Results tagged ‘ Hunter Pence ’

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.

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.”

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.

Hitless Pence working to make changes

Hunter Pence, arguably the hardest-working Astros offensive player, faced the media with dignity like he does after every game, win or lose, on Wednesday and spoke of his team’s offensive struggles. He’s perhaps the poster child for Houston’s poor performance at the plate in the first three games, but there’s plenty of room on the wall for other faces.

Pence, an All-Star a year ago, is 0-for-12 with four strikeouts and is understandably feeling the frustration. But Michael Bourn and Carlos Lee are 2-for-12 (meaning the Astros’ starting outfield is 4-for-36), Geoff Blum is 2-for-9, Kaz Matsui and Pedro Feliz are hitting .250 and J.R. Towles is 1-for-8.

Still, being hitless after three games eats at Pence like nobody else.

“From my standpoint, never stepping up and not getting any hits, I’m trying to put better at-bats together,” he said. “I feel like there’s something off. I don’t feel like my at-bats have been as good as they should be, and it’s back to the drawing board. The good thing is to get it out of the way early. We have a day off [Thursday] to regroup, and I’m going to get to the bottom of it and make the adjustment.”

Pence has noticed that his front hip has been opening too early on his swing, making him feel uncomfortable at the plate.

“I know how to get out of it,” he said. “I’m confident in my talent and my ability and my preparation and work ethic. It’s not the way I want to start, and I definitely feel like I’ve got some work to do as far adjustments, but it’s something I’m capable of doing.”

With Lance Berkman out of the lineup for perhaps another week, Pence has been hitting in Berkman’s No. 3 spot in the batting. It’s a spot that comes with a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure, especially when Lee isn’t doing much with the bat in the No. 4 spot. Pence insists he’s not pressing because Berkman is out.

“I think for me, the only pressing would be to get going,” he said. “When it starts to avalanche on you, you start pressing to try to get a hit and do too much or too little and over think things. You think you have a heavy bat, so I really have to clear my mind and get back to the drawing board.”

Mills tinkering with new lineup

How about Hunter Pence batting third, Carlos Lee batting fourth and Lance Berkman batting fifth? That’s the way Astros manager Brad Mills filled out his lineup card for Saturday’s game against the Braves, and Mills admitted he’s going to give some consideration to that configuration when the season starts.

Mills would like to have as much consistency in the lineup as possible, and he’s sat down with the players and talked about where they might hit in the order

“It’s something I had looked at during the winter and then when position players got here last week I sat down Lance and we talked about a few things and he was very receptive to it, and I also talked to Carlos about some things,” Mills said. “I’m not going to tell you what those are right now because they might not come about, but we’re just taking a look.

“When we start the season, I don’t like to have things moved all over the place. When a guy comes to the ballpark I like him to know exactly what’s asked of him and where he’s going to hit in the lineup most of the time. Right now is a good time during Spring Training, at least during the first two weeks of Spring Training, to get a chance to take a look at what’s going on and so forth.”

Berkman hit primarily third last year, with Lee hitting fourth and Pence hitting sixth. Mills believes hitting Pence third will allow the Astros to take better advantage of his speed.

“You try to get more guys on base with more speed at the top of the lineup, getting better pitches to hit for Carlos with a quality bat behind him and getting big run-production from Lance hitting fifth,” Mills said. “There’s going to be a lot of guys on base for both Carlos and Lance, and if Carlos doesn’t pick them up then Lance is there to pick them up.

“We’re giving ourselves a chance to possibility score more runs with our two big guys right next to each other.”

Day 13: A smashing debut against the Nats

Astros manager Brad Mills was spoiled in his spring managerial debut Thursday. The Astros bashed out 21 hits and slugged five home runs, which equaled the number of hits the Washington Nationals managed on the day against eight Houston pitchers.

Hunter Pence went 3-for-3 and homered twice in one inning, and Yordany Ramirez (2-for-2), Jason Michaels (3-for-3) and Chris Johnson also homered. Pedro Feliz, Edwin Masonet and J.R. Towles had two hits apiece, so it was a good day with the bats.

“It’s always nice to see the guys, especially some big guys like Hunter, swing the bats well,” Mills said. “There were some issues also swinging the bats we need to address and we will. But these guys did a real good job of coming out and being aggressive at the plate and hitting the ball hard.”

THE GOOD: Yes, Astros hitters took advantage of the wind blowing out by getting some balls up in the air, but they put good swings on the ball consistently and had as many homers as the Nationals had hits. Granted, the Nats had a split squad and were without Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn, among others, but Houston’s pitchers did a good job keeping the D.C. in the park.

The last five pitchers that took the mound for the Astros held the Nationals scoreless in one inning – Sammy Gervacio, Gary Majewski, Roy Corcoran, Wesley Wright and Casey Daigle. Majewski, Corcoran and Daigle are non-roster invitees, so as Ed Wade would say, they needed to put their best foot forward. Gervacio is in the thick of the bullpen race.

THE BAD: Myers breezed through the first before struggling in the second, thanks to three walks. Truth is, it wasn’t that bad. You must remember he’s working with only his fastball, which he had trouble locating. Also, he would have been out of the inning without allowing a run if Kaz Matsui would have been able to finish off a double play with the bases loaded and one out.

Now to the defense. Matsui threw a ball away that led to three runs, and Jeff Keppinger committed a fielding error while playing second base. Those are the kinds of things that will drive Mills crazy in the regular season. Jason Castro was thrown out at home plate trying to score from first on a Jason Michaels double, but third-base coach Dave Clark is going to be aggressive.

Here was Mills’ response when asked what he didn’t like Thursday:

“I don’t want to go too much into bit becuase I haven’t talked to the players yet. We want to have a good clean game, and the more clean games we can put back to back the better chances we have. It’s always nice to win but we want to play well, and that’s what we’re after. For the most part, we did today. The guys did very well. Sometimes when you play as well as they did and do the things they do it makes up for a lot of things.”

WHAT’S NEXT: Wandy Rodriguez starts Friday for the Astros against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Fla. The biggest thing to watch for here is Lance Berkman making his spring debut. Berkman missed Thursday’s game with a bruised left knee and had shark cartilage injected into the knee. He’s expected to get two at-bats as the designated hitter. Maybe the Big Puma needs a new nickname. Joltin’ Jaws?

One-year deal makes sense for Pence

The Astros signed Hunter Pence to a one-year, $3.5 million contract Saturday in his first year of arbitration eligibility. There appears to be some kind of groundswell of support by the fans for locking Pence up to a multi-year deal, but that doesn’t make sense for the Astros.

Pence has three more years of arbitration eligibility remaining after this season and will continue to get paid his market value as long as he keeps producing. We’ve seen the Brewers lock up Ryan Braun and the Rays sign Evan Longoria to multi-year deals to essentially buy out the final years of arbitration, and those could wind up being good deals down the road.

The Astros still have three-plus years to get a long-term deal done with Pence if they see fit, so it makes no sense to do it now. A deal like that would give the player some security and could been seen as an act of goodwill, but it’s not really cost reductive. Teams would have to pay today’s market value for the player and then project what it’s going to be like two, three or four years down the road.

Long-term deals make sense when you can buy out years of free agency, but to do that for Pence at this point in his career you’d have to sign him to a six-year deal (four arbitration years and two free agent years). There’s not much sense to that considering Pence won’t be a free agent until after the 2013 season.

In case you’re wondering, Pence has four arbitration-eligible years because he’s a “Super Two,” which means he has less than three years of Major League service time (2.156) and ranks in the Top 17 percent in total service in the class of players who have at least two but less than three years of service.

Astros news and notes from a quiet Saturday

Astros manager Cecil Cooper said infielder Jeff Keppinger was likely unavailable for Saturday’s game because of a problem with his right hip. Keppinger left Friday’s game with a back strain.

“He’s on the table and probably not available tonight,” Cooper said. “They’re gong to give him some treatment and keep him inside. Probably late in the game he’ll let me know if he’s even available to do anything, and I don’t think he is. We’re short in that area, but [Edwin] Maysonet can play all around and [Aaron] Boone play, so we’ll be OK.”


Doug Brocail pitched in his first game in a month when he threw a scoreless inning Friday against the Phillies. He missed 24 games with a right shoulder strain.

“He threw strikes,” Cooper said. “He’s not the Brocail we’ve seen in the past. Not real crisp. He had two sharply hit balls. He did a good job and threw strikes, and that’s the main thing. He pitched down in the strike zone pretty good and you just have keep running him out there when you can.”


Cooper believes Hunter Pence turned the corner after struggling for most of August. Pence entered Saturday on a seven-game hitting streak, during which he’s batting .391. He went 2-for-3 on Friday with a two-run homer to right field.

“When he’s at his best, he drives the ball to right-center,” Cooper said. “Hopefully we’ll see him climb and get that average back up over .400 and start climbing.”

Pence dropped to seventh in order

Astros right fielder Hunter Pence, who entered Monday hitting .229 in August, batted seventh in the lineup Monday against the Cubs for the first time since the first two games of the season. Pence, who has hit primarily sixth this year, said he wasn’t bothered by the decision.

“Coop’s doing everything he can,” Pence said. “Whatever he needs me to do, I’m going to try to do.”

Manager Cecil Cooper had Jeff Keppinger hitting second and playing second Monday, which dropped Miguel Tejada to fifth and Geoff Blum to sixth.

“It’s not any kind of punishment,” Cooper said of Pence. “Just the way it falls out.”

Blum was back in the starting lineup for the first time since Aug. 23. He rejoined the Astros on Saturday after traveling back to Houston on Thursday to have a nerve irritation in his back examined. Cooper said Keppinger could start for Berkman on Wednesday.

“I haven’t talked to him about it, but I might decide to do that,” Cooper said. “[Keppinger] is swinging the bat pretty good.”

Keppinger hit .190 on the first six games of the current road trip.


For Astros manager Cecil Cooper, playing at Wrigley Field was akin to returning to the scene of the crime. It was here that Houston’s late-season swoon kicked into high gear with a miserable four-game series against the Cubs in which they were outscored 24-3 and outhit 27-13 in the final two games.

Houston’s starting rotation pitched only eight innings in the final three games of the series, while the bullpen logged 17 innings. The Astros never recovered from the extra toll that was placed on the bullpen and arrived back at Wrigley Field on Monday 14 games out of first place, having lost 12 games since their previous trip to the Friendly Confines.

“That kind of got us going in a negative direction,” he said.


Astros manager Cecil Cooper confirmed that right-hander Felipe Paulino will start Wednesday’s series finale against the Cubs. It will be his first start since allowing nine hits and five runs in 4 1/3 innings on July 4 in San Francisco. Brian Moehler will start Tuesday’s game.

“We think he deserves an opportunity to pitch,” Cooper said of Paulino.


Hunter Pence is just what the All-Star Game needs

Kudos to Astros outfielder Hunter Pence and shortstop Miguel Tejada for making the National League All-Star team as reserves. For Tejada, it will be his sixth All-Star Game — second in the NL — as he continues to play at a high level at age 35.

For Pence, this will be his first trip to the Midsummer Classic, and it’s well-deserved. No one plays the game harder or with more enthusiasm as Pence, who play has yet to gain him national attention. When he chased down a foul ball during a blowout loss in San Francisco over the weekend, he fell over the bullpen mounds and then tipped his hat to the fans.

Pence will revel in his first All-Star Game. He’ll appreciate being there and sharing the clubhouse with some of the game’s greats. He’ll take it seriously, though, hoping to get a win for the NL just in case the Astros make it the World Series and need home-field advantage.

Pence will run out every ground ball and crash into the wall, just because that’s the way the game’s supposed to be played. Even if it’s an exhibition. Astros fans have come to appreciate Pence more and more with each season, and now the rest of the country can find out what they’ve been missing.