Results tagged ‘ Brett Wallace ’

Astros postgame tidbits from Friday

Here are some post-games notes from the Astros’ 4-3 loss to the Marlins on Friday:

  • With Friday’s loss, the Astros are now 23-27 in home openers in the history of the franchise.
  • Friday marked the Astros first multi-homer game of the season, getting one each from C J.R. Towles and 1B Brett Wallace. The last time the Astros hit two homers in a game was on Sept. 21, 2010 at Washington.
  • Wandy Rodriguez was handed a no-decision Friday after tossing seven innings, allowing one run on eight hits. Friday marked his second time to start an Astros home opener, also in 2008 vs St. Louis. In those two games, Rodriguez has pitched 14 1/3  innings allowing 1 earned run
  • Dating to last season, Rodriguez has posted 11 consecutive quality starts at Minute Maid Park. Since June 24, 2010, he is 5-1 with a 1.56 ERA at Minute Maid, and the Astros have gone 6-5 in those games.
  • Towles connected for his first homer of the season and has now hit safely in all three of his starts this season. This is the second time Towles has homered in an Astros home opener (2008).
  • Wallace hit his first home run of the season and tied his career high with three hits. His only other career three-hit game came on Aug. 30, 2010 vs. St. Louis.
  • With a crowd of 41,042 on Friday, the Astros have sold out 10 straight Home Openers dating back to 2002. In the history of MMP, the Astros have sold out 11 of their 12 home openers.

Plenty of positives in Astros loss

One of the first things Astros manager Brad Mills spoke about following Friday’s gut-wrenching, 5-4 loss to the Phillies on Opening Day was how well his team played. Sure, the Astros coughed up three runs in the ninth and lost a game they should have won, but for 8 1/2 innings they played pretty much flawless baseball.

Mills is a stickler for doing things the right way on the field, being prepared and making the plays you’re supposed to make. For the most part the Astros did that, and that’s a good sign going forward.

For all those who were disturbed by what the Astros in Spring Training or the high ERA that Brett Myers had in Grapefruit League play, Friday should go a long way into reminding you how meaningless Spring Training results are. The Astros played as well for 8 1/2 innings Friday as they had at any point during the spring, and that tends to happen when your starters stay on the field for most of the game.

“It was a great game,” right fielder Hunter Pence said. “We came out and got in the fight and competed. They found some holes at the end and we weren’t able to get the final outs, but we’ve got three games here. We’ve got two more to go and we’re going to keep going up there battling and going hard. I’m pretty happy with what we did today.”

Here’s what stood out to me today:

  • Brett Myers was downright terrific. I enjoy watching him pitch and compete. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he’s not the same pitcher he was while he was in Philadelphia, when he was throwing in the mid-90s. He’s a true pitcher now, and has good command. He kept the ball down and never let the Phillies get in a rhythm at the plate.
  • If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ll know I’m not a huge fan of the game of Angel Sanchez. I’ve said repeatedly that he’s slow and he’s not a good defensive player, but I have to admit the guy is growing on me. Those shortcomings are still true, but he makes the routine plays for the most part and he can hit. He’s not going to hit for much power, but he went 2-for-4 with two singles in the No. 2 hole on Friday. He’s a good guy to have on the team. It just took me a while to realize it.
  • Humberto Quintero had a very nice spring at the plate, and he went 1-for-4 in his regular-season debut Friday. The most impressive thing about his game was throwing out Shane Victorino while he was trying to steal second base, and Quintero did it while he was still in his crouch. As the Phillies found out last year, his arm is a huge weapon. The Astros may be alright with him starting three days a week.
  • Brett Wallace had a quiet game, going 1-for-4, but he went the other way for a single against a left-handed pitcher, which is an extremely encouraging sign. He looks like he’s picked up where he left off in Kissimmee. I don’t know if he’ll ever hit for much power — he just hasn’t shown that much at all — but the kid can swing the bat.
  • The Astros didn’t strike out any batters on Friday. Unusual to say the least.

Game 24: Bud bests the Cardinals once again

The Astros beat the split-squad Cardinals, 3-2, on a hot Saturday at Osceola County Stadium, taking their Grapefruit League winning streak to four games. Bud Norris looked extremely sharp against the Cardinals — what else is new? — and the Astros made the most of their seven hits.

Here is the rundown:

What went right: Let’s start with Norris, who had his best spring outing of the year. He pitched five scoreless innings, allowing six singles, no walks and striking out five batters. Norris threw 79 pitches, including 54 strikes.

“Spring’s been ideally getting in your work and the numbers haven’t really been there, but I felt good today and everything was there,” Norris said. “I really mixed pitches well. I was really happy with the seven ground balls and no walks. That was the key for me today, pounding it down in the strike zone.”

Jeff Fulchino and Mark Melancon each threw a scoreless inning in relief, with Melancon lowering his spring ERA to 1.50.

At the plate, the Astros spread seven hits around with Jason Bougeois (.341 spring average), Clint Barmes (.239), Brett Wallace (.362), Matt Downs (.290), Carlos Corporan (.421), J.R. Towles (.379) and Tommy Manzella (.333) each getting one hit. Manzella, Wallace and Corporan had doubles.

Barmes made one of the best defensive plays you’ll ever see at shortstop in the second inning when he went deep into the hole between second and shortstop and threw out Mark Hamilton at first base by a hair. Bourgeois nearly upstaged him in the seventh with a terrific diving catch in center field. Bourgeois then rose to his feet and threw out the runner at first for a great double play. He’s hitting .341 and is making a strong case to make the club as the fifth outfielder.

What went wrong: Not much. There were a few 0-fers: Carlos Lee, Chris Johnson and Jason Michaels were each 0-for-3, though Lee drove in a run. Bill Hall was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Brandon Lyon and Casey Fien each allowed two hits and one run in two innings of work.

What they said: “He did have some good results. The thing about Bud is he was really able to make some pitches with both his slider and his fastball and moving his fastball around the zone. He’d get behind a few hitters and he’d come back and when he needed to make a pitch he was able to do it with his fastball and his slider, and he threw some real nice changeups. That was pretty special as well.” – manager Brad Mills on Bud Norris’ strong outing Saturday.

What’s next: All five candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation will be in action Sunday when the Astros play their sixth and final split-squad games of the season. Ryan Rowland-Smith will start in Kissimmee against the Pirates, with Jordan Lyles following him. Lance Pendleton is also scheduled to pitch in that game. Nelson Figueroa will get the start in Lake Buena Vista against the Braves, with Aneury Rodriguez to follow him.

Injury update: Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, whose previous scheduled start last Tuesday was scratched because of a mild tendinitis in his right shoulder, will throw in the bullpen Sunday and is scheduled to return to the mound Tuesday against Washington in Viera. … Infielder Angel Sanchez (back) fielded ground balls Saturday and said his back feels fine. He will try to take batting practice Sunday. … Center fielder Michael Bourn will return to the lineup Sunday after being held out Saturday as a precaution. “He was under the weather a little bit but he played in the heat and I don’t want to get him run down and so tired he has a setback and get really sick,” manager Brad Mills said.

 Here are the photos:

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Above: Some Astros Minor Leaguers watch drills on one of the back fields.

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Above: Astros ace Brett Myers fires a pitch in the bullpen, with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg catching him.

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Above: Catcher Brian Esposito chases a ball during drills on Saturday morning.

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Above: Matt Downs makes solid contact in batting practice on Saturday.

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Above: Hunter Pence and Jose Cruz sign autographs.

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Above: Lance Berkman, making his return to Osceola County Stadium, yucks it up while he stretches with the Cardinals.

Taking a shot at the Astros 25-man roster

We are roughly halfway through Spring Training and the roster picture is pretty much as cloudy as it was when camp opened a month ago, and perhaps even more so with the injury to catcher Jason Castro. With so many bodies still in camp, it’s been difficult to determine which players might have the leg up, but that will not deter me.

Here’s my guess on what the Opening Day roster will look like:

CATCHERS (2)

Humberto Quintero

J.R. Towles

Comment: The Astros could still bring in another catcher in time for Opening Day, but for now I’m going to limit my prediction to the players that are still in camp.

INFIELDERS (6)

Brett Wallace (L)

Bill Hall

Clint Barmes

Chris Johnson

Matt Downs

Tommy Manzella

Comment: I still believe Wallace is going to win the first base job. Downs has looked good in camp and could bring some pop and versatility off the bench. Manzella has broadened his defensive scope and has looked good at the plate so far this spring. Angel Sanchez could still play his way into the mix, but his defense is an issue. Anderson Hernandez has played well, too.

OUTFIELDERS (5)

Carlos Lee

Michael Bourn (L)

Hunter Pence

Jason Michaels

Brian Bogusevic (L)

Comment: The only spot up for grabs is the fifth outfield spot. Bogusevic probably has a leg up on Jason Bourgeois because he hits left-handed. He runs pretty well too, but not as well as Bourgeois, who could also play second base.

STARTING PITCHERS (5)

Brett Myers

Wandy Rodriguez (L)

J.A. Happ (L)

Bud Norris

Ryan Rowland-Smith (L)

Comment: The fifth spot in the rotation remains completely up for grabs. Right now, I go with Rowland-Smith over Jordan Lyles, who has looked good but is still 20 years old and has barely had his feet wet at Triple-A. Nelson Figueroa makes the club as the long reliever.

RELIEF PITCHERS (7)

Brandon Lyon

Wilton Lopez

Fernando Abad (L)

Jeff Fulchino

Nelson Figueroa

Mark Melancon

Henry Villar

Comment: At this point, I see Lyon, Lopez, Abad and Figueroa as locks. Fulchino is healthy and pitching well, and Melancon appears to have a good chance. The last spot? Completely up for grabs. The injury to Alberto Arias may give some other guys a chance, and Villar as pitched well. Don’t count out Sergio Escalona or Enerio Del Rosario.

Game 1: Finding some good in a blowout

The Astros dropped their Grapefruit League opener, 13-3, to the Atlanta Braves on Monday afternoon in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Here’s a rundown of the day’s events.

What went right: The Astros got off to a good start at the plate, pounding out 14 hits – all singles. Brett Wallace, trying to win the first base job, went 3-for-3, including a pair of hits into left field. Carlos Lee, Tommy Manzella and T.J. Steele also had two hits apiece.

“We’ve all been champing at the bit to get out there and play games, and to finally get out there and play another team it’s definitely exciting,” Wallace said. “I think we were all so ready to go. We faced some good pitchers today and it’s you start to get timing down and see balls coming out of guys’ hands.”

On the mound, Enerio Del Rosario pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits with one strikeout. Lance Pendleton, a Rule 5 pick, tossed a scoreless inning, along with Fernando Rodriguez. Henry Villar drew praise from manager Brad Mills after giving up a leadoff triple in the seventh.

What went wrong: Wandy Rodriguez struggled mightily in his first start of the spring, giving up five hits, three walks and six earned runs in 1 2/3 innings. Rodriguez, who had a 12.10 ERA last spring, needed only six pitches to get out of the first inning, but threw 37 pitches in the second and couldn’t finish the inning.

“You know what, today I tried to work on my location and I got a lot of guys behind in the count,” he said. “That was my mistake today.”

As a team, the Astros gave up 15 hits and walked eight batters. Aneury Rodriguez, who’s also a Rule 5 pick, gave up three hits and two runs in one inning, and Sergio Escalona allowed three hits, two walks and four earned runs in one inning.

“It happened with a couple of guys today, but with Wandy I think he missed on a couple of pitches early in counts with guys in that second inning,” Mills said. “He tried to make adjustments mechanically and left some balls right over the middle of the plate, and they hit them hard.”

What they said: “The good at-bats were really good. We had a couple of guys throw the ball extremely well. Villar threw the ball really well after the leadoff triple. Fernando Rodriguez threw the ball extremely well at the end. We had much better at-bats and 14 hits, and that’s nice to see.” — Astros manager Brad Mills.

What’s next: Brett Myers will start for the Astros on Tuesday in their first game of the spring at Osceola Count Stadium. That will also mark the first time we’ll see second baseman Bill Hall and shortstop Clint Barmes in an Astros uniform in a game.

Injury update: Outfielder J.D. Martinez, the Astros’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2010, will be sidelined until at least Thursday with a sore left quadriceps muscle. … Fellow Minor League outfielder T.J. Steele hyper-extended his elbow diving for a ball in the outfield, but he came back to get two hits. … Michael Bourn was hit on the shin by a pitch and was a bit swollen, but he said he was fine.

Now, onto the pictures. I’m not able to get any game pictures because of my reporting responsibilities, but I’ll continue to bring you pictures from the workouts and pregame stretches/batting practice. And yes, the lighting is poor at the ballpark at times.

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Above: Hunter Pence warms up on the field prior to Monday’s Grapefruit League opener.

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Above: First-base coach Bobby Meacham signs an autograph for an Astros fans, while bullpen catcher Javier Bracamonte looks on.

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Above: Jason Michaels works on his bat in the dugout. He went 0-for-3 on Monday as DH.

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Above: The Astros hit the field for stretch prior to Monday’s game.

Let the games begin, Astros

The Astros will kick off their Grapefruit League campaign at 12 p.m. CT Monday with a game against the Atlanta Braves at Disney World. It’s the first of 37 games for Houston this spring – including six split-squad games – in preparation for the April 1 season opener at Philadelphia.

“You can go through as much drills as you want, but until you’re really putting another team across the field, you’re never really [sure what you’re seeing],” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “We can go through these fundamentals, but they know where we’re going to hit the fungo or know what’s happening. Now the evaluating process ramps up a little bit.”

Here is the Astros’ starting lineup for the game:
CF Michael Bourn
1B Brett Wallace
RF Hunter Pence
LF Carlos Lee
DH Jason Michaels
3B Chris Johnson
C Jason Castro
2B Matt Downs
SS Tommy Manzella

————–
LHP Wandy Rodriguez will start on the mound. Also scheduled to pitch are Henry Villar, Enerio Del Rosario, Fernando Rodriguez, Lance Pendleton, Sergio Escalona and Wesley Wright.

On Sunday, the Astros played an intrasquad game with Koby Clemens going 3-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs to lead Dave Clark’s team to a 5-1 win over Bobby Meacham’s team. J.B. Shuck went 3-for-3 with a triple for Meacham’s squad.

Here are the stats from the game in which each pitcher threw an inning — Clarkie’s Crushers: RHP Jordan Lyles (K); RHP Jose Valdez (H, K); LHP Patrick Urckfitz (H,1R/0ER); RHP Nelson Figueroa (H); RHP Arcenio Leon (H, 2BB); RHP Ross Wolf; OF Brian Bogusevic (2×3, R); OF T.J. Steele (0x4, RBI); IF Anderson Hernandez (1×2); IF Tommy Manzella (1×3, R); C Carlos Corporan (2×3, RBI, R); OF J.D. Martinez (1×2, BB, R); IF Koby Clemens (3×3, HR, 2RBI, R); IF Jose Carlos Thompson (0x1, 2BB); IF Jay Austin (3×3); Meach’s Mashers: LHP Fernando Abad (2H, K); RHP Sergio De Leon (2H, 2R/2ER, BB); RHP David Carpenter (3H, 3R/3ER, BB, K); RHP Casey Fien (H); LHP Douglas Arguello (2H, K); RHP Cesar Carrillo (H, BB, K); C J.R. Towles (0x3); IF Brian Dopirak (0x3); IF Jimmy Paredes (0x2, BB); OF J.B. Shuck (3×3, 3B); OF Drew Locke (0x3, R); C Brian Esposito (0x2, RBI); IF Jiovanni Mier (0x1, BB); OF Jon Gaston (0x3); IF Oswaldo Navarro (0x2).

Defensively, Anderson Hernandez made a terrific diving stop behind third and was able to throw out catcher Brian Esposito, and Tommy Manzella had a nice game at third base. Also, shortstop Jiovanni Mier was able to complete a double play after second baseman Jimmy Paredes fumbled a ground ball. Carlos Corporan threw out a runner at second base trying to steal.

Here is the day in pictures:

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Above: Outfielder Brian Bogusevic warms up in the outfield.

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Above: The Astros practiced relays and cut-offs on Sunday morning, using players from Minor League mini camp as base runners. Third baseman Chris Johnson is taking a throw as prospect Telvin Nash runs the bases.

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Above: Left-hander Gustavo Chacin gets his work done in the bullpen.

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Above: Manager Brad Mills takes notes during Sunday’s intrasquad game.

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Above: Jordan Lyles throws a pitch in the intrasquad game. He threw a scoreless inning.

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Above: Outfielder J.D. Martinez stands in the batter’s box.

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Above: Former first-round pick Jiovanni Mier swings at a pitch.

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Above: J.B. Shuck gets ready to rip one of his three hits in Sunday’s intrasquad game.

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Above: Cesar Carrillo, a former first-round pick of Padres, prepares to fire a pitch Sunday.

Lineup set for spring opener

Astros manager Brad Mills has set his lineup for the Grapefruit League opener Monday against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. As is the case with most road games in Spring Training, several players will be staying behind to get their work in at camp.

Clint Barmes, Bill Hall, Humberto Quintero and Brian Bogusevic are among those not traveling with the team to Disney on Monday, but the Astros are at home Tuesday at Osceola County Stadium. That’s when we should get our first glimpse of the lineup with all the players available.

Here is the lineup for Monday’s exhibition opener against Atlanta:

CF Michael Bourn

1B Brett Wallace

RF Hunter Pence

LF Carlos Lee

DH Jason Michaels

3B Chris Johnson

C Jason Castro

2B Matt Downs

SS Tommy Manzella

Wandy Rodriguez will and pitch two scheduled innings.

Wade addresses spring hot topics

Astros pitchers and catchers hit the field tomorrow for their first workout of the spring, with position players joining the fun on Sunday. I’m hopping a plane for Kissimmee today and will begin reporting on Spring Training first thing Wednesday morning. This one-man team will be reporting from Kissimmee for more days than any other Houston reporter, so check the blog and Twitter www.twitter.com/BrianMcTaggart often for updates for all the latest news.

Also, I’ll be on the Astros’ official pregame show on the flagship KTRH (740 AM) this year with Matt Thomas once a week, as well as making a weekly appearance on the the morning show of Matt Jackson and Adam Wexler on KBME (790 AM). My first segment airs at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, so be sure to listen.

Finally, Astros general manager Ed Wade recently had a question-and-answer session with media prior to his departure for Kissimmee. He addressed several hot-button topics in advance of Spring Training, and some of his responses to questions are listed below:

Q: What’s the No. 1 thing you want to see at spring training, beyond position battles and things like that?

A: “Health. It would be great if you had three layers of depth and could cover yourself if you had major breakdowns, but we need to stay healthy. We’re pressing some kids right now to step up and fill some roles that are challenging. If we have to go beyond some of those kids and dip down even further it might get a little bit tough. I think every general manager, every organization going into Tpring Training hopes that the offseason plan survives long enough to at least be implemented Opening Day. Sometimes you don’t even get to Opening Day. We saw that a year ago when Lance Berkman had the knee issue and opened on the disabled list. There’s no guarantees those things aren’t going to happen, but health plays a big part of it.”

Q: Will the sheer number of bodies in camp (63) have any impact on the way camp is run?

A: “We haven’t snuck any new guys in on, particularly Brad Arnsberg, in the last two weeks or so, so I’m sure he’s got his schedule and game plan in place. A lot of the younger players who we’re bringing in are coming in knowing they’re not going to make the club. At least we’re going to tell them they’re not going to make the club and we ask them to get used to surroundings, put their foot in the water a little bit and let the staff become familiar with them. I think everybody benefits in the process of having them there, but there’s enough of those guys we’ll be able to shuffle them around a little bit and make sure the ones we’re counting on to break with the club in April are ready to go.”

Q: Can you address the first base situation? Obviously, [Brett] Wallace is going to have to prove himself, but you have [Brian] Bogusevic and Carlos [Lee] whom you would be comfortable with.

A: “To me, the perfect-world scenario was that Brett Wallace comes in and wins the first base job and is our guy and Carlos is the everyday left fielder and we’re not worried about mixing and matching in left with Carlos at first, or trying to push Bogusevic harder to play more. I know we’re going to get Brett every opportunity to win that job, (but) a lot of things will get answered if indeed he does step up and does that.”

Q: What does winning a job entail? I know it’s sometimes tough to evaluate results in Spring Training.

A: “You can’t look at the stat sheet every day and figure out if a guy is performing at an adequate level or not. It’s the total body of work that you see in Spring Training with regard to work ethic, which is not going to be an issue. [And] adjustments, and we know Brett needs to make adjustments as every young players does. There are some adjustments he needs to make and this kid has hit everywhere, so he’s been challenged before to make adjustments. It won’t be a stat sheet. If it was based on a stat sheet, a whole bunch of us wouldn’t have to fly to Kissimmee. We’d just sit back in the office in Houston and wait for the stats to come in and put the club together that way. Millsie and the coaches are going to have huge input in this, and Millsie and I will talk several times a day and we’ll talk about these issues, whether it’s Brett Wallace or Fernando Abad. What do we do with Fernando Abad? He just went 7-1 in the Dominican, a lot of it was as a starter. What’s his role on our club? Do we put him in the bullpen? Do we roll him out and let him compete for a starting job? Those are things that we’ll have to address… .”

Q: Will Henry Villar require a similar-type discussion?

A: “Yeah, a little bit, but I just think what Fernando did this offseason, all of a sudden you’ve got to say, ‘Wow, this is pretty significant.’ Philosophically, I’m a believer – I’ve said this before — I’m a believer that if a guy shows a potential for being a starter you exhaust those possibilities. That said, there are a lot of guys who begin their big-league careers in a bullpen setting and wait their turn to come in a rotation and then step in and have very significant careers. Somebody reminded me the other day that we had this conversation a couple of years ago about Bud Norris. People had seen Bud in the Arizona Fall League and he was a one-inning guy, two-inning guy in the Arizona Fall League and ‘Man, this guy might be the back end of the bullpen guy.’ Well, back end of the bullpens can get expensive, bullpen guys are far less expensive than starting pitchers, and starting pitchers make a lot of money for a reason ’cause there aren’t very many of them around. So if we have a chance to have a couple of these guys who either break in our rotation or at some point move into our rotation it’s a lot more advantageous to the club to have them as starter versus have them as middle relievers down the road.”

Q: How comfortable are you with your bullpen depth at this point considering some of the changes that took place during the offseason?

A: “I like it. I would love to have [Matt] Lindstrom still here. We had to do some things economically and Matt was sort of a victim of that. There’s somewhat of an unknown with regard to our bullpen, but that’s okay because there are some really good arms that we’re putting into the mix there. I like what we saw out of [Mark] Melancon last year when he was up here. We just talked about guys like [Henry] Villar and Abad and Alberto Arias looks like he’s going to be healthy and capable of competing. If he can get back to pitch the way he did before he had the health issue, that’s a huge chip for us at this point. So there’s always variables in a bullpen, and I’m one of those guys who’s sort of bullpen obsessed (and) that you can never have enough quality to cover those. It used to be the eighth and ninth inning, and now it’s the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings. I think we have the same type of quality and depth – albeit somewhat unknown commodities – that we’ll be able to cover those innings.”

Q: With no Lance and no old guard, what do you need or expect Hunter Pence to be?

A: “I expect Hunter to be himself. A lot of what Hunter is going to do as he evolves into a leader is going to be by example. When the truck got packed (Friday), we didn’t pack any pom-poms. We’re not expecting anybody to go down there and wave pom-poms in the clubhouse. I think it’s a case of guys showing up and showing that they belong there and exhibiting a work ethic that not only the younger guys, but their teammates look over and see what this guy is made of, what he’s all about. Whether it’s Hunter or Michael Bourn or you name the guy in the room, I think a lot of it is showing the confidence you belong there and leading by example. I think a guy like Hunter really benefitted by having an opportunity to spend time here with Darin Erstad. Darin’s been gone now for over a year, but I think his impact from the standpoint of a guy at the end of his career, the end of a tremendous career, who still suited up and played the game – whether he was playing once a week or how he played when he was playing 162 games a year – I think Hunter paid a lot of attention to that and hopefully some other guys did as well. I don’t think you have to be, and I’ve said it before, I don’t think you have to have eight, 10, 12 years of big league service to be a leader. I think it’s a matter of how you go about your business. It’s tough for extra guys to be leaders. It’s easier when you’re putting the uniform on every day to exhibit that level of leadership. Sitting watching a Penguins-Capitals game on TV, the captain of the Penguins [Sydney Crosby] is 23 years old. It’s a pretty important leadership role in that sport and their guy Crosby is 23, so if there are some young guys who could step up and do it the right way, my message is have at it. Let’s go. Go ahead and do it.”

Q: In many ways it might be semantics to some people, but you talk about Brett (Wallace) as having to win the job, but is it his not to lose or is it a different mentality from a player in keeping a job versus winning it?

A: “I think he’s got to come in saying ‘You know, they gave me two-plus months of an opportunity last year to lock this job down and I still have some ground to cover.’ I would hope guys don’t coming in saying, ‘It’s my job to lose,’ ’cause to me that’s sort of a passive way of handling it. To me, you come in and you say, ‘There’s a chance here for me to begin a very significant big-league career and I’m going to take full advantage of it every single day. I’m not going to coming in saying, boy I hope I don’t go 0-for-4 today.’ I want a guy to come in and say, ‘I’m going to get three hits today. Whether it’s the fundamental drill we do on the back field or whether it’s the five or six innings I get to play today, I’m going to put my best foot forward and then let them make the decisions.’ I don’t want guys to be passive. You’re afraid to do something you never step off and take advantage.”

Q: Your Rule 5 guys (Aneury Rodriguez and Lance Pendleton), would they be in the bullpen picture as well?

A: “Both guys at this point in time I think we’ll look at them initially form a starting standpoint because both of them have very limited bullpen experience, particularly Pendleton. So when we start talking about the bullpen and the mix and the rotation, Figgy [Nelson Figueroa] did a real nice job for us. [Ryan] Rowland-Smith, we signed him knowing he probably profiles as a starter. As I mentioned, we’ve got guys like Abad and [Jordan] Lyles coming in and he will be given every opportunity to put his best foot forward as well. We’re going to be open-minded on a lot of fronts. We’re going to be down there for a long time and hopefully we’re making really tough decisions at the end of the spring or reaching back to the Minor League camp to fill holes and going out to file a hole from the outside, which is always possible. The last 10 days of Spring Training, you can do some things with your bench and your bullpen. The key pieces have to come from the guys who show up on the 16th and the 20th.”

Q: How much do you think you know about Chris Johnson in 300-plus big-league at-bats?

A: “I know that the potential is there for him to be an outstanding big-league player. It’s a matter of adjustments. We’ve all seen a lot of young players coming to the big leagues and get off to great starts and then the advance scout makes a note in his report and it goes to the coaching staff and the next thing now the guy is seeing a different pitching selection or different location and he all of a sudden become aware – if he wasn’t already – that he’s got a weakness that’s being exploited, and the guys who continue to be successful and turn corners and the ones who close up those holes and make the adjustment.”

Q:  You talk about a younger player…he was 25 last year, 26 now. Is it different sort of scale of adjustments you hit at that age than when you’re 22?

A: “Probably. I haven’t thought about it a whole lot because I still view him in the context of the amount of big-league experience he’s got as being relatively young. There are some guys who never hit a roadblock. Most players at some point in time are going to hit a roadblock and it’s how they manage to navigate around it. Some guys do and some guys just can’t get past it, can’t make the adjustment. They can’t stay off the slider in the dirt, they can’t get their hands in to hit the fastball in. And they fall by the wayside. C.J., I thought last year got challenged late in the season and made the adjustments and made them in a very significant way. This is a guy that I wouldn’t be surprised at the end of the season to C.J. at 30-plus home runs. But it’s going to entail, how does he respond to the other teams’ Brad Arnsbergs, who are back in the laboratory cooking up the formula to really make you fail? Believe me, when you have a couple of months like Chris Johnson had, there’s a lot of pitching coaches in the lab right now. Rich Dubee’s doing it right now in Philadelphia right now, getting ready for Opening Day against, trying to figure out how to shut C. J. down.”

Astros stockpile young talent

The Astros’ success from 1997-2005 was a product of some terrific front-office moves. They drafted well, made some key free-agent signings and weren’t afraid to trade away some of their top prospects to get players in return. When the big contracts become burdensome and the youth pipeline began to dry up, the Astros were forced to shift course.

What made matters worse was the disastrous draft of 2007, which led to a shake up in the front office. Ed Wade took over as general manager and was asked to rebuild a farm system considered one of the worst in baseball, and one of the first thing he’s he did was hire Bobby Heck as scouting director.

The 2008 draft produced catcher Jason Castro and pitcher Jordan Lyles, and the Astros are still waiting to see what the 2009 and 2010 drafts produce, though several of their top prospects came from those drafts, including 2009 first-round pick Jiovanni Mier.

But what Wade and his staff have managed to do is add even more young players to the system in the past few months with a series of trades, as well as the Rule 5 draft. Here’s a look at the moves the teams has made since July 1 that have netted 11 young players in return:

  • July 1, 2010 – Acquired infielder Angel Sanchez from Boston in exchange for Kevin Cash.
    Comment: Sanchez did a nice job at the plate while starting at shortstop for much of the second half of the season while Tommy Manzella was on the disabled list. Sanchez has no power and is limited defensively, but he has skills.
  • July 29, 2010 – Acquired pitcher J.A. Happ, infielder Jonathan Villar and outfielder Anthony Gose from Phillies in exchange for Roy Oswalt.
    Comment: Oswalt didn’t want to be in Houston anymore, and the Astros were thrilled to get the switch-hitting Villar, who immediately became one of the team’s top prospects.
  • July 29, 2010 – Acquired first baseman Brett Wallace from Blue Jays in exchange for Gose.
    Comment: With Lance Berkman on his way out, the Astros spun Gose to the Blue Jays for Wallace, who became the starting first baseman at the Major League level.
  • July 31, 2010 – Acquired pitcher Mark Melancon and infielder Jimmy Paredes from the Yankees in exchange for Lance Berkman.
    Comment: The Astros weren’t going to pick up Berkman’s hefty option for 2011, so he agreed to a trade to the Yankees. Melancon is a key part to the bullpen, and Paredes is a speedy third baseman who was put on the 40-man roster.
  • Aug. 19, 2010 – Acquired pitcher David Carpenter from the Cardinals in exchange for Pedro Feliz.
    Comment: With rookie Chris Johnson tearing it up at the plate, Feliz was done in Houston. Still, the Astros managed to get something for him in a trade. Carpenter was added to the 40-man roster and could be in the mix this year in the bullpen.
  • Dec. 9, 2010 – Selected right-handers Aneury Rodriguez and Lance Pendleton in the Rule 5 Draft.
    Comment: Both Rodriguez and Pendleton will compete for a spot in the rotation this spring, but they must remain on the active roster or be offered back to their former clubs (Rodriguez came from the Rays and Pendleton the Yankees).
  • Dec. 23, 2010 – Acquired left-hander Wes Musick and right-hander Jonnathan Aristil from the Rockies in exchange for Matt Lindstrom.
    Comment: Lindstrom was due for a big raise in arbitration, and the Astros were worried about his health and inconsistency last year. They got a pair of young arms in return who have some potential.

Spring brings optimism for Wade

When general manager Ed Wade met with some members of the media earlier this week to address the team’s arbitration stance, the discussion didn’t stop there. Wade addressed a number of other topics, including the state of the Major League club, Jeff Keppinger and the young players who will play a huge role in 2011.

Here are Wade’s answers to some of those questions:

On the state of the club: “We like our club. I said when the offseason began that we didn’t expect it to be a headline-busting offseason for us. We very specifically had some things in mind. We replaced the middle of our infield with Bill Hall and Clint Barmes coming on board. We think those are some really good steps in the right direction for us. We’ve created competition for the fifth starter’s spot and we did things that did not create an environment where we could stump the progress of the young guys who came on last year and got their feet wet at the big-league level. We had a good four months last year, the last four months. We need to figure out a way to get off to a better start, and the things we tried to do this offseason were to give us every opportunity to do that.”

On having so many young players in key roles: “People stay away from the phrase ‘rebuilding,’ but I think good franchises are always in some type of rebuilding mode because that means you’re bringing players through the system or have acquired younger players who have begun to establish a new core nucleus of your club. I think it’s a process you have to go through frequently, and I think the fact a number of guys were up in early, late June last year and joined the organization at the trade deadline in July, they should benefit from the experience they had a year ago. I know people look at our club and say they’re not a lot of veterans around and where does our leadership come from, and at some times it’s the mental make up of the younger players, who recognize they have a great opportunity not only to produce on the field but have a presence in the clubhouse. We have a number of players who have indicated a willingness to do that and feel refreshed with the opportunity to step up and show what they’re capable of doing both on the field and in the clubhouse.”

On the progress of Jeff Keppinger, who underwent surgery on his left foot Jan. 14: “When the surgery was performed, the specialist who did the surgery in North Carolina indicated the normal process would call for probably a three-month rehab before he’s running aggressively, and that takes us probably into early or mid-May if everything is moving in a straight line. Keppinger has indicated through Nate Lucero, our trainer, he’s feeling great right now and if we could shave some weeks or months off that rehab schedule, that would be great. It would be dictated by the progress he makes and what the doctors tell us.”

On which players he’s most anxious to see this spring: “Brett Wallace has been talked about a lot from the standpoint of this is a golden opportunity for Brett to step up and win the first base job when he gets to Spring Training, and he’s got to do that because we know we’ve got alternatives. We know we can play Carlos Lee at first base or Brian Bogusevic coming through the organization with the ability to play over there. I think, again, Brett is one of those young guys who will benefit from having been here the second half of last season and find out you have to make adjustments at the big-league level. Every successful young player is challenged at the big league level and the ones who remain successful are the ones who make adjustments. I’m anxious to see him and anxious to see J.A. Happ in our uniform all year long. I think we saw a real good sample of what he’s capable of doing by what he did a year ago. I’m looking forward to seeing the guys who we were counting on to show whatthey’re capable of doing over six months, primarily our outfield trio. Hunter [Pence] and Carlos got off to tough starts last year and came on strong, and I would anticipate you’re not going to see those slow starts again. I’m anxious to see Chris Johnson at third base and given the opportunity to go out there and build on the type of season he had. Newness is always great, and I’m anxious to see the two new middle infielders [Barmes and Hall] as well. I guess what I’m saying is I’m excited to see everybody when I get down there.”

On the top prospects coming to Spring Training, including RHP Jordan Lyles: “The message delivered to these younger guys when we call them up is you’re not going to make the club out of Spring Training. No matter how many times you say that, they’re going to come in and try to make the club. Sometimes we’re reluctant to bring in younger guys like that, but we thought creating an environment for Jordan Lyles, who probably does have a chance to make our club, and some of these other younger guys, it gives them a chance to see what a big-league environment is all about and, in all candor, gives us a chance to pump our chest a little bit that we’ve got a substantial number of young guys who are on the near horizon and have a chance to help this club in the not-too-distant figure. And why not bring them in and show them off and get them in shape and send them back to Fred Nelson on the development side and put them in the right spot to continue their development?”

 

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