Results tagged ‘ Bo Porter ’

Astros ramp up the spring intensity

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.”

Day 8: Intrasquad game pleases Porter

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:

0223 001

Morning stretch

0223 003

Anthony Bass and Collin McHugh

0223 005

Pitchers as catchers?

0223 008

3B coach Pat Listach hits fly balls

0223 010

Chris Carter and Jonathan Singleton

0223 014

Jason Castro gives signs during drills

0223 015

Dave Trembley

0223 028

Jonathan Meyer awaits a pop up as teammates watch

0223 031

Dallas Keuchel enjoys a laugh

0223 033

Jerome Williams and Darin Downs

0223 034

Vince Coleman is once again at camp

0223 040

Jonathan Villar works on bunting

0223 043

Cesar Izturis works on bunting

 

Porter not happy following defensive drills

The Astros had to alter their schedule Saturday because of early-morning rain showers, with the pitchers throwing live batting practice first to make sure they got their work in before more rain fell. As far as the position players are concerned, they took batting practice and then worked in a large group focusing on defensive drills.

“We had some weather early on, so we wanted to make sure our pitchers that were scheduled to throw live, we wanted to keep them on schedule,” manager Bo Porter said. “We were able to get that in, and it turned into a defensive day from that point on.”

Porter said the defense needs improvement, which meant the players weren’t able to give each other the post-workout “Astros win!” handshake.

“We didn’t execute, and that’s why we actually turning into a day of execution from the defensive side of it,” Porter said. “We all understand the game of baseball. It’s about runs being scored, and I’m a firm believer that the best offense is a good defense. We have to defend the baseball.”

That’s more about just making the throws or fielding cleanly, Porter said.

“We’ve explained this to our guys, from a defensive standpoint it’s not just the physical aspect of making the plays,” he said. “There are a lot of mental things that go into positioning, situations, understanding what to do, what not to do, given the situation. We’re going to put our guys in as many of those situations as possible throughout the course of the spring to try to emphasize the importance of these decisions based on situations.”

0222post 002

Jason Castro gears up

0222post 004

Paul Clemens throws

0222post 006

Pitching coach Brent Strom shows pleasure with Clemens

0222post 008

Adron Chambers holds court

0222post 010

Jason Castro takes batting practice

0222post 012

Marwin Gonzalez watches play unfold

0222post 013

Players watch workouts from dugout

Day 4: Clemens works with Astros pitchers

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.”

0219 047

Clemens with Castro, Cosart

0219 045

Hitting coordinator Jeff Albert and hitting coach John Mallee

0219 042

Pitchers throwing bullpens

0219 040

Jerome Williams and Roger Clemens

0219 037

David Stearns, Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter watch workouts

0219 035

Roger Clemens and Lucas Harrell

0219 031

Rudy Owens

0219 027

Pitching coach Brent Strom and Roger Clemens

0219 020

Jerome Williams

0219 014

Lucas Harrell

0219 011

Roger Clemens holds court

0219 007

Pitching coach Brent Strom gets animated

0219 005

Kevin Chapman warms up

0219 004

Bo Porter and Roger Clemens

0219 026

Roger Clemens watches Lucas Harrell

0219 044

Carlos Munoz

Astros morning update: Porter likes competition

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

Finding a closer is top job for Astros

Astros manager Bo Porter said Monday morning the task of finding a pitcher or a combination of pitchers to successfully handle the role of closer will be job one this spring. That’s no shocker considering the Astros have blown 48 saves in 111 chances the last two years, which is a Major League-low 56.8 save percentage in that span.

“When you look at the woes in which we had in our bullpen last year, it’s something we set out as an organization to make sure we rectified,” Porter said. “We brought in some guys that have the ability to rectify that portion of our ballclub, and I’m anxious to see how it plays out.”

Porter said newcomers Jesse Crain, Chad Qualls and Matt Albers will all be considered for closer, along with Josh Fields, who handled the duties for part of last season as a rookie after Jose Veras was traded. Qualls spent parts of three seasons as a closer with the D-backs.

“We’ll figure out as the course of spring goes on and the season goes on who’s best suited for that role, but it will be collectively a group effort to get those late outs in the back end of the game,” Porter said. “I think it’s totally open because I think competition brings out the best in all of us. And it’s something that we’re going to let these guys compete and let the competition tell us who should actually have that role.”

Ideally, the Astros would like to have one identified closer, but Porter knows that might not be the case for the start of the season.

“When you have that guy, that’s the ninth-inning guy, you know when it’s a save situation he’s going to get the ball every time,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re not at that point, as far as our team would go. I’m glad we have a multitude of guys capable of manning that role. Again, we’ll let that competition play itself out, and I believe one of these guys, if not two or three of these guys, are going to step up. It’s a good problem to have if you have everyone throw well and now you look and you feel like you have a closer in the seventh, eighth and ninth.”

In addition to experience, which could give Qualls a leg up, the ability to induce weak ground balls is what Porter is looking for in a closer.

“If they do get in trouble, they have something that can get them out of trouble,” he said. “They have to be able to get righties and lefties out because when you bring in a closer, you don’t want to feel like you need to match him up against the opposite hitter. I also think experience plays a huge role in doing that job. It’s a guy that’s been there and understands the moment. The moment is never going to get too big for him. That’s important for well.”

0217 001

Players gather for morning instruction

0217 002

Catching instructor Jeff Murphy and new first base coach Tarrick Brock talk

0217 003

Pitching coach Brent Strom

0217 005

Josh Fields talks to Dallas Keuchel

Veteran leadership key as workouts begin

Prior to Astros pitchers and catchers taking the field for the first time Sunday morning on the back fields at Osceola County Stadium, manager Bo Porter met with a group of veteran pitchers he identified as being the leaders of the staff.

Porter sat down with Lucas Harrell, Scott Feldman, Chad Qualls, Matt Albers, Jesse Crain, Jerome Williams and Peter Moylan and told them he wants them to set a good example for the youngsters. They’ll also be involved in some of the morning meetings.

“You look at that group, and it’s guys that had success at the Major League level, they’re veteran guys,” Porter said. “I explained to them, ‘We’re not looking for one leader. We’re looking for a group of leaders.’ This is an unusual situation. A lot of those guys have come here from other organizations. Chad and Albers are a little bit different because they were here at one time and came back. Lucas has been here.

“I wanted to stress to them that this organization and where we’re at right now, it’s not like we have the [Craig] Biggios, the [Jeff] Bagwells, the guys that have been here for many years and you can say, ‘Hey, follow these guys. They know the Astros way.’ We are in the process of creating the Astros way, and our younger guys, I want to make sure they’re following the right people.

“I stressed that to our veteran guys. When you are a young players – and we’ve all been there before – you look around the clubhouse and say, ‘Wow, this guy’s been here 10 years. I wonder how he’s been able to accomplish that?’ Because you’re young, you’re impressionable and you’re going to watch that guy and watch that every move. I told those guys, ‘You will do more by whatever it is you do than you do than by whatever it is that you say.’ So make sure that your actions match what it is you’re saying each and every day.”

While the pitchers did their morning stretch work, Porter emphasized how happy he was that camp was finally underway following an offseason full of roster moves.

“I probably looked at the roster 1,000 times,” he said. “That’s what you do each and every day. You go to the ballpark and sit up at night and you think about the players. It’s good to have the group of talented guys we have here, but more importantly it’s good to be out here and getting started with the 2014 season.”

0216 004

Clemens and Moylan emerge

0216 001

Harrell heads to field

0216 005

Wojciechowski walks to field

0216 011

Castro gets in gear

0216 012

Rhiner Cruz

0216 014

Qualls is back in Kissimmee

0216 018

Porter talks with Appel and Stassi

0216 019

Corporan mugs for the camera

0216 020

Pitchers do morning exercises

Porter ready for the Astros to push forward

Astros manager Bo Porter met with the media on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings. Here’s the transcript:

Q.  Bo, what did you learn your first year as a manager?  You’ve got your second year coming up, what did you learn as a manager and things you may do differently going into year two?
BO PORTER:  I tell you, the first thing I learned is I have a whole lot more patience than I thought I had.  It’s one of those things obviously you go into a situation, it’s your first year, and I’m a firm believer that we learned through all of our experiences the importance of the back end of your bullpen, the importance, even when you look at the number of outs we made on bases, the importance of how those outs kind of impact the later portion of your game.
I think from a staff standpoint, we will address a lot of these situations a little bit differently in spring training to help out with players understanding the magnitude as great as we understand the magnitude.
Collectively we can look at our 2013 season, and we will not spend a lot of time talking about 2013 as a whole, just because I want to put that season behind us and really look forward to the bright future that we have for the Houston Astros organization.

Q.  How was it communicating with players and trying to keep them from not getting down in August and September as the losses are piling up?
BO PORTER:  I tell you, that was a collective job.  Not just myself, but the staff.  I think a lot of our players from Jason Castro to Jose Altuve, a lot of those guys started to really assert themselves from a leadership standpoint.
We had a lot of young guys.  Well, we have a team full of young guys, but we had even younger guys that came up in the latter part of the year, and some of those guys that had been there the whole year took it upon themselves to really make sure that the morale of the team and energy stayed the course, and our staff basically helped with that process as well.

Q.  What can we expect from Jose Altuve?
BO PORTER:  I think you’re going to get what Jose will bring to the table each and every day.  He is one of those guys that I always have to defend this here question because I get asked about it.  Is he going to leadoff, bat second or third?  Jose Altuve is the true definition of a baseball player.  He’s going to play his heart out each and every day.  He’s a guy that can handle the bat.  He hits good pitching.  I really believe that even with the success which he’s had already that his best years are yet to come.

Q.  Did you find you were doing things differently or your team might have changed along the way?  Even preparing for a series or advanced meetings or something, what time you do this during the day?
BO PORTER:  Well, first of all, because I’m not a superstitious person, I’m not one of those that feels like you need to do something at a certain time because you won that game or lost that game or you shouldn’t do this.
Our preparation, pretty much as far as the staff goes, we meet the first game of every series to go over the opposing team.  Doing that meeting, it’s more taking all of our advanced information that we receive and condensing it down to a point where making the decision of exactly what it is we’re going to basically give to the players.
Then as the series go along, there may be different things that happen throughout the course of one game to the next that you may grab an individual and say, listen, this happened last night, and let’s make sure we are aware of this situation if it happens again.

Q.  What are you hearing about Alex White, and will he be ready for spring training and battling for the rotation in the bullpen?
BO PORTER:  I tell you, Alex White has made tremendous improvement.  All indications lead toward him being ready in spring training, to be in competition for either one of those roles.  He was in competition last year.  It was unfortunate he suffered the injury which he suffered.  But I believe that our medical staff has done a tremendous job of getting him back to the point where he can be able to come into spring training and he should be healthy and compete for one of the roster spots.  Whether it’s in the rotation or the bullpen.

Q.  Bo, talk about the winter that JD Martinez is having.  And do you see him having more of an impact like he did in his rookie year?
BO PORTER:  I tell you, we were extremely happy that we were able to retain JD Martinez.  A lot of that had to do with the fact that he missed a lot of time due to injuries.  To JD Martinez’ credit, he was adamant about going to winter ball.  He wanted to go to winter ball because he felt like he missed some many at‑bats that he wanted to not only prove to the organization but also prove to himself that he could be the quality of player which he was his rookie year.
And the success in which he’s having in winter ball, is it shocking to us?  No, it’s not shocking to us because we believe this guy can be an impact bat in a Major League lineup.  It’s good to see him figure things out.  He’s healthy now.  We’re really excited to get him back into spring training and believe he can have an impact on our ballclub in 2014.

Q.  My understanding is JD made an adjustment to his swing.  What can you tell us about that?  When did it happen and how did it evolve?
BO PORTER:  That maturation started to happen throughout the course of the year.  John Mallee, our hitting coach, looked at some mechanical things that he felt would help JD use his power better, and they started to tweak his swing a little bit.  His approach was understanding how to get inside his legs a little bit more, take a little bit of his arm out of his swing.  And JD was very receptive to it.
I think, again, that played a huge factor in him making the decision to go play winter ball.  Because when you start to change your swing from a mechanical standpoint and now you get hurt and miss those at‑bats, you’re feeling good with the changes but now you’re not able to play.  He was eager to put this here to test.  Going down to winter ball has afforded him that opportunity and put him in a position where he’ll be coming into spring training batting for a job.

Q.  Another guy that’s having some success in winter ball is Jonathan Singleton.  What type of improvements are you looking to see out of him this season?
BO PORTER:  I tell you, it’s good to get Jonathan back and have him the full year.  He had the setback last year as far as the suspension goes.  He’s a very talented young man.  He’s a guy that obviously is one of our top prospects, and we see him being part of our organization for many years to come.  Again, he is a guy that missed a considerable amount of time, and going to winter ball allowed him to make up for those at‑bats and he’ll come into spring training with an opportunity to be able to win a spot on our team.

Q.  One of the keywords this spring will be competition.  What is that competition going to be like throughout?
BO PORTER:  Last year when you look at our ballclub coming into spring training, and I was asked this question, all I said was Jose Altuve is going to play second base.  That competition is a little different this year.  I mean, we have a third baseman in Matt Dominguez.  We have a shortstop in Jonathan Villar.  We have a catcher in Jason Castro.  And Robbie Grossman has proven that he has the capabilities of being an everyday player.  We traded for Dexter.
So a lot of our spots that were open last year, we have players that have basically taken the bull by the horn and established themselves in those positions.  But there are still a lot of positions where competition will exist, and there will be competition within our ballclub just to improve on what it is we did last year.

Q.  How is it to get Springer’s name in the lineup?  Do you expect he’ll have to see time in right field because Fowler is going to play some center, and Springer might have to branch out and play some right?
BO PORTER:  The benefit when you have guys that are extremely athletic, and that is one of the areas in which Jeff and I talked about getting more athletic in the outfield, I think it definitely saves you runs.  It may go unnoticed sometimes from a standpoint, from a fan standpoint of if you have three guys in the outfield that all of have paid for playing centerfield, your defense instantly gets better.  So having George Springer, Dexter Fowler, Robbie Grossman, three guys that have pretty much predominantly played centerfield most of their career and now you look out there and you have Grossman in left, Springer in right, and Fowler in center, your team just got better.

Q.  Could you see Fowler playing anywhere else besides center?  Is there a little flexibility there?
BO PORTER:  Right now, if we were to give Fowler a day off and we need to put somebody in centerfield, again, you have two options there.  You have two guys who have played centerfield, which gives you flexibility as a manager.

Q.  Bo, talk about (indiscernible) a lot of talent.  Couple of hiccups in his first big league experience.  Are you looking for him to be a little more mature coming into spring training?
BO PORTER:  I think we all learn from our situations.  Jonathan is an exciting player.  At the same time I think that is a part of the growth that takes place with a young player of understanding limitations and understanding where you’re at in the game.  I think that maturation, some of the situations that happened last year with him being pulled out of the game, and the conversations which we were able to have after those situations, I think they resonated, and I think he’ll be better for them and we’ll be better for them.

Q.  Are you concerned at all from last year with the year Dexter had?  Kind of had an off year last year and some injuries.  Does that concern you at all?
BO PORTER:  Not at all.  We looked at Dexter Fowler’s full body of work, and his full body of work is definitely something to be excited about.  He’s a guy that can impact the game on defense.  He can impact the game in the batter’s box.  He can impact the game on the base path.  He has leadership qualities.  He’s embraced coming into a ballclub where he becomes one of the senior spokesmen.  So we’re excited to have Dexter and believe that he’s going to be a good addition to our ballclub.

Q.  You don’t pay a lot of attention to your record, but what would qualify for you as a successful 2014 based on you’re still pretty early in your rebuilding process?
BO PORTER:  For me, you have one winner and 29 losers.  At the end of the day, that’s pretty much what it comes down to.
The Boston Red Sox won the World Series and 29 other teams came up short.  So when I can sit here after we won the World Series, that is when you’ll hear me say I’m satisfied.  Until then, I’m not going to be satisfied.

Q.  I guess what steps do you want to take forward.  Last year was about evaluating young kids.  You got to look at a bunch.  You’re adding veterans.  Explain kind of where you are as you guys, it seems like you need to take that step forward and win more games.
BO PORTER:  We definitely want to win more games.  But to take that step forward, we had to evaluate our core pieces and figure out, okay, what pieces can we add to this core to make us a better baseball team?  I think we’ve taken the necessary steps to do that.  Because we have more established players and we’ve added veteran players to that core group, you look at our roster, and we overall have a better group of talented players.  That’s going to equate to more wins on the baseball field.

Q.  What is it for Carter to cut down on the strikeouts?  Did you see anything that leads you to believe he’ll be able to make those adjustments?
BO PORTER:  I believe he’ll be able to cut down on them because this year was the first year Cris Carter had an opportunity to play every day.  You look at his Major League career, even the at‑bats which he received, they were platoon at‑bats where‑‑ you know, a lot of times when you’re platooning and a guy hits 16 home runs in a platoon and he’s only facing lefties, very easily you could say, wow, if this guy played every day and he’s only going to hit 30 home runs, the numbers are going to double.  Well, what happens in that scenario is you take away the aspect that he’s now facing righties, and the mental strain that comes with the days in which he goes 0‑4 with three strikeouts against a righty.  Then the next day he faces a lefty in which you’re saying to yourself, okay, this is the guy he’s really going to do good against.  But the mental strain that that has on you basically affects a guy that you probably should hit well.  I think that mental maturity is going to help Cris Carter.  The fact that he’s coming into his second year where he’s going to play every day.
A lot of times even I would get the question from the media looking at his number of strikeouts, is he going to continue to play?  Is he going to continue to play?  This was not a one‑year tryout for Cris Carter.  We feel like if we really hit it on this guy, we have a guy that’s going to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 every year.  And taking him out of the lineup last year would not bode well for what it is we believe the steps he’s going to take next year.
So giving him that entire year, I guess to answer your question, I believe he’s going to be a stronger player from a mental standpoint and that is going to cut down on strikeouts.

Q.  What does Scott Feldman bring to the rotation?
BO PORTER:  I tell you, what he brings is a veteran presence.  A guy who has been there and done it.  He’s been a successful pitcher in the American League West.  He’s pitched in the pennant race.  Again, he’s a veteran guy that I think will be very beneficial for our young guys.  We’ve been very careful throughout the time in which I’ve been here.  It’s something that I’ve always talked to Jeff about, about the veterans in which we add.  Because you have such a young group of talented players, we want to make sure that we’re adding quality guys that are going to help us on the field but also help us off the field.  Scott Feldman, you talk to all the people in which he’s had the opportunity to work with, I mean, they rave about his work ethic, his preparation.  That there is something that we believe is going to rub off on our young players as well.

Q.  Did you find your young starters got a little down over some of the blown lead that’s you had?  I mean, you had a young rotation and weren’t able to hold the leads.  Did you find that weighed on any of the guys?  They would pitch well six, seven, eight innings and not get the wins they deserved?
BO PORTER:  That’s what team is all about.  Man to man, those guys know that every man that comes out of that bullpen, he’s going to give them maximum effort.  It just so happened we got the short end of the stick quite often last year with the guys we had coming out of there.  But I felt like each and every last one of those guys, the next time you gave them the ball, the effort was there, the preparation was there.
Again, we came into this off‑season knowing that that was an area that if we shored up that area of our ballclub, our starting pitchers, the young guys that we brought up from Oberholtzer to Cosart, the starters that Clemens had late in the season, when Peacock returned back from the minor leagues, Chia Lo had a tremendous year.  So we looked and we said, if we shore up this portion of our team, obviously, the record will be better.

Q.  With Brent Strom coming in from another organization, will there be any changes to pitching as far as philosophy and throwing programs?
BO PORTER:  Well, I tell you, the fact that Jeff and Brent spent quite a bit of time in St. Louis together, our philosophy is pretty much identical to the philosophy they had in St. Louis already.  So Brent is a great addition to our staff.  Him and I have had many conversations from the moment he’s been drafted.  He’s been in and out of Houston a couple times.  So I believe that transition will be smooth.

Q.  How much of the rotation is set in your mind?  How many spots do you think going into the spring open for guys to win?
BO PORTER:  I tell you, you look at the success in which our young guys had last year.  Chai Lo had great success, Oberholtzer had great success.  Cosart was pretty dominant.  Scott Feldman, obviously, we brought him in to put him at the front of our rotation.  You look at a guy like Lucas Harrell, he’s a wildcard.  He’s a guy that in 2012 he was arguably our best pitcher.  Last year was obviously a step back for him.  But I believe he’s going to come into spring training and be eager to reestablish himself as a rotation guy.  So we have quality depth.  You look at the season in which Peacock put together.  And those guys would battle it out for those type five spots and you never know what happens in the bullpen as well.

Q.  Do you see value in adding a first baseman?  Do you see yourself another option at first base going into the season?
BO PORTER:  There are still some moves we may make.  We’re always looking to upgrade our roster.  You look at the first base position, another bullpen arm.  Maybe another starter.  It’s areas that we would definitely look at to improve from the free agent market, to the trade market, and we’ll just see what happens.

Q.  Do you see what kind of impact do you see Jordan Lyles making with Colorado?
BO PORTER:  I tell you, it’s always ‑‑ for me, I don’t think you want to talk about a traded player to someplace else.  Jordan Lyles was tremendous for us.  He had great moments in which we felt like he had an opportunity to really be a front of the rotation guy.  He had great stuff, great make‑up, an extremely hard worker, and we really wish him well in Colorado.

Q.  Can you touch on home plate collision and MLB trying to change the rules of it?
BO PORTER:  I would say anything that goes with the measure of safety in our ballgame, the players are our number one commodity, and we want to do everything we can to keep them healthy.  As long as whatever rules we’re going to put in place are going to be put in place obviously to protect the players, I am all for any ruling that’s going to protect the player.

Q.  Last year was your first long look at the American League West.  What was your impression of the division overall, and what are your thoughts about some of the moves this off‑season and what the division might look like next season?
BO PORTER:  I tell you, looking at some of the moves, I just found out the Mariners not only added Cano earlier in the week, but they added Corey Hart and Logan Morrison.  So you look at the moves that the Oakland A’s made, and the Texas Rangers adding Prince Fielder.  I believe that our ballclub is going to be much improved as well.  The Anaheim Angels are making moves, some of the arms which they got back in their trades is looking to be a pretty competitive division.  You look throughout the American League, Cleveland was much improved.  Detroit, obviously their ballclub.
So it’s going to be a tough league.  The American League West is going to be even tougher.

Q.  Having said that about the American League West, is there any concern to keep up with the Jones or do you just want to stay with the process right now?
BO PORTER:  Our process and our plan, we will not get off course.  We believe that we have a plan in place that will allow the Houston Astros to not be successful just for one year, but be successful for a good ten‑year run with the players which we have coming.
But at the same time, as was evident last week, we traded away two young players to acquire a young player.  So if the right situation presents itself to us to make our ballclub better, and even if it’s not a part of the process or a part of the plan, at that time I think we’ll be able to look at that situation and make a good decision on whether or not it’s a good move for us.

Q.  If Mark Appel is your best pitcher or one of your best five pitchers in spring training, is he on the team or does he definitely need minor league innings?
BO PORTER:  It all depends.  You know, when you have a guy like a Mark Appel who is arguably a great talent, as an organization, we always talk about taking the best 25 guys.
As we sit here today, would I say that Mark Appel would be on our roster come opening day next year?  That remains to be seen.  But as far as Mark Appel’s talent, I think the player will always tell you when they’re ready to join a big league ballclub.

Q.  So with your thoughts on development, you’re not a believer in a minimum number of innings in the minor leagues?
BO PORTER:  I think that’s a case‑by‑case scenario.  I don’t think you can etch in stone player A had 250 innings, player B needs 250 innings or player A had 1500 at‑bats and player B needs 1500 at‑bats.  I think it’s a case‑by‑case situation.  You look at the player, age has something to do with it.  Was it a high school player?  College player?  All of those dynamics go into that decision making.

Q.  What about Delino DeShields and his progress in the farm system for you guys?
BO PORTER:  He made a really good transition from second base to centerfield.  Actually he makes it look pretty natural out there in the outfield.  I had an opportunity to come out to the fall league and spend four days out here, watch him play centerfield.  His transition was great.  He went and got the ball really easy.  I think that as this transition takes place, I think it’s going to help him move a little bit faster because he can really use his skill sets in the outfield.

Q.  You touched on recruiting, but how much time are you spending this winter just texting, calling or emailing potential guys that you might want to bring in here?
BO PORTER:  You’re saying free agents?

Q.  Yeah.
BO PORTER:  It all depends.  We go through a pretty strenuous process of once we decide that we’re going to reach out to a player.  When we engage and it gets to the point where, obviously, we feel like we’re close as far as their side and our side, I definitely have reached out to all of those players.  Because you want to be able to, one, give them an overview of where we’re at as an organization.  You want to basically explain to them how they fit in the organization.  And then answer any questions that they may have.  A lot of times when you’re talking free agents, you may feel like you’re interviewing them, but they’re interviewing you as.

Q.  What are the biggest questions they have about the Houston Astros?
BO PORTER:  They look at the losses.  They want to know what the plan is to get the team back into contention, and how they fit into that plan.  It’s obvious, you look at our minor league system, the teams in the playoffs, and the number of top prospects that we have, they’re smart enough to know that this organization has a lot of prospects, okay.  They’re going to be good.  Am I going to be around when they’re good?  What is the plan?
I think that myself and Jeff are able to answer those questions for all of those guys.  You look at Scott Feldman, that’s why he agreed to three years to come to the Houston Astros, because he felt completely confident in the plan which we have in place to basically build a winner consistently.

Q.  Not asking if you set your lineup card or anything.  But where do you anticipate hitting Dexter Fowler in that lineup?
BO PORTER:  Dexter Fowler leading off, Altuve second, Castro third.  Get back to me with the rest of it.

Q.  You’ve got two more than you did this time last year.
BO PORTER:  You see what I’m saying?  We’re getting much better.  I’m telling you (laughing).  Last year all I had was Altuve playing second, and I didn’t even know if he was going to lead off and hit second.  So now we have Fowler leading off, we have Altuve hitting second, and we have Castro hitting third.  And I know all three I’m going to play.  And Dominguez is going to play third.

Q.  Is that a regular thing?  I didn’t see a lot of the games last year.  Do you stay with the same lineup as much as you can?  Would you have flip‑flopped two and three once in a while?
BO PORTER:  How many players we have last year?  60?

Q.  50‑something.
BO PORTER:  Impossible to stay with the number of players that we have.

Q.  But your best hitter hit second or are there certain times that lefty‑righty match‑ups, maybe you’d want Castro two, Altuve three, and moving guys around like that.
BO PORTER:  I tell you, I like roster continuity.  But a lot of times where you don’t have established players, and from a manager’s standpoint, I’m a firm believer that our number one job, my number one job as a manager is to put every player in the best position I can put them in to be successful.  So if moving a guy is going to help his skill sets, I’m all for doing it.  At the same time I think that there is some strength that comes with lineup continuity.  But the players, you have to have the players in order to be able to have lineup continuity.

Q.  Can you see Castro becoming really an offensive threat from the catching position or one of the top hitting catchers in the league?
BO PORTER:  You look at his overall body of work last year, and he turned himself into an All‑Star catcher.  I said this last year when I took the job.  One of my biggest goals was to get through the season, and keep Jason Castro healthy.  I felt like when I looked at his video from early on throughout the injuries, he did not have his legs underneath him.  It affected the way he called the games.  It affected the way he blocked the ball.  It affected him in the batter’s box because he just didn’t have his legs underneath him to drive the ball.
To his credit, to the training staff’s credit, and our strength and conditioning group, he got himself in the best shape of his life.  He got his legs underneath him.  I think last year we saw the real Jason Castro.  I think he’s only going to get better as time goes on.

Q.  He’s healthy?  You expect he’ll come to camp with the knees being okay?
BO PORTER:  Yes, he’s completely healthy.  He got a degree from Stanford.  Smartest guy on the team.  So he’ll be showing back up as a Stanford graduate.  I actually text him today.  It’s outstanding.  Huge accomplishment.

Q.  Smarter than the manager?
BO PORTER:  Yes, of course.  He graduated from Stanford.  I went to Iowa.

Q.  We probably shouldn’t print that.
BO PORTER:  I respect Stanford.  It’s a great institution.

Villar benched by Porter

Astros manager Bo Porter pulled starting shortstop Jonathan Villar in the third inning of Tuesday’s 9-6 loss to the Twins for what the skipper described as an ill-advised base running gaffe with his team trailing, 4-1.

Villar led off the third with a single to left field, but he was thrown out trying to stretch the hit to a double. Marwin Gonzalez played the rest of the game at shortstop while Villar watched the final nine innings from the bench.

“I learned this a long time ago from Sandy Alomar,” Porter said. “He told me the scoreboard is the most important object on the baseball field. I explained this to Jonathan after the game.”

What did Porter tell Villar exactly: “’I would never want to take your aggression away from you. It’s part of what makes you a special player, but at the same time you have to be aware of the situation that’s going on and what’s the score.’ We have a starting pitcher out there who has basically labored for three innings, we’re down, 4-1, and get the leadoff man on and that’s not a time to take that kind of a chance.”

Earlier this season, Porter benched outfielder J.D. Martinez for swinging at a pitch in a situation in which the hitters had been instructed not to swing. Porter said Tuesday pulling Villar was a “no-brainer.”

“As the umpire was calling him out at second base, I was telling Gonzo to get ready to go to shortstop,” Porter said. “I believe that Jonathan will receive the message properly because him and I talked about it. I think it will help him moving forward.

“He’s young, he’s aggressive and I told him, ‘Your aggression is what allows you to be an impact player. But at the same time, that scoreboard is the most important object on this field and you have to understand there are times when the scoreboard will dictate to you exactly how aggressive you should be.’”

Grossman suffers oblique injury

Astros left fielder Robbie Grossman had to be pulled from Tuesday’s game in the middle of his at-bat in the 12th inning after suffering a strained right oblique while swinging the bat. It’s unclear the extent of the injury.

“It just bit me on the swing,” said Grossman, who went 2-for-5 and is hitting .322 since he was called up for the second time July 28. “We’ll see how it feels [Wednesday] and go from there.”

Astros manager Bo Porter noticed Grossman grimace on the swing and sent assistant athletic trainer Rex Jones to the plate to check on the rookie. Matt Pagnozzi, acquired by the Astros in a trade late Monday, took Grossman’s place in the box and grounded out to end the game.

Grossman said he had a similar injury a few years ago.

“At this stage of the season, you just don’t want to end up having a guy miss a considerable amount of time,” Porter said. “It was best to get him out at that point and allow the trainers to do everything they can to get him healthy.”

Castro has cyst in knee drained

All-Star catcher Jason Castro has a cyst on his right knee drained on Tuesday and doesn’t expect be sidelined long-term.

Castro, who was taken from the game in the second inning Monday following his second hit, was examined by team doctors on Tuesday and diagnosed with a cyst on the medial side of his knee. After having it drained, Castro said he was already feeling better.

“It was kind of interfering with my hamstring tendon based on where it was located,” he said. “They drained it, and hopefully that should provide some relief. We’ll see. It’s just day-to-day, I guess.”

Castro, who missed the entire 2011 season following surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, said he fouled a ball off his knee in the first inning Monday, which aggravated the cyst.

“I think that kind of getting it taken care of and getting it drained out and tended to will solve the problem,” he said. “Like I said, it’s a day-to-day kind of thing. As of right now, it’s feeling OK and the more time we get away from it happening [Monday] the better it feels. As the day goes on, it feels better and better.”

Castro, an All-Star this season and two-time American League Player of the Week, is having a career season, hitting .282 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs. He’s the latest in a string of catching injuries for the Astros.

Carlos Corporan suffered a concussion Aug. 19 when he took a foul ball of his facemask, and his replacement, Max, Stassi, was hit in the head by a pitch two days later and hasn’t played since because of a concussion. Corporan could return to the Astros on Monday.

Porter calls Scioscia to apologize

Astros manager Bo Porter called Angels manager Mike Scioscia on Saturday morning and apologized for an incident that occurred in Friday’s game.

In the sixth inning of the Angels’ 4-2 win, Astros outfielder Chris Carter hit a pop up in front of the Astros dugout. Angels catcher Hank Conger was camped under the ball at the dugout railing with first baseman Mark Trumbo charging in, but no one caught the ball. Conger charged with an error that was overturned after the official scorer learned someone had yelled something to Conger from the Houston dugout.

Porter acknowledged someone yelled at Conger, but he wouldn’t say if it came from a player or a coach or what exactly was said.

“It came from our dugout,” Porter said. “I called Mike this morning and he and I had a good conversation about it. I apologized to him on behalf of our ballclub. It’s nothing I condone, but I take full responsibility and it won’t happen again. It was handled the way it should be handled.”

Said Scioscia: “It’s nothing. I appreciate the call, and it’s not an issue. We’re not holding any grudges. We’ll go out and play like we do.”

Earlier this year, Porter apologized to Scioscia for inadvertently making an illegal pitching change, a move that led to the two-game suspension and fine of crew chief Fieldin Culbreth and fines for the rest of his crew.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 73 other followers