs last season. He’s held lefties to a .224 average in his career and righties to a .209 mark.

He’ll provide help to an Astros bullpen that ranks last in the Majors in ERA at 5.86 and is tied for the most blown saves with six.

The only left-hander currently in the bullpen is Raul Valdes, who allowed three  earned runs and three hits in 3 1/3 innings in seven games this year. Kevin Chapman began the year as the lefty specialist, but was optioned to Triple-A after giving up five runs and five hits in 3 2/3 innings.

Astros injury updates

Here is the latest on some of the Astros’ injured players:

– RHP Scott Feldman, who’s been on the disabled list since April 18 with right biceps tendinitis, threw 35 pitches in the bullpen Tuesday afternoon without any problems and is expected to be slotted back into the rotation soon.

Feldman, who went 2-1 with a 1.69 ERA in his first three starts with the Astros, said he’ll throw a simulated game on Thursday or Friday and then should be good to go. He could come off the disabled list as early as Saturday.

“I’ve just got to sit down with the training staff and coaches and kind of map out where we go from here,” he said. “I feel like I could pitch right now. We’ll see what happens. We’ve got to get through the live BP first before we know.”

– RHP Alex White took a huge step forward in his recovery process from Tommy John surgery by throwing two innings Tuesday in a game at extended Spring Training in Kissimmee, Fla.

General manager Jeff Luhnow said the Astros were pleased with what they saw from White, who had the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow repaired a little more than a year ago. White injured the elbow at the end of Spring Training last year, a few months after the Astros acquired him in a trade with the Rockies.

“It was a milestone for him,” Luhnow said. “We saw the velocity back up in the neighborhood of where he was before he got hurt. He still has a little more to go, but that’s encouraging. All the secondary stuff was sharp today.

“To me, having had the surgery a little over 12 months ago, he should be starting to understand the timetable for him returning to games in the Minor Leagues, and after today we now can see the end of the tunnel. I’m not going to make any promises, but he’ll continue to throw in games down there, and if that continues we’ll send him down on a rehab assignment.”

– RHP Asher Wojociechowski (right lat strain) threw live batting practice Tuesday for the first time and looked good and felt good, Luhnow said.

– RHP Jesse Crain (right biceps surgery/bursitis) threw off flat ground again Tuesday and is feeling increasingly better, according to Luhnow.

– 2B prospect Delino DeShields Jr., who suffered a fractured cheekbone when he was hit by a pitch April 18 for Double-A Corpus Christi, has also arrived in Florida to rehab. Luhnow said he’s there to take batting practice and potentially see living pitching while the Hooks are on the road.

 

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