Results tagged ‘ Geoff Blum ’

Game 13: Humber looks sharp in win over Nats

What happened: RHP Philip Humber threw four strong innings, and C Jason Castro bounced a two-run single into right field to score a pair of runs in the eighth inning to break a tie and send the Astros a 4-2 win over the Nationals on Thursday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium (boxscore).

What we learned: Humber has impeccable control of his fastball right now. He is still throwing mostly fastballs, and he was able to spot it so well against the Nats that he breezed through four innings.

“I threw my fastball where I wanted to throw it,” he said. “I threw four-seamers, two-seamers, and I think that helped things a little bit. When the [spring] season comes, the hitters are behind the pitchers for the most part. I’m going to have to throw more off-speed stuff than I did today [eventually]. But that’s definitely a good sign. That’s the first thing to come and usually everything else follows that.”

What we learned II: The Astros are better when they play at a quicker pace. Astros manager Bo Porter spoke to his pitchers and catchers on Thursday morning about the importance of working quicker, which he says won’t allow the defensive players to get lackadaisical on the infield.

“It’s something that we did address,” Porter said. “When you start to get deep counts and the pitchers are working slow, the defense gets on its heels a little bit. We reminded our guys, you want the plays made behind you, you need to get that ball, you need to go, you need to keep everybody on their toes and ready to go. The pitcher’s today did a great job with that, and Humber set the tone and every guy that came behind him, followed him.”

What else: OF Rick Ankiel‘s stolen bases in the eight inning set the stage for Castro’s game-winning hit. Not only did it get Ankiel into scoring position, but it forced the Nats bring the infield in with runners at second and third, and Castro bounced a hit over the infielder’s head. … OF Fernando Martinez went 2-for-2 with a double. … Only two of the Astros’ 11 hits were for extra bases. … OF J.D. Martinez, whose 22 at-bats this spring are tied for second-highest on the team, is hitting .364 (8-for-22).

What went wrong: The Astros only made one error, and it came when 1B Carlos Pena lost a high chopper in the sun and closed his glove either too early or too soon. … The Astros were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

What they said: “I was thinking that Bo was coming out to talk to me and he said, ‘Good job, you’re done,'” — Astros LHP Dallas Keuchel on being removed from the game after two innings.

What’s next: RHP Jordan Lyles will start for the Astros when they face the Atlanta Braves at 12:05 p.m. CT at Osceola County Stadium. RHPs John Ely, Ross Seaton, Hector Ambriz and LHP Wesley Wright are also scheduled to pitch.

Who’s injured: LHP Erik Bedard (strained glute) is day-to-day). … C Max Stassi (sports hernia surgery) is out until April.

Tweet of the day:

Links of the day: You must read this feature on OF Brandon Barnes, whose tattoos reveal a lot about his life. The Astros notebook features owner Jim Crane talking about TV negotiations, Porter discussing the early-season rotation and LHP Erik Bedard talking about his injury.

The day in photos:

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Nolan Fontana ran the bases in big league camp

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Wesley Wright steps on first base following flip from Marc Krauss

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Trainer Nate Lucero and former first-round pick Jio Mier share a laugh

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Rene Garcia prepares to bunt

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Jake Goebbert

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Brett Oberholtzer pitches with Doug Brocail watching

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Hitting coach John Mallee and Carlos Pena

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Brett Wallace

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Rick Ankiel

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New TV announcers Alan Asbhy and Geoff Blum await pregame show

Astros position breakdown: third base

We close out the infield portion of out position-by-position analysis by sinking our teeth into third base, which is pretty set at this point in time:

THIRD BASE

2010 Opening Day starter: Pedro Feliz.

2010 end-of-season starter: Chris Johnson.

Others who were in the mix: Geoff Blum, Matt Downs.

Combined 2010 stats of Astros third basemen: .265 BA/.292 OBP/.392 SLG, 31 doubles, 14 homers, 80 RBIs, 25 walks, 126 strikeouts, 616 at-bats.

Free agents: Geoff Blum (option declined).

Arbitration eligible: None.

What happened: The Astros signed Pedro Feliz to a one-year, $4.5-million contract at last year’s Winter Meetings with the hopes he could add some muscle to their offense and be a run-producer while playing a steady third base. Feliz did neither. He scuffled defensively and never got going with the bat, hitting .221 with four homers and 31 RBIs in 97 games before the Astros benched him in June and handed the starting job to rookie Chris Johnson.

Johnson, who made his Major League debut at the end of 2009 and played sparingly, had a tremendous spring and made the Opening Day roster, thanks in part to an injury Lance Berkman. That’s because Feliz saw time at first base against left-handers with Berkman out, allowing Johnson to make some starts at third. But Johnson’s season was quickly derailed when he went on the 15-day disabled list April 20 with a right intercostal strain.

When Johnson was healthy, Berkman was back in the lineup for the Astros and they had no room on the roster for him. He went to Triple-A Round Rock and hit .329/.362/.570 with eight homers and 33 RBIs before the Astros called him up.

Although he got a late start, Johnson went on to make a run at National League Rookie of the Year, hitting, .308/.337/.481 with 11 homers and 52 RBIS in 94 games. He led all Major League rookies with a .308 batting average (minimum 300 at-bats) and hit .316 after the All-Star break with 11 homers and 44 RBIs. He struggled at times defensively, committing 18 errors for a .908 fielding percentage, but the Astros are confident he will continue to improve with the glove.

What’s next: Johnson is the man of the moment. He’s penciled in as the starter next year with the expectation he’ll continue to improve as a run producer and a defensive player. The Astros will be in the market this winter for a utility player that can play third base when Johnson needs a day off, but if he’s healthy expect C.J. to make at least 150 starts for the Astros in 2011.

Who’s on the farm: The Astros’ top two third base prospects are in the lower Minor Leagues: Jonathan Meyer and Mike Kvasnicka. Meyer, a third-round pick in 2009, hit .245/.304/.317 with two homers and 49 RBIs last season in 121 games at Class A Lexington in his first full season in pro ball.  Kvasnicka was taken with the 33rd overall pick this year and hit .234/.305/.337 with five homers and 36 RBIs in 68 games at short-season Tri-City. Kvasnicka, out of the University of Minnesota, has played third, the outfield and caught, but his future is at third base.

Astros position breakdown: second base

Before we get to the latest in our Astros position-by-position breakdown, here’s a reminder that I’m currently fielding Astros-related questions and plan to answer them in the coming days via an Inbox. You can fire off you questions by clicking here.

Back to the task at hand. Our position-by-position breakdown takes us to second base, which for years was occupied by franchise icon Craig Biggio.

For the time being, second base is a position the Astros aren’t too worried about. Jeff Keppinger seized the starting job from Kaz Matsui early last season and was one of the team’s most consistent players all year. He comes with a relatively low salary and is a downright bargain based on his production, so things appear pretty set at the position after a tumultuous regular season.

Here’s a look at what’s going on at second base:

SECOND BASE

2010 Opening Day starter: Kaz Matsui.

2010 end-of-season starters: Jeff Keppinger.

Others who were in the mix: Geoff Blum, Anderson Hernandez, Angel Sanchez, Matt Downs, Jason Bourgeois.

Combined 2010 stats of Astros second basemen: .252 BA/.313 OBP/.345 SLG, 35 doubles, 7 homers, 59 RBIs, 56 walks, 57 strikeouts, 624 at-bats.

Free agents: Geoff Blum (option declined), Anderson Hernandez (Minor League).

Arbitration eligible: Jeff Keppinger.

What happened: Kaz Matsui, entering the final year of his three-year, $16.5-million deal, began the season as the incumbent starter at second, though he was actually platooning with Keppinger if you consider the number of starts each got in April (Keppinger had 12, Matsui 10). Matsui got off to an awful start and hit .141 in 27 games before the Astros cut him loose and handed the everyday job to Keppinger in mid-May.

Jeff Keppinger, 30, certainly didn’t disappoint and hit .288 with six homers and 59 RBIs in a career-high 514 at-bats. He was the team’s most consistent hitter all season and led the Astros in doubles with 34. He also struck out only 36 times in 514 at-bats while drawing 51 walks. Keppinger’s doesn’t have great range, but he made all the routine plays and was a steady hand at second base. He made only six errors, and his .990 field percentage was fourth in the NL among second baseman.

Keppinger missed 15 games in August after going on the disabled list with left big toe sesamoiditis, which was basically a stress fracture near the ball of his left foot. It forced him to take a few days off later in September, which allowed Anderson Hernandez and Matt Downs to make occasional starts. Veteran Geoff Blum also saw time at second, and shortstop Angel Sanchez was put at second on occasion when Tommy Manzella started at short late in the year. Outfielder Jason Bourgeois made a brief appearance at second base as well.

What’s next: Barring a trade or free agent signing, Keppinger will begin next season as the starting second baseman. The club admittedly needs to upgrade its offense and won’t shy away from a chance to add some pop at second base or shortstop, even if it forces a platoon situation somewhere in the middle infield. Sanchez will again be in the mix at second base, where he’s better suited than at shortstop because of his limited arm and range.

Who’s on the farm: The Astros used their No. 1 overall pick last year on Delino DeShields Jr., an outfielder who will be converted to second base from the outfield. He went to the instructional league to make the transition, but was slowed by elbow problems and was limited to designated hitter duties, though he did field ground balls at second and will continue to work at the position in the winter and heading into Spring Training next year. Jose Vallejo, acquired as part of last year’s Ivan Rodriguez trade with Texas, hit .111 in 99 at-bats in Corpus Christi. That was encouraging considering he severed tendons in two fingers of his right hand in a cooking accident late last year and had extensive surgery. The injury was believed to be career-threatening. He was a six-year Minor League free agent, but has re-signed with the Astros.

Jose Altuve was a South Atlantic League All-Star with Lexington before being promoted to high Class A Lancaster. He hit a combined .301/.357/.448 with 15 homers and 67 RBIs in 125 games. He stands 5-foot-5, but knows how to play the game, has outstanding hands, good speed and surprising pop. He’s liked by every guy on the Minor League staff. Jimmy Paredes, acquired in the Lance Berkman deal with the Yankees, hit .299 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 34 games with Lexington. For the season, he hit .287 with eight homers and 65 RBIs combined between Lexington and Charleston (Yankees). Other second basemen to keep an eye on are Enrique Hernandez (Tri-City) and Ben Orloff (Tri-City). The Astros also re-signed Wladimir Sutil, who can play shortstop.

In summary: The Astros like what they have in Keppinger, and he should provide a solid option until one of the Astros’ youngsters in the Minor Leagues shows he’s ready to take over. Who knows how long that will take, but the Astros are slowly building some quality depth at the position in the Minor Leagues.

Blum option not exercised; Michaels to be picked up

Veteran infielder Geoff Blum told reporters following Sunday’s season-ending win over the Cubs the Astros have told him they won’t exercise his option for 2011.

The Astros plan to exercise the $900,000 option for outfielder Jason Michaels, according to a person close to the situation. Astros general manager Ed Wade didn’t want to comment on the Michaels situation, but confirmed he told Blum  his option wasn’t being exercised.

Blum, who played five seasons in two different stints in Houston, said he was informed by Wade and manager Brad Mills he wasn’t going to return following the Astros’ loss to the Cubs on Saturday. He had an option that would have paid him $1.65 million, but he’ll get a $150,000 buyout instead.

Wade said he’s leaving the door open to Blum’s return in a separate deal.

A teary-eyed Blum nearly broke down in front of reporters Sunday.

“I do know that I will not be here,” Blum said. “I’ll miss being here, trust me. I’ve had several conversations with people within the organization and my services are not going to be needed here.”

Blum, a switch-hitter who won a World Series ring with the Chicago White Sox in 2005, hit .267 with two homers and 22 RBIs. He missed most of August after undergoing surgery to remove loose chips in his elbow.

Blum, who broke in with Montreal in 1999 and played with the Astros from 2002-03, was one the most senior members of the team and a leader in the clubhouse. He’s also played for Tampa Bay and San Diego during his 12-year career.

Manzella on way to Houston as trade winds blow

Astros shortstop Tommy Manzella is on his way to Houston following a rehab stint at Triple-A Round Rock, but it remains to be seen when he will be activated and what corresponding roster move might be made by the club.

Manzella, out two months with a fractured finger, hit .366 with one homer and five RBIs in 11 games combined between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Round Rock. He’ll arrive in Houston today along with left-hander Fernando Abad, who was recalled following Wednesday’s game when Matt Lindstrom was put on the disabled list.

The Astros close out a 10-game home stand tonight against the Mets before leaving on a 10-game road trip that begins Friday night in Miami against Florida and it appears Manzella will be making the trip.

Houston has informed other clubs that veteran infielder Geoff Blum and third baseman Pedro Feliz could be had in trades, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The Cardinals have had some contact with the Astros about acquiring Blum, but there is nothing serious in the works.

Feliz, who has been a bust after a signing a one-year, $4.5-million deal, could be a fit for the Braves, who have also been in touch with the Astros and are searching for help at third base in the wake of Chipper Jones’ season-ending knee injury.

Feliz is hitting .221 with four homers and 31 RBIs in 289 at-bats and lost his starting to job to rookie Chris Johnson in July.

Manzella could also be used as insurance if the Astros decide they need to put starting second baseman Jeff Keppinger on the disabled list. He’s missed the last two games with a sprained left big toe, but is listed as day-to-day.

Blum has been starting at second in place of Keppinger and hit a game-tying homer in the ninth inning Wednesday, but moving him without a healthy Keppinger would leave the Astros without a second baseman.

Blum to undergo surgery

Astros infielder Geoff Blum is scheduled to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow on Wednesday morning at 8 a.m., general manager Ed Wade announced this evening.

Dr. Tom Mehlhoff examined Blum this evening at Minute Maid Park and will perform the surgical procedure tomorrow morning at Texas Orthopedic Hospital in Houston. After the procedure, a determination can be made as to how long Blum will be out of action.

Blum was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday after experiencing swelling and discomfort in his elbow follow¬ing Thursday night’s game at San Diego (started at shortstop). Blum underwent an MRI on his elbow while the club was in San Diego. Outfielder Jason Bourgeois was recalled from Round Rock on Sunday when Blum was placed on the DL.

Blum, 37, is hitting .241 in 59 games this season with seven doubles, a triple and 14 RBIs. He is second in the Majors with seven pinch RBIs and is hitting .261 as a pinch-hitter overall. Blum has made 31 starts, 10 at first base, shortstop and third base and one at second base.

 

Emptying the Astros notebook

Tommy Manzella, who has started 10 games at shortstop this year, was out of the starting lineup Wednesday in what manager Brad Mills said was a scheduled day off. Manzella is hitting .206 this season and took some extra batting practice before the game against the Marlins.

“The more swings I take, the closer I am to getting there,” Manzella said. “I’m not one to think you have to overwork, or even when you’re going good, you have to take a million swings to keep it there. Right now, I’m trying a bunch of different things, not to change anything I’m doing, but trying things that will click to get my swing back to where it is when I am successful.”

Manzella keeps detailed notes about his swing when he’s in a groove so he can go over them when he’s struggling. He says the swing feels the same as it does when he’s going good.

“I might be making a minor adjustment to where I’m doing something different, but it’ exactly how I felt when I was going good,” Manzella said.

Jeff Keppinger started at shortstop in place of Manzella. It’s his fourth start of the season at shortstop, and he’s started seven games at second base.

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The Astros’ bench has come up huge in recent games, with Jason Michaels winning Sunday’s game in Chicago with a pinch-hit sacrifice fly in the 10th inning and Kaz Matsui coming off the bench to push the winning across with the bunt in the eighth Tuesday. Michaels added a pinch-hit homer in that game.

And on Wednesday night, Geoff Blum delivered a pinch-hit, two-run triple in the seventh to win the game.

“Those guys are doing a really good job,” Mills said. “You feel for those guys that don’t get a whole lot of playing time, but when they come through like that you’re thrilled to death for them.”

Mills has a soft spot in his heart for players who are called upon to come off the bench in big situations. He played four years in the Majors and was primarily a bench player, so he knows how important it is to keep them fresh and informed of their roles.

“I’ve had the opportunity to see things done in a certain way, see how it works with the places I’ve been like with [manager] Terry [Francona] with Boston the last six years and how things have been successful,” said Mills, who spent the previous six years as Boston’s bench coach.

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Center fielder Michael Bourn, who led the National League with 61 stolen bases last year, stole second and third base in the first inning Tuesday and scored on a ground ball by Lance Berkman. Bourn can tell teams are keeping a closer eye on him this year.

“Last year they wouldn’t care if I was going, but now they stay in and pick,” Bourn said.

Bourn walked to lead off Wednesday’s game and promptly stole second, giving him three steals in two days. He only had one stolen base prior to the Marlins series. And he also ran his way out of a key rundown between second and third in the sixth inning.

Part of the reason Bourn hadn’t run much in the first two weeks of the season was because the Astros were often playing from behind and were in need of some big innings. Mills has given Bourn a green light to run when he sees fit.

“He’s made a big step in understanding when to go and when not to go and when he’s able to get a jump and when he’s not able,” he said. “That’s huge when base runners can make that turn and get that realization. That’s really huge.”

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Humberto Quintero got the start behind the plate for the Astros on Wednesday against the Marlins. It was the seventh start of the season for Quintero, which matches the seven starts for J.R. Towles. Quintero responded with his first homer of the season.

Mills said the reason Quintero was in the lineup Wednesday was so he could catch Bud Norris, who pitched so well when Quintero caught him five days earlier in St. Louis. Towles caught Norris in his first start of the season.

“That’s the reason he’s in there,” Mills said. “Bud threw the ball so well in St. Louis that I felt, ‘You know what? Let’s give Q another shot with him.’ It’s nothing against J.R. or anything. He’s been swinging the bat well and doing a good job behind the plate.

“We’re still in the phase of seeing what works and what doesn’t work and who fits where and why.”

 

Blum could see more playing time at second base

One of the benefits the Astros received from signing veteran Pedro Feliz to play third base this year is that it frees up Geoff Blum to do other things. Sure, he’ll see some playing time at third, but he’s also capable of playing shortstop, second base and first base.

Blum only appeared in one game at shortstop last year and will be down the depth chart at that position, behind Tommy Manzella and Jeff Keppinger. He won’t get much playing time at first base, either, unless Lance Berkman gets injured.

That leaves second base, where starter Kaz Matsui is going to have to produce in the final year of his contract. Matsui has been a disappointment offensively with the Astros, even though he played in a career-high 132 games last year. He hit .250 with an on-base percentage of only .302.

Blum, a switch-hitter, is more than capable of playing long stretches at second base if Matsui struggles or gets injured, and general manager Ed Wade said last week he and manager Brad Mills won’t hesitate to use Blum at second.

“Millsie and I have talked, and my opinion to him is we need to put the best lineup on the field we can put out there,” Wade said. “Our hope is Kaz is playing the majority of the time, but we’ve got alternatives. If there’s a point in time it looks like giving either Geoff Blum or Keppinger more at-bats over there [will help the offense] or if Edwin Maysonet makes the club and is playing well, we have to be opened-minded about putting our most productive lineup on the field.”

 

Winter Meetings may be quiet for Astros

Astros president of baseball operations Tal Smith, general manager Ed Wade, assistant general managers Ricky Bennett, David Gottfried and Bobby Heck and the rest of the club’s front-office crew arrived in chilly Indianapolis late Sunday in advance of baseball’s Winter Meetings.

The Winter Meetings begin Monday and figure to bring some wheeling and dealing, but the Astros likely won’t be making much news. They don’t have a lot of money to spend and don’t have many tradable commodities, but you can’t rule out Wade from doing something.

The No. 1 piece of news figures to come Monday when the Astros find out if closer Jose Valverde accepted arbitration. If he did, he’s a signed player and will return for 2010 at probably around $10 million. If he rejects and signs with another team, the Astros get two draft picks.

Yes, the Astros need starting pitching like every team, but they aren’t in the market for big-name starting pitchers because the market is expensive. Wade wants to add some bench depth, beef up the back end of the bullpen and he will explore third base options.

Houston has already re-signed Geoff Blum to play third base and also can put Jeff Keppinger at third, but Wade would like to beef up the offense at third base if possible.

“We like the job Geoff Blum has done us the last two years or we wouldn’t have signed him,” Wade said. “Geoff did a tremendous job for us defensively and has done a pretty good job overall. We just look at our situation, and if there’s a way to tweak the offense a little bit, we’ll try to do something like that.

“Keppinger can play over there, and [Blum and Keppinger] did a good job for us. Both can play around in the infield and help us. Keppinger’s a very professional hitter and did a good job after he came over here. We’ve got Chris Johnson, and we still think he had a chance to be an outstanding big league player, whether that happens on Opening Day this year or down the road remains to be seen.”

The Astros’ starting outfield of Carlos Lee, Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence is set, and it appears Tommy Manzella could begin the season at shortstop. The right side of the infield has returning starters in Kaz Matsui (second base) and Lance Berkman (first base).

At catcher, Humberto Quintero, J.R. Towles and Jason Castro will compete for the two roster spots, barring some additional roster moves between now and February. There is a chance to the Astros could be in a low-cost free agent to be in the mix.

How about a player-manager for Astros?

Remember when Pete Rose was a player and the manager of the Reds back in the 1980s? That was pretty cool, and I wish we had more of those in sports. I would have nothing more than the Astros to have a player-manager next year.

I could envision Geoff Blum coming in to yank a pitcher from third base and then later pinch-running for himself when he represents the tying run. Blum is pretty much a platoon player anyway, so he’d be in the dugout as manager half the time. Blum is full of great ideas, too. And I’d enjoy a manager doing his post-game interview with dirt on his uniform.

Alas, this won’t happen. After talking with many players in the last few days, there is a tremendous amount of support for Dave Clark to take over the job on a full-time basis. I know Clark will be in the mix, but I see Ed Wade bringing someone from the outside. I don’t think many people would have a problem with Clarkie, though.

 

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