Results tagged ‘ J.A. Happ ’

History of Luhnow’s major trades in Houston.

Here’s a look at the significant deals made by Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow since he took over 14 months ago (you can click on each player’s name for his 2012 stats):

Date: Dec. 14, 2011.

Astros receive: SS Jed Lowrie, RHP Kyle Weiland.

Red Sox receive: RHP Mark Melancon.

The skinny: Luhnow’s first trade as GM was a good one. Weiland showed promise last spring before a serious arm infection ended his season, but Lowrie proved to be one of the team’s top offensive weapons when healthy. Luhnow wound up dealing Lowrie to the A’s for three players earlier this week, giving this trade even a more significant return. Melancon was a bust in Boston and has landed in Pittsburgh.

Date: March 21, 2012.

Astros receive: LHP Kevin Chapman, player to be name named later (OF D’Andre Toney).

Royals receive: C Humberto Quintero, OF Jason Bourgeois.

The skinny: Quintero and Bourgeois were back-ups who couldn’t crack the starting lineup of a last-place team, and Luhnow managed to trade them for two Minor Leaguers. Chapman had a good year in relief at Double-A Corpus Christi last season and could be a left-handed option in the pen down the road. Toney played at Greeneville and remains a work in progress.

Date: July 4, 2012.

Astros receive: IF Matt Dominguez, LHP Rob Rasmussen.

Marlins receive: 1B Carlos Lee, cash.

The skinny: The first of five major trades in July, the Marlins were desperate for first base help and gave the Astros two Minor League players for the aging slugger. The Astros were happy to get him off their roster, and were even willing to pay the bulk of his remaining contract. Dominguez was brought up to the Majors and was impressive, hitting .284 with five homers and 16 RBIs in 109 at-bats. Everyone knew he could play defense, but he showed enough offensively that he’ll enter spring as the starting third baseman. Rasmussen was shipped to the Dodgers for RHP John Ely a few months later.

Date: July 20, 2012.

Astros receive: RHP Francisco Cordero, OF Ben Francisco, RHP Asher Wojciechowski, RHP Joe Musgrove, LHP David Rollins, C Carlos Perez, a player to be named later (RHP Kevin Comer).

Blue Jays receive: LHP J.A. Happ, RHP Brandon Lyon, RHP David Carpenter.

The skinny: The Astros acquired seven players, including four Minor Leaguers and a player to be named later, in a 10-player deal with the Jays. Happ had been with the team two years and could never gain consistency, while Lyon was in the final year of his three-year deal. This trade was more about the Minor League arms the Astros received, while addressing a catching shortage in the system, more than it was about the two big league players they received. Neither Cordero nor Francisco made it to the end of the season in Houston. Musgrove, Comer and Perez are among the Astros’ top 20 prospects.

Date: July 21, 2012.

Astros receive: RHP Matthew Heidenreich, LHP Blair Walters, a player to be named later (RHP Chris Devenski)

White Sox receive: RHP Brett Myers, cash.

The skinny: With Myers having a good shot at vesting his 2013 option that would have paid him $10 million, the Astros sent him to the White Sox and stockpiled a few more Minor League arms. Myers was having a solid season as closer after starting 66 games the previous two years in Houston. Heidenreich finished the year in the rotation at Double-A Corpus Christi and pitched well, while Walters took his lumps as a starter in the hitter-friendly environment in Lancaster.

Date: July 25, 2012.

Astros receive: LHP Rudy Owens, OF Robbie Grossman, LHP Colton Cain.

Pirates receive: LHP Wandy Rodriguez, cash.

The skinny: The rebuilding effort continued as the Astros sent Rodriguez – the last remaining member from the 2005 World Series team – to the Pirates for three more prospects. The Astros had to pay a substantial part of Rodriguez’s remaining contract, but they felt getting more prospect was worth the price. Owens will come to Major League camp and will likely start the year in the rotation at Triple-A Oklahoma City. Grossman will also be at big league camp after getting on-base at a .422 clip in 36 games last year in Double-A Corpus Christi.

Date: July 29, 2012.

Astros receive:  IF Bobby Borchering, OF Marc Krauss.

D-backs receive: 3B Chris Johnson.

The skinny: The Astros pulled off their fifth trade of the month. Houston wasn’t actively shopping Johnson, but he had recently gone on a tear and some teams were getting aggressive in their pursuit of the 27-year-old third baseman. Unlike the previous trades in July in which the Astros stockpiled the pitching, the Johnson trade brought a pair of bats, and in the case of Borchering, maybe some much-needed power to the system. Borchering hit four homers in 30 games at Double-A Corpus Christi, giving him 24 homers and 86 RBIs for the season as a whole. Krauss killed it in Corpus Christi, hitting .414 with a .514 on-base percentage and a 1.000 slugging percentage with five homers and 16 RBIs in only seven games. He finished the year in the outfield at Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Date: Dec. 5, 2012.

Astros receive: RHP Alex White, RHP Alex Gillingham.

Rockies receive: RHP Wilton Lopez and player to be named later or cash..

The skinny: Less than a week after the Astros tried to send Lopez to the Phillies, they were able to use the arbitration-eligible relief pitcher to acquire White and right-hander Gillingham. White appeared in 23 games (20 starts) for the Rockies last season and was 2-9 with a 5.51 ERA. He split the season between Colorado and Triple-A Colorado Springs, where he went 3-4 with a 3.71 ERA. He will battle for a spot in the rotation this spring, but could pitch out of the bullpen.

Date: Dec. 19, 2012

Astros receive: RHP John Ely.

Dodgers receive: LHP Rob Rasmussen.

The skinny: The Astros gave up a 23-year-old left-hander they had acquired only months earlier for a 26-year-old right-hander in Ely, who gives them Major League experience. Ely, who is 4-13 with a 5.70 ERA over three seasons with the Dodgers, is expected to compete for a spot in Houston’s rotation, though he could begin the season in Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Date: Feb. 4, 2013.

Astros receive: RHP Brad Peacock, OF/1B Chris Carter, C Max Stassi.

A’s receive: SS Jed Lowrie, RHP Fernando Rodriguez.

The skinny: The Astros shipped Lowrie, who was set to make $2.4 million this year, to the A’s along with Rodriguez and go three young players. The trade was text book for a rebuilding club — trade an established player with a rising salary for youth. Peacock will compete for a rotation spot, and Carter is expected to be a fixture in the lineup. He’s a right-handed hitter with plenty of power. Stassi becomes one of the Astros top catching prospects in a position where there was a definite need in the Minor Leagues.

Astros postgame notes from Tuesday

The Astros sure let one get away Tuesday, with second baseman Bill Hall committing a costly error with two outs in the third inning. Instead of escaping the inning, starter J.A. Happ gave up a grand slam homer to Jerry Sands that gave the Dodgers a 5-0 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

The Dodgers sent down the final 12 batters of the game after the Astros had loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth to win, 5-4.

“It’s always unfortunate when the next guy comes up and hits the grand slam after you make an error,” Hallsaid. “[Happ] knows I’m out there playing my heart out, and I know he’s out there pitching his heart out. But sometimes the other team gets the best of you, and they got the best of us today.”

Here are some postgame notes:

  • The Astros have had 11 of their last 13 games decided by three runs or less, and nine games in that span decided by two runs or less.
  • LHP J.A. Happ suffered a tough-luck loss despite lowering his ERA to 4.99 to 5.30. He gave up only three hits and one earned run in five innings, but a grand slam homer accounted for four unearned runs.
  • Happ has allowed three earned runs or less in five of his last six starts, posting a 3.67 ERA in that span, which covers 34 1/3 innings.
  • The Astros’ bullpen threw four scoreless innings in relief of Happ. Since blowing a save in Atlanta on May 17, the bullpen has combined to throw 19 innings, allowing earned run in that span.
  • RF Hunter Pence had two doubles, giving him six straight multi-hit games and seven of his last eight. He is the 19th player in franchise history to have multiple hits in at least six straight games (Brett Wallace did it earlier this season).
  • 1B Carlos Lee went 1-for-3 with two RBIs. In 18 games in May, he’s hitting .314 with two homer sand 10 RBIs. He hit .194 in April.

Wednesday’s post-game notes

It was a tough loss for the Astros on Wednesday. They were down 6-0 and scored three times in the eighth and twice in the ninth to get within 6-5 before Hunter Pence struck out swinging to end the game with the tying run at second base.

“The guys really gave me a golden opportunity, a great opportunity to get a big hit and I wasn’t able finish it off for them and pick it up,” Pence said. “He got me, and I’ve got to find a way to become better for it.”

You can read my entire game story by clicking here:

Here are the post-game notes:

  • Wednesday was the 900th game at Minute Maid Park. The Astros are 503-397 all-time in the venue.
  • The Astros turned five double plays on Wednesday, the most for the club in one game since it turned six on May 17, 2003 vs. the Phillies at Minute Maid Park.
  • LHP J.A. Happ extended his scoreless inning streak against the Cardinals to 12 2/3 innings before allowing a solo homer to Matt Holliday in the fourth inning Wednesday.
  • RF Hunter Pence now has 12 RBIs in 12 home games this year. He entered Wednesday tied for sixth in the league in RBIs at home.
  • 1B Brett Wallace extended his hitting streak to seven games by going 3-for-4 on Wednesday and has now hit safely in 15 of last 16 games with an at-bat. He’s hitting .443 (27-for-61) in that span.
  • SS Angel Sanchez extended his hitting streak to five games by going 2-for-5 Wednesday, which ties his season high. He’s hitting .409 (9-for-22) in those five games.
  • C J.R. Towles has now reahed base safely in all nine of his starts this season, hitting safely in eight of those nine games. Astros catchers are hitting .329 (27-for-82) this season.
  • SS Clint Barmes played in his third rehab game Wednesday, going 1-for-4 with a run scored and a walk for Double-A Corpus Christi in an 8-2 win at Midland. He’ll play for the Hooks again on Thursday and is expected to be activated on Friday to make his Astros debut.

Analyzing the Astros rotation

Besides a strong effort from Brett Myers in the April 1 season opener at Philadelphia, the first time through the rotation was a rough one for the rest of the Astros starters: Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris, J.A. Happ and Nelson Figueroa.

Myers has started two of the Astros’ six games and is 0-0 with a 2.03 ERA, allowing nine hits and three earned runs in 13 1/3 innings. He’s given the Astros their only two quality starts and appears to be picking up where he left off last year, when he was one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball and went at least six innings in all but one start.

The Astros’ 8.22 ERA by their starters ranks last in baseball entering Friday, well behind Detroit’s 7.75 ERA. The good news is it can only get better, and I’d be surprised if a couple of those guys didn’t come back with good outings this week. And that brings us to today’s poll question. Which starter, other than Myers, do you think is most likely to have a better season?


With the Astros set to play 10 consecutive games at home starting tonight against the Marlins at Minute Maid Park, it will be an important second time through the rotation for Rodriguez, Norris, Happ and Figueroa. The quartet went a combined 0-4 with a 12.98 ERA in their first four starts combined, with only Figueroa pitching beyond the fourth inning. And that was because the bullpen so taxed that manager Brad Mills had to get as much out of him as he could.

The good news is Rodriguez, Norris and Happ — who will face the Marlins this weekend — have pitched better at Minute Maid Park:

  • Rodriguez is 3-2 with a 2.35 ERA in six career starts vs. Marlins and is 38-26 in his career at Minute Maid.
  • Norris is 5-5 with a 4.43 ERA in 14 home starts last year.
  • Happ is 4-1 with a 3.22 ERA in eight career starts at Minute Maid.

The message here is don’t panic. It’s one time through the rotation against a pair of teams favored to win their divisions. Not that the Astros don’t want to one day be able to beat good teams — they did sweep the Phillies last year — but there is plenty of baseball left. The Marlins, Cubs and Padres are coming to town, and if the Astros manage a, say, 6-4 homestand, they’re 7-9 and in much better shape than they were last year at that time.

Game 29: Pence, Quintero lead 16-hit attack

With the wind blowing out at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla., Wednesday’s game between the Astros and Pirates figured to be high scoring. It didn’t disappoint, either, with the Astros awaking from their offensive slumber to outslug the Pirates, winning 10-6.

Before we get to the recap, click here to read about which players are out of options for the Astros and how that might affect roster decisions. Click here to read about which two catchers appear to be the most likely to be on the Opening Day roster.

There were plenty of good things to happen for the Astros, so let’s get to the recap:

What went right: After behind held to six hits in their previous two games, the Astros bashed 16 hits against the Pirates. Hunter Pence led the way by going 3-for-3 with his first spring homer, raising his average to .385.

Pence doubled in the first and hit a long homer to left field in the third.

“Whenever the season starts, it would feel better if you do that,” Pence said.

Brian Bogusevic, battling for an outfield spot, came off the bench and went 2-for-2 with two runs scored, and Jason Michaels was 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI to raise his spring average to .413. Then there was Humberto Quintero, who not only picked off a pair of runners but was 3-for-3. He’s now hitting .452.

Brett Wallace drove in three runs, pushing his spring total to a team-leading 17 RBIs. He had sacrifice flies in the first and fifth innings and an RBI single in the ninth. Angel Sanchez went 1-for-3 in his return from a back injury and reported no problems, and Brian Esposito and Matt Downs each had a hit in their only at-bats.

The Astros also did a nice job in situations, going 4-for-5 in getting runners home from third base with less than two outs and 3-for-3 in moving runners over from second base. Starting pitcher J.A. Happ even but down a pair of sacrifice bunts.

Happ threw 100 pitches in six innings of work. The results weren’t great – nine hits, five earned runs and two walks allowed – but the pitching conditions weren’t the best. All in all, it was a good sign to see him throw so many pitches.

Enerio Del Rosario threw another scoreless inning, running his spring scoreless streak to 11 1/3 innings. Gustavo Chacin worked a scoreless ninth, and Wesley Wright didn’t allow a run in two-thirds of an inning, though he gave up one hit and one walk.

What went wrong: Not much, outside of the runs allowed by Happ. Chris Johnson had a tough day, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a fielding error. Still, he’s hitting .283 this spring. Jose Valdez gave up two hits and one run in one-third of an inning.

What they said: “I think I made adjustments after the first two innings. I was disappointed after that second inning. I kind of had a bad series of executions in a couple of hitters, situational-type things with the pitcher at the plate, guys on second and third. After that I think I kept ball down better than I did in the first two innings in the last four and tried to build off that.” – Astros starter J.A. Happ on his outing Wednesday.

What’s next: Right-hander Bud Norris, coming off his best start of the spring, makes his final Grapefruit League start of the spring when the Astros return to Osceola County Stadium to meet the Tampa Bay Rays at 12:05 p.m. CT on Thursday. Norris, who’s the No. 4 starter in the Astros’ rotation, threw five scoreless innings against the Cardinals on Saturday. Brandon Lyon, Mark Melancon, Fernando Abad and Ross Wolf are also scheduled to pitch for the Astros.

Injury update: Right fielder Hunter Pence needed four stitches to close a gash on his right shin Wednesday, an injury that occurred while he was sliding into home plate in the fifth inning. He said he would be fine to play Thursday. … Infielder Angel Sanchez (back) returned to the lineup and went 1-for-3 and said his back feels great.

And, no, I don’t have any photos for the second day in a row. I left my camera in the press box when I went to the field, but rest assured I’m coming back strong tomorrow in Kissimmee. See you then.

Taking a shot at the Astros 25-man roster

We are roughly halfway through Spring Training and the roster picture is pretty much as cloudy as it was when camp opened a month ago, and perhaps even more so with the injury to catcher Jason Castro. With so many bodies still in camp, it’s been difficult to determine which players might have the leg up, but that will not deter me.

Here’s my guess on what the Opening Day roster will look like:


Humberto Quintero

J.R. Towles

Comment: The Astros could still bring in another catcher in time for Opening Day, but for now I’m going to limit my prediction to the players that are still in camp.


Brett Wallace (L)

Bill Hall

Clint Barmes

Chris Johnson

Matt Downs

Tommy Manzella

Comment: I still believe Wallace is going to win the first base job. Downs has looked good in camp and could bring some pop and versatility off the bench. Manzella has broadened his defensive scope and has looked good at the plate so far this spring. Angel Sanchez could still play his way into the mix, but his defense is an issue. Anderson Hernandez has played well, too.


Carlos Lee

Michael Bourn (L)

Hunter Pence

Jason Michaels

Brian Bogusevic (L)

Comment: The only spot up for grabs is the fifth outfield spot. Bogusevic probably has a leg up on Jason Bourgeois because he hits left-handed. He runs pretty well too, but not as well as Bourgeois, who could also play second base.


Brett Myers

Wandy Rodriguez (L)

J.A. Happ (L)

Bud Norris

Ryan Rowland-Smith (L)

Comment: The fifth spot in the rotation remains completely up for grabs. Right now, I go with Rowland-Smith over Jordan Lyles, who has looked good but is still 20 years old and has barely had his feet wet at Triple-A. Nelson Figueroa makes the club as the long reliever.


Brandon Lyon

Wilton Lopez

Fernando Abad (L)

Jeff Fulchino

Nelson Figueroa

Mark Melancon

Henry Villar

Comment: At this point, I see Lyon, Lopez, Abad and Figueroa as locks. Fulchino is healthy and pitching well, and Melancon appears to have a good chance. The last spot? Completely up for grabs. The injury to Alberto Arias may give some other guys a chance, and Villar as pitched well. Don’t count out Sergio Escalona or Enerio Del Rosario.

Game 10: Things get ugly late for Astros

The Astros blew their second large lead in as many days Monday, watching the Washington Nationals score nine runs in the eighth inning – when all of the regular players were out of the game – and rally for a 14-9 win over the Astros at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla.

The biggest news of the game came in the seventh inning when Bud Norris, who pitched in relief, had to leave with a mild right hamstring strain. Norris said after the game it was just a tweak and that he wasn’t too worried about it.

Here’s the breakdown:

What went right: The Astros had another big day at the plate, getting 15 hits one day after they had 17 hits against the Yankees. Among the starters, Michael Bourn, Clint Barmes and Brian Bogusevic were 1-for-4, and Chris Johnson was 2-for-3 with a three-run homer. Bourn homered to right field in the first at-bat of the game.

We’ll put J.A. Happ in the good category, even though he gave up three runs in the second inning.  All three runs were unearned – Johnson made a two-out error at third base in the inning – and he gave up three hits and two walks.  Norris threw two good innings before giving up a double and then leaving with a hamstring strain.

Happ looked terrific in striking out former teammate Jayson Werth with a 3-2 cutter in the first inning, but walked a pair of batters in the second, including one with the bases loaded. Happ said pitching with some traffic on the bases early in Spring Training isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“I don’t want to get used to having to do that, but it is good,” he said. “It’s a good situational refresher how to pitch. It’s a little reminder that I rush myself when guys are on base sometimes, and I probably need to try to get ahead with the fastball a little bit more than I did today. All in all, I thought it went OK.”

Henry Villar pitched between Happ and Norris and threw two scoreless innings.

What went wrong: In addition to Johnson’s two-out error that helped the Nationals along in the second inning and the injury to Norris, relievers Patrick Urckfitz and Jorge De Leon combined to give up nine runs in the eighth. Urckfitz allowed four hits and five runs in 1 2/3 innings, and De Leon gave up five hits and four runs while getting just one out. Neither of these guys are going to make the club, but they need to take advantage of these situations.

What they said: “He was a little inconsistent and he’s going to have those, but he was able to come back to an extent. That inconsistency is something he’ll work through and there’s no reason to think he won’t.” – Astros manager Brad Mills said of J.A. Happ.

What’s next: It’s another split-squad date for the Astros, who will play the Mets at home in Kissimmee and the Red Sox in Fort Myers on Tuesday. Astros manager Brad Mills, who spent six years as the bench coach of the Red Sox, will travel to his old stomping grounds in Fort  Myers, where Rule 5 pick Aneury Rodriguez will make his first start of the spring and will be followed by fellow Rule 5 pick Lance Pendleton. Nelson Figueroa will start in Kissimmee against the Mets, his former team.

Injury update: Bud Norris left Monday’s game with a mild hamstring strain, but he’s expected to be fine. … Jason Michaels is expected to play left field on Tuesday in Boston. He hasn’t played in the outfield this season because of some arm discomfort.

And now to the pictures, which are a little on the light side today because the lighting in Viera played tricks with my fancy camera:

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Above: Hunter Pence stretches his legs before he hits on field Monday.

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Above: Brett Wallace stretches his legs on the field.

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Above: Michael Bourn does a promotional voiceover for

Astros earn split, lose Castro for a few days

The Astros earned their first win of the Grapefruit League season on Wednesday, beating the Detroit Tigers 6-3 in Lakeland, Fla. Meanwhile, the split-squad Astros dropped a 6-5 decision to the New York Yankees in Tampa, giving up five runs in the ninth.

More on the Yankees game below, but here’s the breakdown on the Astros-Tigers game:

What went right: The Astros got some sharp pitching performances, led by J.A. Happ throwing two scoreless innings in his spring debut. Happ looked effortless as always and stayed ahead in the count, which enabled him to use all his pitches.

Ross Wolf followed Happ with two scoreless innings, allowing one hit, and drew the praise of manager Brad Mills. Wilton Lopez did his usual thing, throwing a scoreless fifth, and David Carpenter – the right-hander acquired in the Pedro Feliz trade with the Cardinals – tossed two perfect innings.

“How about Wolf mixing the pitches in and out and throwing only 17 pitches, and Lopez and Carpenter threw the ball real well,” Mills said. “To see those kids come in and contribute this early in camp is outstanding.”

At the plate, T.J. Steele went 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored and made a pair of nice defensive plays in center field. Hunter Pence went 2-for-3, and Tommy Manzella was 2-for-3 and made a terrific barehanded defensive play behind second base and threw out Victor Martinez.

Oswaldo Navarro hit a three-run home run in the eighth inning in his only at-bat to break the game open.

After getting just one extra-base hit in their first two games, the Astros had four of them against the Tigers – Navarro’s homer, Steele’s double, a triple by Pence and a double by Manzella.

What went wrong: The biggest negative development was the injury to Jason Castro, who sprained his right knee trying to beat out a ground ball in the seventh inning. He was removed from the game and will undergo an MRI on Thursday. He’s listed as day-to-day.

Sergio Escalona allowed two hits and one earned run in one inning, and Jorge De Leon gave up one hit, one walk and two earned runs in one inning.

What they said: “Steele in center, how good was that? He made two absolutely outstanding catches. We got some extra-base hits today, besides the home run. We had a triple and a couple of doubles and it was nice to throw those in there. We were able to execute. [Brian] Dopirak had trouble getting some guys in from third, but at the same time the wind didn’t help him out, either. Those little things, Steele bunting a guy over and Austin Wates bunting a guy over, that keeps an inning going. That was huge.” – manager Brad Mills.

What’s next: Nelson Figueroa, one of five candidates for the fifth spot in the starting rotation, makes his first start of the spring when the Astros play host to the Florida Marlins on Thursday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium. He’s expected to pitch two innings. Henry Villar, Enerio Del Rosario, Fernando Rodriguez, Aneury Rodriguez, Lance Pendleton and Wesley Wright are also scheduled to throw.

Injury update: Catcher Jason Castro sprained his right knee in the seventh inning and will undergo an MRI on Thursday. … Right-hander Alberto Arias, who’s had a setback in his comeback from last year’s surgery, was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Wednesday.


The Astros lost a tough game, 6-5, to the Yankees in Tampa, but pthey layed eight solid innings before imploding in the ninth. The Astros had 12 hits in the game – two by Jason Michaels, J.B. Shuck and Bill Hall. Bud Norris started and gave up one run in two innings, and Casey Fien, Arcenio Leon, Jose Valdez and Cesar Carrilloo each threw a scoreless inning in relief. Jordan Lyles pitched two innings and gave up one hit and two walks, but no runs.

Douglas Arguello gave up the five runs, but only two were earned because of errors by Jiovanni Mier and Mike Kvasnicka, who was pulled over from Minor League camp. Lance Pendleton threw four consecutive balls to walk in the winning run, but was put in an impossible position.

Astros general manager Ed Wade said he saw plenty to be happy about. He liked the situational hitting and was pleased to see Michael Bourn get a bunt base hit and Shuck register two bunt hits.


Astros left fielder Carlos Lee will make his annual voyage to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on Wednesday and will miss workouts on Thursday and Friday. Lee is a cattle rancher and shows livestock each year at the rodeo.

And finally, a few photos taken prior to Wednesday’s game in Lakeland:

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Above: Astros players await batting practice Wednesday in Lakeland.

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Above: Non-roster first baseman Brian Dopirak warms up. He has 156 career homers in the Minor Leagues — including 39 in Class A in 2004 — and is trying to reach Majors for first time.

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Above: Drew Locke takes a swing in the cage during batting practice.

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Above: Jeff Bagwell and Hunter Pence watching batting practice (Bagwell is standing on a platform). 

Myers, Happ, Wandy highlight third day

The top three pitchers in the Astros’ rotation — Brett Myers, J.A. Happ and Wandy Rodriguez — each threw their second bullpen session Friday. With 30 healthy pitchers in camp, the Astros have split into six pitching groups with five pitchers in each group. Myers is the leader of group one, Happ of group two and Rodriguez of group three.

Groups 1-3 threw off the bullpen mounds for the second time Friday, and groups 4-6 will do the same thing Saturday before everyone takes a day off Sunday, the first day position player reports. So far, camp has been relatively quiet, which is definitely a good thing. Manager Brad Mills likes what he has seen.

“It’s really nice to see those guys throw the ball so well,” Mills said. “It was even smoother than [Thursday]. Any time you have your top three guys in the rotation throwing on the same day and having them throw like they did, that was nice. Plus, Aneury Rodriguez and Sergio Escalona from the left side threw well, too. I don’t want to single them out because other guys threw well, but it was a good day.”

Aneury Rodriguez, a 23-year-old right-hander taken in the Rule 5 Draft, is an imposing figure, to say the least. He 6-feet-4, 200 pounds and has terrific stuff. He was 6-5 with a 3.80 ERA in 27 games (17 starts) at Triple-A Durham last year in the Rays organization and is in the hunt for the fifth spot in the rotation.

The pitchers have yet to face any hitters, but Mills said the evaluations have begun. The manager said he is in constant evaluation mode, beginning with the moment a guy walks in the door and shakes his hand to the way he carries himself among his teammates to his stuff on the mound.

“It’s a whole process,” Mills said. “You want to give the guy the best opportunity he can to perform the best he can.”

Meanwhile, Hunter Pence had his arbitration hearing Friday in Arizona, and the Astros said they should know the outcome Saturday. Pence is seeking $6.9 million, and the club if offering $5.15 million.

And what would a Spring Training blog be without some pictures? Here’s a photo gallery from the third day under the hot sun in Kissimmee:

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Above: Manager Brad Mills really gets into this drill in which he hit rag balls at the pitchers at a rapid pace. Brandon Lyon is the pitcher currently in the line of fire.

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Above: Catcher J.R. Towles after finishing a bullpen workout.

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Above: Pitching coach Brad Arnsberg (standing on the back slope of the mound) gives instruction to a group of pitchers. Oklahoma City pitching coach Burt Hooton listens in.

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Above: Pitcher Jeff Fulchino fields a ball off the mound and prepares to throw to first base. Other pitchers are lined up the background, preparing for the same drill.

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Above: 2009 first-round pick Jiovanni Mier signs some autographs for fans.

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Above: Jiovanni Mier (foreground) plays catch with Clint Barmes.

Astros stockpile young talent

The Astros’ success from 1997-2005 was a product of some terrific front-office moves. They drafted well, made some key free-agent signings and weren’t afraid to trade away some of their top prospects to get players in return. When the big contracts become burdensome and the youth pipeline began to dry up, the Astros were forced to shift course.

What made matters worse was the disastrous draft of 2007, which led to a shake up in the front office. Ed Wade took over as general manager and was asked to rebuild a farm system considered one of the worst in baseball, and one of the first thing he’s he did was hire Bobby Heck as scouting director.

The 2008 draft produced catcher Jason Castro and pitcher Jordan Lyles, and the Astros are still waiting to see what the 2009 and 2010 drafts produce, though several of their top prospects came from those drafts, including 2009 first-round pick Jiovanni Mier.

But what Wade and his staff have managed to do is add even more young players to the system in the past few months with a series of trades, as well as the Rule 5 draft. Here’s a look at the moves the teams has made since July 1 that have netted 11 young players in return:

  • July 1, 2010 – Acquired infielder Angel Sanchez from Boston in exchange for Kevin Cash.
    Comment: Sanchez did a nice job at the plate while starting at shortstop for much of the second half of the season while Tommy Manzella was on the disabled list. Sanchez has no power and is limited defensively, but he has skills.
  • July 29, 2010 – Acquired pitcher J.A. Happ, infielder Jonathan Villar and outfielder Anthony Gose from Phillies in exchange for Roy Oswalt.
    Comment: Oswalt didn’t want to be in Houston anymore, and the Astros were thrilled to get the switch-hitting Villar, who immediately became one of the team’s top prospects.
  • July 29, 2010 – Acquired first baseman Brett Wallace from Blue Jays in exchange for Gose.
    Comment: With Lance Berkman on his way out, the Astros spun Gose to the Blue Jays for Wallace, who became the starting first baseman at the Major League level.
  • July 31, 2010 – Acquired pitcher Mark Melancon and infielder Jimmy Paredes from the Yankees in exchange for Lance Berkman.
    Comment: The Astros weren’t going to pick up Berkman’s hefty option for 2011, so he agreed to a trade to the Yankees. Melancon is a key part to the bullpen, and Paredes is a speedy third baseman who was put on the 40-man roster.
  • Aug. 19, 2010 – Acquired pitcher David Carpenter from the Cardinals in exchange for Pedro Feliz.
    Comment: With rookie Chris Johnson tearing it up at the plate, Feliz was done in Houston. Still, the Astros managed to get something for him in a trade. Carpenter was added to the 40-man roster and could be in the mix this year in the bullpen.
  • Dec. 9, 2010 – Selected right-handers Aneury Rodriguez and Lance Pendleton in the Rule 5 Draft.
    Comment: Both Rodriguez and Pendleton will compete for a spot in the rotation this spring, but they must remain on the active roster or be offered back to their former clubs (Rodriguez came from the Rays and Pendleton the Yankees).
  • Dec. 23, 2010 – Acquired left-hander Wes Musick and right-hander Jonnathan Aristil from the Rockies in exchange for Matt Lindstrom.
    Comment: Lindstrom was due for a big raise in arbitration, and the Astros were worried about his health and inconsistency last year. They got a pair of young arms in return who have some potential.