Results tagged ‘ Chris Johnson ’

Astros still have growing pains

So the Astros won’t finish at .500. Sunday’s loss guaranteed the local nine would finish with a losing record for the second consecutive year and for the third time in four years, but there’s not much the Astros can do in the final week of the season that could spoil the strides they made in the second half.

Sunday’s 9-3 loss to the Pirates was reminiscent of the first two months of the season, when the club didn’t do enough offensively to make up for its mistakes. J.A. Happ pitched a terrific game and wound up with a loss because of a costly fielding miscue and a woeful performance by the bullpen.

In addition to the error by catcher Jason Castro, who couldn’t handle a late throw by third baseman Chris Johnson, the Astros weren’t sharp on defense in the eighth inning, when the Pirates scored four runs to put the game away. Houston is 2-5 on its final road trip with one stop left in Cincinnati.

“It’s been a frustrating trip so far,” Johnson said. “We know what kind of team we have and we know we should be winning some of these games. But we’re not doing the little things. We’re throwing the ball around on defense and not coming up with timely hits. You lose when you do that.”

In the sixth inning Sunday, the Pirates were trailing 1-0 and had runners at first and third base with one out. Ronny Cedeno hit a ground ball to third base, where Johnson fielded it and turned his attention to Garrett Jones heading for home. Johnson threw home, but Castro couldn’t handle the ball and was charged with an error. It led to the Pirates scoring two unearned runs to take the lead for good.

“I hate to say it because it’s not an excuse, but it’s on the learning curve,” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “When you go through it a few times – that’s the first time maybe for C.J. this year – but it’s not the first time some of other infielders, so it’s part of the learning curve we’re going through unfortunately.”

Castro was charged with the error, but Mills said Johnson should have gotten rid of the ball right away instead of hesitating and allowing Jones to get so close to Castro.

“There’s no doubt we have to tighten up some things,” Mills said. “It’s kind of something that was happening early in the year when we weren’t scoring enough runs to make up for those mistakes. That’s kind of the way it was today.”

 

Johnson moves up again

Rookie third baseman Chris Johnson, who leads the NL in hitting since the All-Star break and is batting .366 this season, was moved up one spot in manager Brad Mills’ batting order for Wednesday’s game against the Braves. Johnson, who was moved up to sixth on Monday, was batting fifth Tuesday for the first time this season.

Here are the lineups:

ASTROS

CF Michael Bourn

2B Jeff Keppinger

RF Hunter Pence

LF Carlos Lee

3B Chris Johnson

1B Brett Wallace

SS Angel Sanchez

C Jason Castro

P Wandy Rodriguez

BRAVES

2B Omar Infante

RF Melky Cabrera

SS Alex Gonzalez

LF Matt Diaz

1B Troy Glaus

C Cody Ross

3B Brooks Conrad

CF Rick Ankiel

P Tommy Hanson

Astros kids are alright

Don’t give up on the Astros just yet. No, I’m not predicting an unbelievable second-half surge that leads them into the playoffs, but this team is worth watching. Jason Castro is worth watching, and so are Chris Johnson and Jason Bourgeois.

The Astros are younger and more exciting than they were 10 days ago, thanks to the arrival of Castro, Johnson and Bourgeois, who were brought up when Kevin Cash, Casey Daigle and Cory Sullivan were designatd for assignment on June 23.

Johnson is hitting .414 in his seven starts since being recalled, including a pair of four-hit games. The Astros had no four-hit games before Johnson, and eventually Michael Bourn on Monday, did the trick. For the season, Johnson is batting .333 with eight RBIs in 51 at-bats and has pushed Feliz to the bench. Sure, he’s struggled on defense, but he should get better with experience.

Then there’s Castro, who has shown great patience in the plate and poise behind it in his Major League debut. He’s hitting .231 with one home run, but he’s handled the staff nicely — guiding Wandy Rodriguez to back-to-back wins — and has thrown out four of the seven runners who have tried to steal against him.

Bourgeois has bounced around between a couple of organziations, but perhaps he’s found a home in his native Houston. He’s hitting .312 in limited action, but he gives the Astros an exciting speedster off the bench.

There’s no doubt all three of these guys are going to go through growing pains, but the fact they’re here and getting the chance to show what they can do is enough reason to come to the ballpark.

“I love it,” Astros closer Matt Lindstrom said. “I think it’s what we need right now, a good balance of veterans and young guys who are hungry, that will push us a little bit. Obviously they’re very talented and we’re excited to have them contribute. Hopefully we can expect this [during] the next three months and see where we go.”

 

New-look Astros bring enthusiasm

There’s a good chance the Astros will be starting three rookies in most games the rest of the season. Call it throwing in the towel or looking towards the future, but the bottom line is the Astros had to shake things up. One player said Tuesday it felt like Opening Day all over again, coming to the ballpark and knowing Jason Castro, Chris Johnson and Jason Bourgeois would be in uniform.

The Astros were getting little offensive production from their catchers and had top prospect Castro waiting in the wings. Pedro Feliz has been a huge disappointment at third base since signing as a free agent and with Johnson tearing it up at Triple-A Round Rock, the move made sense. Tommy Manzella has been starting at shortstop since Opening Day and appears to have settled down defensively, while the Astros hope he can make more strides on offense.

Despite the high-price contracts of franchise icons Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt and left-fielder Carlos Lee, the future is the Astros is in their young players. Players like Castro and Johnson and Double-A pitcher Jordan Lyles, who will pitch in the Futures Games this year.

“Obviously when you’re in the situation we are, having gone through a little more than a third of the season and you’re still sucking wind, you get to the point where you’re like, ‘Hey, let’s try something,’” Berkman said. “I think, that’s kind of where we are now at this point.”

Berkman admits he feels old, but not necessarily because he’s surrounded by fresh-faced youngsters.

“I don’t think we’ve had as many young guys as this probably since the early ’90s when Craig [Biggio] and Jeff [Bagwell] and those guys started infusing the organziation with the next wave of new talent,” Berkman said. “You had those playoff teams, good teams in mid ’80s and a few good teams in there and that wave came and went and you’ve got some new guys coming in. I don’t think this is dissimilar. In any organization, you’ve got cycles and it’s time for some of these new guys step in and see what they can do.”

Castro coming, and not a moment too soon

If you follow me on Twitter — and I don’t know why you wouldn’t if you want the latest Astros news — you may remember during Sunday’s game I threw out the stats of catcher Jason Castro and third baseman Chris Johnson. Castro was having a solid season and getting better, and Johnson was simply smoking the ball.

While I was looking at Round Rock’s stats and watching the Astros lose their eighth game in a nine-game span, I couldn’t help but think. Why not? Why not bring Castro and Johnson up and see what they can do? So when the Astros announced after the game they had called up Castro, Johnson and outfielder Jason Bourgeois, it was met with much anticipation in the press box.

“I think we have to see what some of these guys can do,” manager Brad Mills said. “If they are the ones to go further to go beyond this year then we need to find those answers and we need to find out about it.”

Exactly.

Castro, the first Draft pick of the Ed Wade-Bobby Heck regime to reach the Majors, will get the “lion’s share” of the time behind the plate, according to Mills. In other words, he’s the starter. He’s not coming up here to sit the bench. There are 92 games left in the season, and the Astros need to find out if he can play at the Major League level. Scouts like his defense, the club raves about his game-calling ability, but can he hit? We’ll find out.

Pedro Feliz has been a disappointment at third base, both offensively and defensively. So why not give Johnson a shot? The signing of Feliz in the offseason was a sign the club wasn’t exactly sold on Johnson, especially when you consider they were committed to giving Tommy Manzella the job at shortstop.

Mills said Johnson would get a lot of playing time at third, so it will be interesting how much Feliz plays the rest of the way. Here’s hoping Johnson, unlike last year when he was called up and didn’t play, gets a bulk of the starts so the Astros know what they have going into 2011.

I’d keep Manzella in the lineup, too. He’s making strides on offense and has settled down defensively. Perhaps he winds up starting against left-handers more, but what’s to lose by getting him another 300 at-bats this season?

Bourgeois was tearing it up at Triple-A and may be a late-bloomer. We know he can fly and he gives Mills a different kind of weapon off the bench. Keep in mind Cory Sullivan, who was designated for assignment, was a left-handed hitter and Bourgeois hits right-handed. But Bourgeois can do things Sullivan can’t.

Simply put, this youth movement is exciting. The Astros will never admit to rebuilding, but the arrival of Castro could be a watershed moment in the franchise’s future. And that future is now.

Day 14: Pitchers take their lumps against Tigers

Yes, the Astros were hammered 17-7 by the Tigers on Friday, but was not necessarily a bad thing. Consider this: Detroit was all over the bases and was hitting balls into all corners of the ballpark, which gave the Astros plenty of chances to work on hitting the cut-off man, throwing to the correct bases and those kinds of things.

These games mean nothing as far as wins and losses, so the Astros got in a good 3 1/2-hour defense lesson. That doesn’t mean that manager Brad Mills doesn’t want to see his pitchers tighten things up a bit. The Astros gave up 16 hits and walked 11 batters. That was ugly.

Here’s what stood out Friday:

The good: The Astros continue to swing the bats. Playing without Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn and Pedro Feliz, the Astros had 14 hits, including eight doubles.  Chris Johnson went 3-for-4 with three doubles to raise his average to .667 in the early going. He also made a nice few defensive plays at third base, though he did make one error.

“It definitely helps with the confidence trying to get ready for the season and getting good pitches to hit and you put good swings on them and hopefully they find a hole,” Johnson said. “And they have been lately, so that’s good. I had a couple of [ground] balls today that were tough to simulate in practice.”

Jason Michaels continues to rake, going 1-for-2 with two runs and a double. He’s hitting .800 this year. Yordany Ramirez also had another hit and, if I remember correctly, he had at least one hit in the “B” game, too. There were not stats available for that game.

The bad: Look, it’s still way too early to overanalyze the pitching. All of the guys who pitched Friday were on the mound for the first time in a spring game this year, and Evan Englebrook was working his first Major League spring game in his career.

Wandy Rodriguez was a little wild, but he has a long way to go. He’ll be fine. Now, guys like Gustavo Chacin and Yorman Bazardo are competing for jobs and need results. Chacin was the victim of some poor defense, but still gave up two hits and one walk. Bazardo allowed three runs and two hits, and left-handed prospect Polin Trinidad was terribly wild. He faced six batters and walked four of them and let two get on with base hits. All six scored. Yikes.

There were a couple of more errors on defense, so that needs to be tightened. Brian Bogusevic struggled in right field and misplayed a pair of fly balls, but you have to take into consideration the conditions. It was very bright and very windy, and the Tigers even had trouble in the outfield. But like the pitchers trying to win a spot, those are plays Bogusevic needs to make.

What they said: “In a lot of ways, I was happier today with a lot of things that happened. The score right now doesn’t concern me as much as how we need to go about playing the game. We had some real solid at-bats today in this game, which is good. We did yesterday, but what I mean by solid at-bats is we worked the counts a little bit better today and yesterday we just crushed the ball. Defensively, we hit the cut-off man and were able to work on some things and get it done. In many resects, we were very happy with the way things went.” - Astros manager Brad Mills.

What’s next: The Astros return to Osceola County Stadium on Saturday to face the Braves. For the first time, Mills should be able to fill out the kind of lineup card we might see on Opening Day, though he’s probably going to use a designated hitter. Roy Oswalt starts, and Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman are scheduled to make their first starts in the field.

Bazardo gives Chris Johnson rude welcome

Welcome to the big leagues, Chris Johnson. Don’t forget to duck.

Johnson, the third base prospect who joined the team Tuesday in anticipation of his Major League debut, was struck on the head by a pitch thrown by Yorman Bazardo during a simulated game Tuesday. Johnson was dazed, but otherwise fine and shook off the incident.

“That’s why we wear helmets,” he said.

Bazardo, who hasn’t pitched in a game since Aug. 15, threw two innings to keep sharp.

“He just needed to get some work,” manager Cecil Cooper said. “He hadn’t been in a game and he needed to face some hitters. He had been sitting out there for nine, 10 days without seeing a hitter.

“It’s one thing to throw a pen and another thing to face a hitter. He unfortunately hit one, but the ball came out of his hand real good and I saw some good movement. He threw some real good sliders. I just would like to see him command the zone a little bit better. I’ve talked to him about that.”

_____________________________________________________________________________

I finally cornered Roy Oswalt on Tuesday and asked him how he felt and he seemed shocked I was even asking. In other words, Oswalt will definitely make his next scheduled start Thursday against the Braves, the only National League he has never beaten.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Astros general manager Ed Wade had Astros director of research and analysis Charlie Norton crunch some numbers, and the results were interesting. From the beginning of the season through Sept. 3, baseball has paid approximately $383 million to players on the disabled list.

As of that date, the Astros had 21 DL stints, which ranked in the top five and they had paid out $8.8 million, which ranked probably in the bottom six or seven. The Mets were at $41 million dollars.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Versatile infielder Jeff Keppinger remains day-to-day with back tightness. Keppinger hasn’t played since leaving Friday’s game against the Phillies, and he looks doubtful to play in the three game series against the Braves.

But it’s not like the Astros are in a hurry to get him back. Aaron Boone, Geoff Blum, Miguel Tejada, Chris Johnson and Tommy Manzella give them plenty of depth on the left side of the infield.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 73 other followers