Results tagged ‘ Carlos Lee ’

Wallace is going to get a chance

Astros general manager Ed Wade admitted Wednesday the Astros are at this point unlikely to add a left-fielder to either start or split time with Jason Michaels if Carlos Lee winds up at first base. Wade said adding such a player would probably shut the door on Brett Wallace beginning the season at first, and the team isn’t ready to make that determination.

“The more we’ve talked about the composition of our club, we would love to see Brett Wallace be our first baseman,” he said. “If we go out and sign a left field of some magnitude with an expectation that he’s going to play in a platoon situation or regularly, we’re almost putting ourselves in a position of Carlos having to be the first baseman and that pushes Wallace off the page.

“I don’t want to create an environment where Brett’s opportunities disappear simply because of us acquiring someone else. If we get into Spring Training and Brett is struggling and we think moving Carlos [from left field] to first base makes sense at the time, we’re going to be evaluating [Brian] Bogusevic and others.”

Wade did admit the club had interest in Jack Cust, who signed with Seattle, but he was concerned about his defense.


Astros position breakdown: outfield


2010 Opening Day starters: LF Carlos Lee, CF Michael Bourn, RF Hunter Pence.

2010 end-of-season starters: LF Carlos Lee, CF Michael Bourn, RF Hunter Pence.

Others who were in the mix: Brian Bogusevic (LF-CF-RF), Jason Bourgeois (LF-CF-RF), Jason Michaels (LF-CF-RF, Cory Sullivan (LF-RF-CF).

Combined 2010 stats of Astros outfielders: .261 BA/.317 OBP/.401 SLG, 93 doubles, 51 homers, 217 RBIs, 156 walks, 316 strikeouts, 1,917 at-bats.

Free agents: None.

Arbitration eligible: Bourn and Pence.

What happened: The Astros went into last season feeling good about what they had in the outfield with Carlos Lee returning in left, Michael Bourn returning in center and Hunter Pence returning in right. Lee had averaged 30 homers and 100 RBIs in his first three seasons with Houston, Bourn was named the team’s MVP in 2009 and won a Gold Glove and Pence was coming off his first All-Star appearance. The three held down the starting duties, but not without some road bumps.

Lee, who started 133 games in left field, struggled out of the gate and hit .183 in April with no home runs. He had only five homers at the end of May and wound up hitting .240 in the first half with 12 homer and 45 RBIs, helping put the Astros in a hole. He came around in the second half with a .254 average to go along with 12 homers and 44 RBIs to finish with 24 homers and 89 RBIs, his lowest totals with Houston. He split time before left field and first base in September as the Astros wanted to get a look at him at first defensively.

Bourn, who started 133 games in center, picked up where he left off in 2009 and got off to a quick start, hitting .311 in April. His average slowly began dipping as the season wore on. He hit .245 in May, .252 in June and .185 in July with an on-base percentage of .271. Bourn was enjoying a great finish – he hit .229 in his final 17 games – before his season ended two weeks early with an oblique strain. He hit .265/.341/.356 with 52 stolen bases and had another Gold Glove-caliber season in center field.

Pence, who started 155 games in right, joined Lee in getting off to a slow start. He hit around .230 with two homers and seven RBIs in April before coming around in May, batting .302 with six homers and 16 RBIs. After hitting .263 before the All-Star break, Pence hit .302 in the second half and finished with 25 homers for the third year in a row and 91 RBIs to lead the team. He was up and down defensively.

Jason Michaels, the fourth outfielder, had a solid year in a backup role and parlayed that into his option being picked up for 2011. He hit .253/.310/.468 with eight homers and 26 RBIs while playing all three outfield spots. He had two pinch-hit home runs. Jason Bourgeois, a speedster who doesn’t hit for a high average, got the bulk of the playing time in center in the final two weeks with Bourn on the shelf. The Astros got an abbreviated look at former No. 1 pick Brian Bogusevic, the pitcher-turned-outfielder who made his Major League debut. Cory Sullivan began the year as the fifth outfielder but was let go in the middle of the season.

What’s next: Lee, Bourn and Pence are all back in 2011, barring a trade. Lee will be in the fifth year of his six-year, $100-million contract (he has a limited no-trade clause this year) and Bourn and Pence are eligible for arbitration. But not all three could return as starters in the outfield. The Astros are going to give Lee another look at first base in Spring Training next year, with the hopes Brett Wallace – acquired in the Roy Oswalt trade – does enough to warrant winning the first base job and keeping Lee in left field.

If the Astros deem Wallace needs more time in the Minor Leagues, they will stick Lee at first base. That’s why they’re on the lookout this winter for a left-handed hitting left fielder they could use in a platoon situation with Michaels. The decision on which player opens at first base won’t unfold until later in Spring Training.

The Astros are banking on Bourn and Pence to pick up where they left off at the end of last year and have the best offensive seasons of their careers. Lee had a down season in 2010 and would certainly give the club a boost if he can return to his 2007-09 form as a reliable run producer. Bogusevic and Bourgeois will get a look as backup outfielders, but don’t be surprised to see a Minor League player make a push during the spring.

Who’s on the farm: The Astros are starting to see the fruits of their last several drafts pay off in the outfield, where an impressive group of young outfielders is emerging.  The club is high on Jack Shuck, who had a bang-up season for Double-A Corpus Christi before finishing the year at Triple-A Round Rock. T.J. Steele had turned some heads before injuries slowed him down last season, and players like Jon Gaston, Jay Austin and J.D. Martinez could be ready for the Majors soon. Martinez was named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year after he hit .341 with 40 doubles, 18 homers and 89 RBIs combined between Class A Lexington and Double-A Corpus Christi, where he finished the season. He was named the South Atlantic League’s Most Valuable Player and was a midseason and postseason All-Star.

Astros position breakdown: first base

Before we break down how the Astros shape up at first base, here’s a reminder that in the next few days I plan to answer some of your questions with a long-awaited Inbox. So if you have some questions you want answered about the Astros, click here.

Now, let’s get back to our series on examing the Astros one position at a time. Today’s topic is first base. And boy, how things have changed at first base in the last few months.


2010 Opening Day starter: Geoff Blum (Lance Berkman would have been starter if not injured).

2010 end-of-season starters: Brett Wallace/Carlos Lee.

Others who were in the mix: Pedro Feliz.

Combined stats of Astros first basemen: .241 BA/.332 OBP/.397 SLG, 30 doubles, 19 homers, 80 RBIs, 72 walks, 127 strikeouts, 585 at-bats.

Free agents: Blum (mutual option for 2011 was not exercised).

Arbitration eligible: None.

What happened: Lance Berkman injured his knee in the middle of Spring Training and had to undergo surgery, which put him out for the first 12 games of the season. Pedro Feliz, who was signed to be the starting third baseman, and veteran utility man Geoff Blum shared the first base duties until Berkman returned to the lineup, April 20, against the Marlins.

Berkman got off to a terrible start at the plate and never really recovered, which along with the early offensive woes by fellow sluggers Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee put the Astros in a huge hole in the NL Central. The Big Puma hit .242 in April and .221 in May and had five homers in his first 37 games. He managed to hit .278 in June, but had only two homers. That forced the Astros to come to the conclusion they wouldn’t pick up his $15 million option for 2011 and they wound up trading him to the Yankees at the Trade Deadline in exchange for right-hander Mark Melancon and Minor League infielder Jimmy Paredes.

Berkman is one of the Astros’ top five offensive players in club history, and watching him get traded away only hours after Roy Oswalt was dealt to the Phillies was quite a shock. Whether Berkman has any game left remained to be seen, but it was clear the Astros were ready to get younger. Brett Wallace, one of the players they acquired in the Oswalt deal in a secondary trade with Toronto, was plugged in as the starter at first base.

Wallace got off to a nice start in his first week on the job in his Major League debut, but he scuffled offensively for much of the season. The power numbers he put up in the Minor Leagues never materialized. Wallace hit just two homers in 144 at-bats and struck out 50 times, but his September was better than his August at the plate and he turned out to be a surprisingly adept defensive first baseman despite his large frame. Wallace hit .222/.296/.319 with two homers and 13 RBIs.

He didn’t hit right-handers (.218) or left-handers (.240) exceptionally well, but found himself splitting time at first base in the final three weeks of the season with Lee, the team’s starting left fielder. Lee started nine of the final 18 games at first base – primarily against lefties – and was adequate defensively, though not nearly as good as Wallace. Lee hit .235/.257/.456 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 19 games as a first baseman.

Feliz saw occasional time at first base before he was let go, and Blum made 10 starts at the position.

What’s next: Considering Wallace has only 144 career Major League at-bats to his name, the Astros are going into next season with him penciled in as the starting first baseman of the future. The one thing that stands in his way is Lee. It wasn’t by accident that the Astros got a long look at El Caballo at first base in September, and it’s not a stretch to consider Lee will come to Spring Training with a shot to be the starting first baseman on Opening Day.

Not only would this give Wallace some more at-bats in the Minor Leagues, but it would allow the Astros to free up a spot in left field for somebody with more range and a better arm than Lee, who is not a good outfielder. Had Wallace come to the Astros and tore the cover off the baseball in Chris Johnson fashion, Lee likely never would have been taken out of the outfield at any point last season.

Who’s on the farm: Like many of the Astros’ positions, you’ll have to go down to Double-A Corpus Christi to find a player who might have a long-term future at first base with the big club. Koby Clemens started at first for the Hooks and was named team Most Valuable Player after hitting .241 with 26 home runs, 85 RBIs and a .350 on-base percentage. The jury’s out on whether he can be a Major League first baseman, but he might get a shot to come to Major League camp next spring.

Mark Ori (.284) and Brian Pellegrini (.283, 16 homers, 45 RBIs) put up good offensive numbers in Class A Lancaster, and Houston native Kody Hinze had a breakout season at Class A Lexington, hitting .277 with 19 homers and 97 RBIs.

In summary: Unless the Astros acquire another player they feel could start at first base, they will come to camp with Wallace and Lee in the mix. It’s probably going to be up to Wallace’s bat to decide who’s going to be manning first base when the season begins next April in Philadelphia. Don’t be surprised to see an older veteran in camp in the mold of Darin Erstad and Geoff Blum who could play first base in a backup role.

Astros finally getting some breaks

A ball bounces over the head of left fielder Carlos Lee and leads to two runs in the ninth inning. Prior to this week, that would have done in the Astros. They would have went down quietly in the ninth and been saddled with another less.

But there’s been a different feeling at Minute Maid Park the last few days. Blown leads late in games are being turned into victories, and somewhere along the line there’s a hint of momentum and — dare are we say? — confidence.

“That’s important going forward,” first baseman Lance Berkman said. “We’ve got to believe that no matter what the circumstances in the game are we have a chance to win it and we’ve got a good feel over the last three games and just keep it going.”

After losing 14-4 in the series opener against Washington, the Astros won the final three games of the series, twice rallying in the bottom of the ninth after closer Matt Lindstrom blew saves in the top of the inning.

Thursday’s wasn’t really Lindstrom’s fault as much it was bad luck. A blooper by Willie Harris bounced over Lee’s head and resulted in an RBI and eventually the go-ahead run in the ninth, but the Astros got a huge break in the bottom of the inning when Cristian Guzman misplayed a two-out fly ball off the bat of Berkman to allow the tying run to score. Lee hit a two-run homer, and the Astros were winners.


“We knew we had three more outs and we were going to give it our best, but and we came out with the victory,” center fielder Michael Bourn said.

They are 20-34 at the one-third mark of the season and on pace to go 60-102. They’re tied with slumping Arizona for the worst record in the National League, but perhaps they’re getting things together. Berkman, Lee and Hunter Pence combined to go 5-for-14 on Thursday with two homers and are all swinging the bat better.

Maybe what we’ve seen the last three days is the real Astros.



Could Lee, Berkman and Pence be breaking out?

There is no bigger reason for the Astros’ shortcomings on offense this year than the struggles of their 3-4-5 hitters: Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence. No matter what the order, the three sluggers have scuffled for most of the season and the Astros’ offense has followed along, but there are signs they could be coming around.

Berkman went 1-for-4 with a run scored Wednesday, one day after going 3-for-5 with three RBIs. In his last 22 games, he’s hitting .288 with three homers and 16 RBIs to raise his batting average to .241 from .175.

Lee went 1-for-3 on Wednesday with a two-run homer. He’s hitting .281 with four homers and 12 RBIs in his past 16 games, raising his batting average to .208 from .189.

Pence went 1-for-4 with a two-run triple Wednesday and his hitting .410 with eight RBIs in his last 10 games. He hit .302 with six homers and 16 RBIs in May and is off to a quick start in June.

If all three guys can continue to heat up with the weather, maybe the summer will be bearable, after all.

Carlos Lee not backing down

I will have a full story posted later on the website about the incident, but here are the raw reactions of Astros left fielder Carlos Lee and Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter after benches emptied in the third inning Thursday.

Lee pounded his bat in the ground after popping out to shortstop with runners at first and second base and appeared to be yelling at himself in frustration. Carpenter stared at Lee jogging down the line and began yelling back before being separated.

Lee: “I wasn’t trying to show him up. I never looked at him. I got [mad] because I got a pitch to hit and I popped it up. I was mad at myself. I don’t know what he said to me, but he said something and was looking at me, staring at me. For what?”

Carpenter: “It wasn’t a big deal. I don’t know why it turned into a big deal. Things happen. I said something, he said something. He kept coming at it. He’s the one that caused everybody to come out, not me. I was just telling him there’s no need for it.”

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa: “Well, routinely now, hitters pop up a pitch they think they should do [something] with, and they start making noises, and that really is disrespectful to the pitcher. Most of the pitchers just turn around and ignore it. Carp doesn’t. And I think Carp’s in the right. I think respect should go both ways. He gets you out, he gets you out. Just zip it and go back. He gives it up, you zip it and let the guy go around the bases. Most pitchers, they let the guys jabber. I don’t think Carlos Lee is anything special as far as a guy who disrespects, but it’s so common now.”

Can one win mark a turnaround?

Maybe Sunday’s come-from-behind walk-off win over the Padres is the one that will get the Astros going. At 10-21, they need something, anything to help them get on track. Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence and Lance Berkman – who were a combined .199 for the season prior to Sunday – came alive and went a combined 7-for-14 with two homers. It was like the old days, when opposing pitchers had trouble getting through the heart of the Astros’ order.

The task gets tougher for the Astros, though. They open an eight-game road trip Tuesday night in St. Louis, a place where they just haven’t played well since winning the NLCS in 2005. From there, they go to San Francisco – which has already swept the Astros – and close out with two games in Los Angeles, which is another place they don’t play well.

Astros general manager Ed Wade admitted before Sunday’s game his team’s offensive struggles were baffling.

“Is there some avenue, some solution, we haven’t tried yet short of something drastic, which you don’t try to do at this point in the season? No,” Wade said. “There’s no one ready down in Triple-A to come up and be a three-, four-, five-hole hitter, and not a lot is available on the market, and the ones that are available right now you can line up your five or six top prospects and take a run at them. We’ve got to live through this.”

Meanwhile, Astros manager Brad Mills admitted he’s had trouble sleeping the last few weeks because of the team’s troubles. What’s the solution? “I’ve tried Excedrin PM, Tylenol PM, NyQuil and now Sleepytime Tea.”

Mills may have trouble sleeping, but he’s certainly not giving up on his players. He had a team meeting near the start of the season to tell the guys he wasn’t going to give up on them and not to quit working hard.
“That’s what I want these guys to understand,” he said. “We just have to keep working and never give up. They’ve been working and doing things. Are they working too hard at times? That’s in the process, where you struggle, you work to get out of it at the end.”

Lee might retire after 2012

Left-fielder Carlos Lee, who’s in the fourth year of a six-year, $100-million deal, said Thursday he will strongly consider retiring when he his contract expires. Lee has a limited no trade clause after this season, but considering he’s owed $18.5 million in each of the final three years he’s unlikely to be traded.

“That was one of the reasons I signed here, was to come here and kind of establish myself with a long-team deal and finish up here,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m going to play after this contract is up. I’m ready to go home.”

Lee, who lives in his native Panama in the offseason, has two sons and two daughters that he wants to spend more time with.

“We spend so much time away from our family,” he said. “I can’t spend any other time with my kids. I get home at 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock and they’re sleeping and they get up at 6:30 in the morning to go to school and I see them 10, 15 minutes. I want to be able to spend time with my kids while they’re still young and healthy. I want to enjoy them.”

Where do the Astros go from here?

J.R. Towles may have played his last game in an Astros uniform, and Roy Oswalt might wish he had. Towles admitted he was upset upon learning Tuesday he was being sent to Double-A, which could pretty much signal his time in Houston is done. He said he’s not sure where he stands in the organization, but it can’t be good.

The Astros, not surprisingly, are in need of a veteran catching presence, and Kevin Cash will bring that behind the plate. He’s won World Series rings with the Red Sox and Yankees. He’s not much of a hitter, so perhaps he will fit right in.

Houston’s offensive woes are mind-boggling. The Astros are hitting .235 as a team with nine home runs and only 49 walks in 26 games. They’ve been held to two or fewer runs seven times in their eight-game losing streak and 15 time this season.

How is it possible that Carlos Lee (.198, no home runs), Hunter Pence (.215) and Lance Berkman (.200) are all struggling at the same time? Berkman missed the first 12 games and hardly got any at-bats in Spring Training, so perhaps there are some timing issues. As for Lee and Pence? Who knows.

You can’t help but feel badly for Roy Oswalt, who is pitching great to start the season. He held Arizona to five hits and one extremely long solo homer Tuesday to fall to 2-4 despite a 2.47 ERA and six quality starts in as many outings. He’s posted a 3.12 ERA in his four losses, and the club has scored only three runs during his 26 innings of work in those losses.

That would be enough to make anybody go a little crazy, or perhaps think of requesting a trade. It’s probably too early for that kind of stuff, but Oswalt left Minute Maid Park on Tuesday trying to hide his anger and frustration. He had plenty of company.

Mills vows to eliminate mistakes

Astros manager Brad Mills said there were some things that took place during Wednesday’s win over the Marlins that he felt he needed to address with his team. Mills didn’t get into many specifics, short of saying the base running had to be better.

The one specific issue Mills did address was a throw left-fielder Carlos Lee made in the fifth inning. With runners at first and second and one out, Gaby Sanchez hit a ball high off the left-field wall. Lee apparently threw to the wrong base while getting the ball back to the infield.

“We were talking to Carlos about where he’s going to throw the ball when that ball comes off the wall,” Mills said. “We talked about our baserunning for one thing. There were some other issues that I don’t want to really get into, but there was one significant issue we wanted to address what happened last night and we did and we’re moving on.

“Those little things might not show up last night as a big issue, but it will rear its head at some point in the near future if it’s not addressed, and that’s what we want to do.”

The Astros struggled on the bases Wednesday. Lee was caught stealing to end the first inning, and Lance Berkman was thrown out by a large margin trying to steal third base in the sixth inning. Lee also went to first to third on a grounder in the eighth, though he made it safely to third because of a pair of bad throws.

“We’re open to using anchors-are-us online if we could order some anchors for our guys so they just stop running,” Astros general manager Ed Wade said. “We have to run the bases smart, particularly when we have some guys struggling at the plate. We can’t give outs away. You want to be aggressive and things happen, but last night they were really happening.”