Results tagged ‘ J.R. Towles ’

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.

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.”

 

Day 17: Catchers look good; pitchers not so much

Astros pitchers took their lumps once again Monday, giving up 14 hits and five walks in a 4-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at Osceola County Stadium. Bud Norris looked good in his debut and J.R. Towles had three of the team’s seven hits, but a couple of relievers struggled to throw strikes.

Here’s the breakdown:

The good: Norris, making his first start of the spring, gave up two hits, one run, two walks and struck out two batters in two innings. He allowed a homer to Toronto catcher J.P. Arenciba, but didn’t allow any batters to reach second outside of that. The only reliever to throw a 1-2-3 inning was Wilton Lopez, but Jeff Fulchino, Casey Daigle, Yorman Barzardo and Chia-Jen Lo had scoreless frames.

Rookie catcher Jason Castro went 1-for-3 and also threw out Joey Gathright trying to steal second base in the first inning. Towles was 3-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI and accounted for three of Houston’s seven hits. Tommy Manzella, Michael Bourn and Cory Sullvan also had hits.

The bad: Left-hander Tim Byrdak was roughed up in relief, giving up three hits and two runs in one inning. Byrdak went to the bullpen after his outing to work on his mechanics. Gustavo Chacin gave up three hits and one run in one inning, and Yorman Bazardo gave up three hits before pitching his way out of a bases-loaded jam to keep his ERA at 13.50.

Houston was 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and managed only two extra-base hits on Towles’ doubles. The Astros committed an error when Chacin and Lance Berkman got mixed up about who should cover first base, and Berkman wound up flipping a ball that hit Chacin in the back, allowing a runner to advance.

What they said: “They scored four runs on [14] hits, so they worked out of some pretty good jams, so they had to make some adjustments along the way. Bud was trying to go down and away with that 1-2 fastball and he left it up over the middle, and the guy smoked it. That was his one run. Byrdak gave up those two runs and got a little off center. They hit a couple of balls on Gustavo. On the other side of the ball, you’d like to be able to string some thing together and Towles ends up with three of our seven hits. Their two left-handers, [J.C.] Romero and [Dana] Eveland, kind of shut us down a little bit.” - manager Brad Mills.

What’s next: Brett Myers makes his second start of the spring when the Astros travel to Port St. Lucie to meet the New York Mets at 12:05 p.m. Central. The Astros will be playing without the meat of their batting order as Hunter Pence, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee will stay in Kissimmee, Fla., to get their work in. Former Astros farmhand Johan Santana will start for the Mets.

Matt Lindstrom, Alberto Arias, Chris Sampson, Sammy Gervacio, Shane Loux and Wesley Wright are also scheduled to pitch for the Astros. Also, Polin Trinidad, Evan Englebrook and Jose Valdez will throw in a Minor League game on Tuesday in Kissimmee.

Towles trying to prove his worth

J.R. Towles was in the starting lineup at catcher Monday for the sixth time in 11 games. While Tommy Manzella and Chris Johnson aren’t getting much playing time, the Astros are committed to giving Towles a good look in the final few weeks of the season.

Towles was the Astros’ top prospect and starting catcher at the start of the 2008 season, but he hit .137 with four homers and 16 RBIs and spent most of the season in the minors. The Astros are searching for a catching option for next season, with current top prospect Jason Castro likely to be able to start at some point next year.

“He’s going to be given the opportunity to be our guy,” Astros interim manager Dave Clark said. “That’s what I believe in, that’s what I’m going to do. We have to see what this kid can do. After what he did in ’07, he got off to somewhat of a slow start last year and went through what all first-year players go through, but I think now he’s starting to settle back in again.”

Towles make a quick rise through the Astros’ system in 2007, advancing from Class A Salem to the Majors in a few months. He was gangbusters in the September of ’07 for the Astros, hitting .375 with one homer and 12 RBI sin 14 games. He had eight RBIs in one game.

During his ascent through the system in ’07, Towles spent 2 1/2 months at Double-A Corpus Christi while Clark was managing the Hooks.

“Two years ago, no one really got him out when I had him at Double-A, and even when he came up here in September he put on a pretty good show,” Clark said. “It’s more of a confidence thing, but he will get it back.”

Clark said Towles will get the lion’s share of time at catcher in the final seven games, especially considering he’s familiar with some of the young pitchers – Yorman Bazardo, Felipe Paulino and Wilton Lopez – the team is starting.

“The fact he’s here and not playing on an everyday basis, with any young guy you’re going to go out and put too much pressure on yourself, and that’s exactly what he’s doing,” Clark said. “The last couple of days or so, we’ve had conversations with him on relaxing and stop looking for a perfect pitch because you might be waiting all year to get it.

“You hit in front of the pitcher and you’re going to get a mixture of stuff and anything close you have to swing at it. They’re trying to get you out by making yourself get yourself out.”

 

Boone on way back, Towles injured and former first-round pick released

Before we begin, you can now follow me on twitter: www.twitter.com/brianmctaggart

Aaron Boone, who underwent open heart surgery March 27, will rejoin the team Thursday in Houston and begin working in preparation for returning to the field this season.  Astros general manager Ed Wade said Boone is in good shape and will help the team at some point this year.

“I think there’s a real significant chance he’s going to be ready to play,” Wade said. “He’s very optimistic and feels good where he is now. He has to start baseball activities and see where it all leads, but from the standpoint of his overall health he feels great.”

Boone and his wife, Laura, welcomed their second child on Wednesday in Arizona, a daughter named Bella James.

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Catcher J.R. Towles broke his nose in a tractor accident during the All-Star break, but he isn’t expected to miss any significant time. Yes, I said tractor. Towles is hitting .303 with three homers and 17 RBIs through 41 games at Triple-A Round Rock.

Here are some other batting averages at Round Rock. Perhaps you’ll notice a trend:
Brian Bogusevic: .272
Tommy Manzella: .272
Mark Saccomanno: .270
Reggie Abercrombie: .262
Chris Johnson: .271
Yordany Ramirez: .268
Matt Kata: .270

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Outfielder Eli Iorg, selected by the Astros in the first round (compensation pick at No. 38 overall) in the 2005 draft was released Friday. Iorg, who helped the University of Tennessee reach the College World Series in 2005, hit .209 in 20 games with Triple-A Round Rock this year. He was at short-season Tri-City on a rehab assignment when he was released.

Iorg was a career .274 hitter in 331 career Minor League games entering this season. Iorg was part of the forgettable 2005 draft class for the Astros that included pitcher Brian Bogusevic (no. 24 overall) and catcher Ralph Henriquez (No. 72 overall).  Bogusevic switched to outfield from pitcher a year ago.

 

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