Results tagged ‘ closer ’

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.”

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Players gather for morning instruction

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

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Pitching coach Brent Strom

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Josh Fields talks to Dallas Keuchel

Who is the greatest Astros closer of all-time?

With Brett Myers headed to the closer role, it’s time to stroll down memory lane and re-visit some of the Astros’ closers of years gone past. The Astros have had some pretty solid closers through the years, from Joe Sambito to Jose Valverde. In between, there were guys like Doug Jones, Billy Wagner, Octavio Dotel and Brad Lidge.

So, that begs the question…

 

Myers to bullpen dominants day at Astros camp

The Astros made their first big news of Spring Training when it was announced early Tuesday by manager Brad Mills that starting pitcher Brett Myers was being moved into the closer role. Myers closed for the Phillies in 2007 and has been nothing short of a workhorse in his two years in Houston, pitching the fifth-most amount of innings in the NL in that span.

Here’s what else went on Monday:

  • Mills said catcher Jason Castro is progressing so well from his offseason foot surgery that he will have no limitations when the team begins Grapefruit League play Saturday against Washington. “We first thought he was going to be a week late and then a few days and now it looks like he won’t be late at all,” Mills said. “We’ll pick out what games we want him to maybe catch to start with. Right off the bat, I’m thinking three innings would be a good start for him. That would give him at least one at-bat.”
  •  Outfielder Jack Cust didn’t participate in base running sprints after tweaking his right knee Tuesday. He will be re-evaluated Wednesday. “He bent over for a ball and felt something in the back of his knee and the trainers didn’t want him to run on it,” Mills said. “I talked to him and he doesn’t think it’s that bad.

For a rundown of all the day’s news, including what Brandon Lyon thinks of Myers moving to the closer role, click here.

Here is the day in pictures:

Brian Bogusevic works on base running drills.

Matt Downs and Brad Mills speak during drills.

Bench coach Joe Pettini goes over base running.

Jonathan Villar.

Delino DeShields Jr.

George Springer.

 

 

 

Astros have no shortage of rotation candidates

Brett Myers’ move to the closer role all but guarantees Livan Hernandez will start the season in the Astros rotation, unless he has a terrible spring or gets injured. Hernandez, who has never been on the disabled list in his 15-year career, can eat up the innings that were lost from in the rotation with Myers being moved to the bullpen.

It’s also good news for Lucas Harrell, Zach Duke, Henry Sosa, Kyle Weiland and everybody else competing for a rotation spot. One open spot has become two, giving someone an opportunity they wouldn’t have had if Myers had stayed in the rotation.

The top three spots in the rotation appear to be set with Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ. The next five weeks will be about competition and finding out who’s the best option to complete the final two spots in the rotation, or one if you believe Hernandez is a lock.

Lyles and Sosa both made their Major League debuts for the Astros last season and made a handful of starts, and Harrell was claimed off waivers last year from the White Sox. Duke, a non-roster invitee, is the only lefty of that bunch.

The Astros ranked 14th in the 16-team National League last year with a 4.52 ERA as a starting staff. Rodriguez (11-11, 3.49 ERA) pitched well, but Norris (6-11, 3.77 ERA) struggled with control at times and didn’t get good run support and Happ (6-15, 5.35 ERA) had a woeful first four months.

While the Astros are hopeful all four can pitch to their potential this year, they added more arms to the mix this winter in case someone gets injured or isn’t up to the task at hand. Or if someone gets moved to the bullpen.

Astros move Myers to closer

The Astros’ search for a closer ended with a surprise announcement Tuesday morning.

Astros manager Brad Mills told reporters veteran starting pitcher Brett Myers would be moved into the closer role, a position he held with the Phillies in 2007. The Astros approached Myers shortly after the start of spring camp to gauge his interest in becoming the closer, and he agreed to the move Monday after consulting with his family and his body.

The Astros have no shortage of candidates to fill Myers’ spot in the rotation after signing Livan Hernandez and Zach Duke to Minor League contracts this winter. Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ are likely to be in the rotation when the season starts, with youngsters Jordan Lyles, Lucas Harrell, Henry Sosa and Kyle Weiland in the mix for the other spots

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said had been discussing the move for a while with Mills and pitching coach Doug Brocail

“From my standpoint, we have some depth in the rotation between Duke, Livan, Happ, Sosa and Harrell and all the young guys,” he said. “We feel like we’re in pretty good shape there and have some choices. We felt like were a little exposed in the bullpen, and having a guy who’s been successful in that role and who’s got the mentality and stuff to do well takes pressure of Brandon Lyon coming off an injury and doesn’t put pressure on young kids like David Carpenter and Wilton Lopez.”

Myers began 2007 as the Phillies’ Opening Day starter before being moved to closer three starts into the season. In 21 relief appearances, he went 5-5 with 21 saves and a 2.87 ERA, but was shifted back to the rotation after Philadelphia acquired Brad Lidge prior to the 2008 season. He’s been a starter ever since.

The Astros began last year with Brandon Lyon as closer, but he got injured a month into the season and wound up having surgery repair the detachment of his right biceps tendon and to also mend a tear in his labrum. Mark Melancon closed most of 2011, but the team traded him to the Red Sox in exchange for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.

With Lyon apparently not in the team’s plans, that left the Astros without an experienced closer. The team soon turned to Myers.

Astros’ Mills mum on closer’s role

When pressed on Thursday about who he plans to use in the closer’s role this year, Astros manager Brad Mills remained non-committal. Mark Melancon spent most of the 2011 season at closer, but was shipped to the Red Sox in December.

“We’re having discussions as we speak,” Mills said. “We’ve talked about some things and talked about some guys as we go forward, and we’re constantly doing that. We’re talking about names and different guys we might give the opportunity and see how things go. It comes down to what we see in Spring Training and in some of these games, and also who we feel would do the best job.”

The Astros, who converted only 25 of 50 save chances last year, have several candidates. Veteran closer Brandon Lyon could step back into the role, but he missed most of last year following major arm surgery. Youngster David Carpenter could also be an option.

For more on the future of the closer situation, the health of Wandy Rodriguez and much more, click here.

And please don’t miss my story on Jed Lowrie’s fascinating African safari, in which he took some amazing photos.

Here are the photos of the day:

Bud Norris reacts as Aneury Rodriguez can't handle a grounder.

A group of pitchers get their work in.

Livan Hernandez warms up with Humberto Quintero.

Bench coach Joe Pettini takes in the workout.

Manager Brad Mills listens while Livan Hernandez talks to a group of pitchers.

Jason Castro sizes up his bats.

Bud Norris gets in his work in the bullpen.

Delino DeShields Jr. and George Springer await a workout.

Doug Brocail stands in during a bullpen sesson.

Manager Brad Mills and GM Jeff Luhnow talk.

Brett Wallace takes ground balls at third.

Day 39: Busy, busy day at Astros camp

What a day at Astros camp.

The day began with the news the Astros had made nine roster moves, which essentially gave the starting catching job to J.R. Towles, and ended with Lance Berkman telling MLB.com he suffered a setback Tuesday in his recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery. In between, Bud Norris pitched well against the Phillies and Matt Lindstrom was named closer.

Other than that…

Let’s start with the biggest news, which is Berkman. It’s growing increasingly unlikely he’d be ready for Opening Day. He felt so good taking batting practice Tuesday he said he was about “70 percent” certain he’d be ready for Monday. After trying to run, his hopes diminished.

“When I tried to run, I just couldn’t do it,” he said. “They’re going to back me down for a few days and see what happens.”

The recovery time on the surgery was two to four weeks, and Berkman has barely passed the halfway point. If he starts the season in the disabled list, he would have to miss at least the first four games of the regular season before being eligible to return.

Astros GM Ed Wade plans to meet with Berkman and head athletic trainer Nate Lucero on Wednesday to talk about the slugger’s immediate future.

“I was hopeful that by increasing activities that it wouldn’t irritate it, and apparently it’s going to,” he said. “I need to drop down to where I just swing a little bit. Today I took ground balls and moved around a good bit, and it didn’t respond like I wanted it to.”

If Berkman starts the year on the DL – and that is a good possibility – that would create another opening on the roster. We’ll get to that later. But if Berkman is placed on the DL, the earliest he’s be able to play in the fifth game of the season, April 10, against Philadelphia.

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Lindstrom, who had a terrific spring, was named closer by manager Brad Mills after Tuesday’s game against the Phillies. The hard-throwing right-hander hasn’t allowed an earned run in eight appearances this spring, though he nearly did Tuesday after he loaded the bases with no outs and worked his way out of the jam.

Lindstrom came to camp competing with Brandon Lyon for the closer’s role, but Lyon was behind and didn’t appear in a game until March 18. Lyon had a cyst drained in his right shoulder in January and had to get his arm strength back.

But Lindstrom left little doubt with how well he’s pitched.

“He’s throwing the ball well, and obviously with Brandon Lyon slow getting out of the gate from the cyst, it’s a logical move to make having him down there close to games in the ninth inning and still have an alternative to run with Lyon at some point,” Wade said.

Lyon, who signed a three-year, $15-million deal, has 54 career saves, including 26 with Arizona in 2008. Lindstrom has saved 20 games in his career, including 15 with Florida last year.

“We told Brandon Lyon he was going to be extremely valuable for us and going to be extremely valuable getting to us getting to that point as we go forward,” Mills said. “Nothing against Brandon at all, but when Matt did throw the ball as well as he did and Brandon was getting slow in getting going, that was probably it.”

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The Astros trimmed their roster by nine players Tuesday morning to get to 29, and in the process awarded an Opening Day roster spot to catcher J.R. Towles, who was competing with No. 1 prospect Jason Castro for the starting position. They haven’t announced Towles is the starter, but the belief all along was Towles and Castro were competing for the starting spot with Humberto Quintero as backup.

Castro was among nine players told by Mills and Wade they weren’t going to make the Opening Day roster. Castro and right-hander Casey Daigle were reassigned to Minor League camp, and right-hander Wilton Lopez and utility man Edwin Maysonet were optioned to Triple-A Round Rock.

In addition, non-roster invitees Gary Majewski (right-hander), Gustavo Chacin (left-hander), Drew Meyer (infielder), Chris Shelton (first baseman) and Kevin Cash (catcher) were reassigned to Minor League camp, but will remain with the team through this weekend’s exhibition games in Houston. Daigle will remain with the team until after he pitches Thursday’s Grapefruit League finale.

What does this all mean?

Towles is going to be the starting catcher. He told reporters team brass told him he was going to be the everyday guy. That’s not surprising. Castro had a very good spring, but Towles had a better spring at the plate and has some experience. And what’s wrong with Castro getting his feet wet in Round Rock?

The moves also leave the Astros with 14 pitchers, two of which (Alberto Arias and Yorman Bazardo) are injured. They’re likely going to carry 12 pitchers so it appears here are the 12: Roy Oswalt, Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris, Felipe Paulino, Brian Moehler, Matt Lindstrom, Brandon Lyon, Jeff Fulchino, Chris Sampson, Tim Byrdak and Sammy Gervacio.

Gervacio had a great spring and deserved it, but Lopez and Daigle had great springs and were sent out. I’m guessing we’ll see those guys again soon.

What about the infield? The Astros have seven infielders remaining, including Lance Berkman, who could be headed to the disabled list. If Berkman is disabled, that leaves Geoff Blum, Kaz Matsui, Tommy Manzella, Pedro Feliz, Chris Johnson and Jeff Keppinger as the six infielders.

That’s why I was somewhat surprised they sent out Maysonet on Tuesday. If Berkman is disabled, Maysonet seems to be a much better fit to make the team as a utility infielder than Johnson, who’s a third baseman. Johnson has had a great spring, but they still want him to play every day. It will be interesting to see what they do if Berkman is disabled.

The Astros need to trim one more outfielder from among the two non-roster players: Cory Sullivan and Jason Bourgeois. Let’s be honest: Sullivan is the guy, especially considering Bourgeois had had trouble staying healthy.

So final four roster cuts could be the four injured guys: Berkman, Arias, Bazardo and Bourgeois.

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As far as the game goes, the Astros beat the Phillies 5-2 on Tuesday to improve to 13-12 with two Grapefruit League games left. Philadelphia pretty much had its Opening Day lineup on the field, except for pitcher and catcher, so this was a good test for Bud Norris.

Here’s the breakdown:

The good: Norris held the Phillies to six hits and two runs and struck out seven batters in five innings. He had a 1-2-3 first, allowed two runs and three hits in the second and one hit in each of the other three innings.

“I felt great,” he said. “The plan was to go out there and throw strikes and compete and give my team a chance to win the game. I competed and made a lot of pitches.”

Lindstrom walked two batters and allowed a hit to load the bases with no outs in the sixth, but he got two strikeouts and a groundout to escape and keep his spring ERA spotless. Jeff Fulchino threw a scoreless inning and had two strikeouts, Tim Byrdak allowed one hit and struck out one batter in one inning and Chris Sampson struck out three batters in one inning.

At the plate, Michael Bourn went 4-for-5 with two doubles, a triple and a stolen base and appears to be fully recovered from his strained oblique. Carlos Lee went 2-for-3 with an RBI double and a three-run double, and Pedro Feliz had two hits. Hunter Pence scored two runs.

The bad: They were 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position. OK, now I’m nitpicking.

What they said: “I thought he threw the ball really well. It scared the daylights out of me when he stuck his hand up there, but at the same time I thought he threw the ball really well and it was so nice to see. The ball was coming out of his hand really good, even after he was hit in the hand.” - Mills on Norris, who was hit in the pitching hand by a line drive in the third.

What’s next: The Astros will send left-hander Wandy Rodriguez to the mound Wednesday against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at 12:05 p.m. CT. Rodriguez is scheduled to throw only two innings before catching a plane for Houston, where his wife is scheduled to deliver the couple’s second child Thursday. Moehler, Sampson and Gervacio are also scheduled to pitch. Right-hander Roy Oswalt, who had an injection into his lower back Monday in Houston, will start a Minor League game Wednesday. Shortstop Tommy Manzella will also play in that game.

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