Results tagged ‘ Jason Michaels ’

Game 14: Good performances abound in walk-off win

The Astros rallied for a run in the ninth-inning for a walk-off win over the Nationals, 6-5, on Thursday night at Osceola County Stadium. Bryce Harper, the top pick in the draft last year, made an errant throw from right field to allow the winning run to cross the plate.

Tied at 5 in the ninth with Jimmy Paredes on first base, Brian Dopirak sent a laser into the right field corner. Paredes was originally given the stop sign at third base, but Harper’s poor throw allowed him to score the winning run.

What went right: There were solid pitching performances up and down the boxscore, beginning with starter Wandy Rodriguez. The left-hander was pretty good in his third start of the spring, allowing four hits and one run in four innings. He threw 71 pitches (25 in the first inning) and retired eight of the final nine batters he faced.

Brandon Lyon threw a crisp 1-2-3 inning and benefitted from a terrific diving stop by second baseman Bill Hall, and Jeff Fulchino allowed a lead-off hit in the sixth, but quickly got a double play and finished the inning in quick fashion. Ross Wolf and Sergio Escalona also pitched scoreless innings and struck out one batter.

At the plate, the Astros had 13 hits, with Jason Bourgeois (2-for-4) and Chris Johnson (2-for-3) leading the charge. Johnson ripped a two-run single in the third inning and is now hitting .304. Matt Downs continues to make a push to make the club, going 1-for-3 with an RBI double while starting at first base. Tommy Manzella had two plate appearances and put down a sacrifice bunt and drew a walk to start out the ninth.

What went wrong: Wesley Wright had a rough night on the mound, allowing three hits, two walks and four runs in one inning, raising his ERA to 13.50. Hunter Pence finally cooled down and went 0-for-4, but no one is worried about him.

There wasn’t much else manager Brad Mills could feel badly about. The Astros squandered a bases-loaded situation in the first inning when Bill Hall hit into a double play, but Hall came back with a double in the third. 

What’s they said: “Last year, I got hurt and didn’t get to finish up the season, and then Houston came in and to be part of this team and organization, it’s a great feeling alone by itself. My first at-bat [in the seventh], I came up looking to drive the ball and missed that pitch and got a little under it [and popped out]. I tried to make the adjustment to my next at-bat and stayed through it a little bit longer and was looking for a pitch up in the zone and jumped on it. I felt good. My swing’s been feeling pretty good. It felt good to help the team win and come up in that situation and do that.” — Astros outfielder Brian Dopirak on his ninth-inning heroics. 

What’s next: Manager Brad Mills and his coaching staff will have the opportunity to watch two games on Friday, with the Astros playing a split-squad game against the Red Sox in Kissimmee in the afternoon and playing another game against the Nationals in Viera at night. This will be the Astros’ fourth split-squad date of the spring. Brett Myers will start against the Red Sox and is scheduled to throw about 75 pitches, and Rule 5 pick Lance Pendleton will start against the Nationals.

Injury update: Outfielder Jason Michaels, who was scratched from Tuesday’s game in Fort Myers due to back spasms, has made progress and returned to the lineup Thursday at designated hitter. … Right-hander Alberto Arias played catch on Thursday and said his shoulder felt fine. He will throw from 90 feet on Friday and take Saturday off as he continues to battle back from inflammation and tries to get into a game for the first time this spring. … Right-hander Sammy Gervacio (shoulder) could begin throwing soon. … Right-hander Bud Norris, who left his start Monday with a mild hamstring strain, said he feels good and will start Sunday against the Braves.

Here are the pictures of the day:

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Above: Manager Brad Mills watches cut-offs and rundowns on Thursday.

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Above: Matt Downs reaches for a ball being thrown from the outfield.

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Above: Wilton Lopez concentrates while trying to make a play during rag ball drills.

 

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Above: Michael Bourn and bullpen coach Jamie Quirk give each other a fist bump during BP. They were probably agreeing on how great UH is going to be in football this year.

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Above: Bill Hall swings away in batting practice. I’m glad he didn’t foul it back into my face.

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:

CATCHERS (2)

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.

INFIELDERS (6)

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.

OUTFIELDERS (5)

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.

STARTING PITCHERS (5)

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.

RELIEF PITCHERS (7)

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.

Let the games begin, Astros

The Astros will kick off their Grapefruit League campaign at 12 p.m. CT Monday with a game against the Atlanta Braves at Disney World. It’s the first of 37 games for Houston this spring – including six split-squad games – in preparation for the April 1 season opener at Philadelphia.

“You can go through as much drills as you want, but until you’re really putting another team across the field, you’re never really [sure what you're seeing],” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “We can go through these fundamentals, but they know where we’re going to hit the fungo or know what’s happening. Now the evaluating process ramps up a little bit.”

Here is the Astros’ starting lineup for the game:
CF Michael Bourn
1B Brett Wallace
RF Hunter Pence
LF Carlos Lee
DH Jason Michaels
3B Chris Johnson
C Jason Castro
2B Matt Downs
SS Tommy Manzella

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LHP Wandy Rodriguez will start on the mound. Also scheduled to pitch are Henry Villar, Enerio Del Rosario, Fernando Rodriguez, Lance Pendleton, Sergio Escalona and Wesley Wright.

On Sunday, the Astros played an intrasquad game with Koby Clemens going 3-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs to lead Dave Clark’s team to a 5-1 win over Bobby Meacham’s team. J.B. Shuck went 3-for-3 with a triple for Meacham’s squad.

Here are the stats from the game in which each pitcher threw an inning — Clarkie’s Crushers: RHP Jordan Lyles (K); RHP Jose Valdez (H, K); LHP Patrick Urckfitz (H,1R/0ER); RHP Nelson Figueroa (H); RHP Arcenio Leon (H, 2BB); RHP Ross Wolf; OF Brian Bogusevic (2×3, R); OF T.J. Steele (0×4, RBI); IF Anderson Hernandez (1×2); IF Tommy Manzella (1×3, R); C Carlos Corporan (2×3, RBI, R); OF J.D. Martinez (1×2, BB, R); IF Koby Clemens (3×3, HR, 2RBI, R); IF Jose Carlos Thompson (0×1, 2BB); IF Jay Austin (3×3); Meach’s Mashers: LHP Fernando Abad (2H, K); RHP Sergio De Leon (2H, 2R/2ER, BB); RHP David Carpenter (3H, 3R/3ER, BB, K); RHP Casey Fien (H); LHP Douglas Arguello (2H, K); RHP Cesar Carrillo (H, BB, K); C J.R. Towles (0×3); IF Brian Dopirak (0×3); IF Jimmy Paredes (0×2, BB); OF J.B. Shuck (3×3, 3B); OF Drew Locke (0×3, R); C Brian Esposito (0×2, RBI); IF Jiovanni Mier (0×1, BB); OF Jon Gaston (0×3); IF Oswaldo Navarro (0×2).

Defensively, Anderson Hernandez made a terrific diving stop behind third and was able to throw out catcher Brian Esposito, and Tommy Manzella had a nice game at third base. Also, shortstop Jiovanni Mier was able to complete a double play after second baseman Jimmy Paredes fumbled a ground ball. Carlos Corporan threw out a runner at second base trying to steal.

Here is the day in pictures:

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Above: Outfielder Brian Bogusevic warms up in the outfield.

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Above: The Astros practiced relays and cut-offs on Sunday morning, using players from Minor League mini camp as base runners. Third baseman Chris Johnson is taking a throw as prospect Telvin Nash runs the bases.

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Above: Left-hander Gustavo Chacin gets his work done in the bullpen.

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Above: Manager Brad Mills takes notes during Sunday’s intrasquad game.

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Above: Jordan Lyles throws a pitch in the intrasquad game. He threw a scoreless inning.

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Above: Outfielder J.D. Martinez stands in the batter’s box.

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Above: Former first-round pick Jiovanni Mier swings at a pitch.

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Above: J.B. Shuck gets ready to rip one of his three hits in Sunday’s intrasquad game.

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Above: Cesar Carrillo, a former first-round pick of Padres, prepares to fire a pitch Sunday.

Lineup set for spring opener

Astros manager Brad Mills has set his lineup for the Grapefruit League opener Monday against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. As is the case with most road games in Spring Training, several players will be staying behind to get their work in at camp.

Clint Barmes, Bill Hall, Humberto Quintero and Brian Bogusevic are among those not traveling with the team to Disney on Monday, but the Astros are at home Tuesday at Osceola County Stadium. That’s when we should get our first glimpse of the lineup with all the players available.

Here is the lineup for Monday’s exhibition opener against Atlanta:

CF Michael Bourn

1B Brett Wallace

RF Hunter Pence

LF Carlos Lee

DH Jason Michaels

3B Chris Johnson

C Jason Castro

2B Matt Downs

SS Tommy Manzella

Wandy Rodriguez will and pitch two scheduled innings.

Astros position breakdown: outfield

OUTFIELD

2010 Opening Day starters: LF Carlos Lee, CF Michael Bourn, RF Hunter Pence.

2010 end-of-season starters: LF Carlos Lee, CF Michael Bourn, RF Hunter Pence.

Others who were in the mix: Brian Bogusevic (LF-CF-RF), Jason Bourgeois (LF-CF-RF), Jason Michaels (LF-CF-RF, Cory Sullivan (LF-RF-CF).

Combined 2010 stats of Astros outfielders: .261 BA/.317 OBP/.401 SLG, 93 doubles, 51 homers, 217 RBIs, 156 walks, 316 strikeouts, 1,917 at-bats.

Free agents: None.

Arbitration eligible: Bourn and Pence.

What happened: The Astros went into last season feeling good about what they had in the outfield with Carlos Lee returning in left, Michael Bourn returning in center and Hunter Pence returning in right. Lee had averaged 30 homers and 100 RBIs in his first three seasons with Houston, Bourn was named the team’s MVP in 2009 and won a Gold Glove and Pence was coming off his first All-Star appearance. The three held down the starting duties, but not without some road bumps.

Lee, who started 133 games in left field, struggled out of the gate and hit .183 in April with no home runs. He had only five homers at the end of May and wound up hitting .240 in the first half with 12 homer and 45 RBIs, helping put the Astros in a hole. He came around in the second half with a .254 average to go along with 12 homers and 44 RBIs to finish with 24 homers and 89 RBIs, his lowest totals with Houston. He split time before left field and first base in September as the Astros wanted to get a look at him at first defensively.

Bourn, who started 133 games in center, picked up where he left off in 2009 and got off to a quick start, hitting .311 in April. His average slowly began dipping as the season wore on. He hit .245 in May, .252 in June and .185 in July with an on-base percentage of .271. Bourn was enjoying a great finish – he hit .229 in his final 17 games – before his season ended two weeks early with an oblique strain. He hit .265/.341/.356 with 52 stolen bases and had another Gold Glove-caliber season in center field.

Pence, who started 155 games in right, joined Lee in getting off to a slow start. He hit around .230 with two homers and seven RBIs in April before coming around in May, batting .302 with six homers and 16 RBIs. After hitting .263 before the All-Star break, Pence hit .302 in the second half and finished with 25 homers for the third year in a row and 91 RBIs to lead the team. He was up and down defensively.

Jason Michaels, the fourth outfielder, had a solid year in a backup role and parlayed that into his option being picked up for 2011. He hit .253/.310/.468 with eight homers and 26 RBIs while playing all three outfield spots. He had two pinch-hit home runs. Jason Bourgeois, a speedster who doesn’t hit for a high average, got the bulk of the playing time in center in the final two weeks with Bourn on the shelf. The Astros got an abbreviated look at former No. 1 pick Brian Bogusevic, the pitcher-turned-outfielder who made his Major League debut. Cory Sullivan began the year as the fifth outfielder but was let go in the middle of the season.

What’s next: Lee, Bourn and Pence are all back in 2011, barring a trade. Lee will be in the fifth year of his six-year, $100-million contract (he has a limited no-trade clause this year) and Bourn and Pence are eligible for arbitration. But not all three could return as starters in the outfield. The Astros are going to give Lee another look at first base in Spring Training next year, with the hopes Brett Wallace – acquired in the Roy Oswalt trade – does enough to warrant winning the first base job and keeping Lee in left field.

If the Astros deem Wallace needs more time in the Minor Leagues, they will stick Lee at first base. That’s why they’re on the lookout this winter for a left-handed hitting left fielder they could use in a platoon situation with Michaels. The decision on which player opens at first base won’t unfold until later in Spring Training.

The Astros are banking on Bourn and Pence to pick up where they left off at the end of last year and have the best offensive seasons of their careers. Lee had a down season in 2010 and would certainly give the club a boost if he can return to his 2007-09 form as a reliable run producer. Bogusevic and Bourgeois will get a look as backup outfielders, but don’t be surprised to see a Minor League player make a push during the spring.

Who’s on the farm: The Astros are starting to see the fruits of their last several drafts pay off in the outfield, where an impressive group of young outfielders is emerging.  The club is high on Jack Shuck, who had a bang-up season for Double-A Corpus Christi before finishing the year at Triple-A Round Rock. T.J. Steele had turned some heads before injuries slowed him down last season, and players like Jon Gaston, Jay Austin and J.D. Martinez could be ready for the Majors soon. Martinez was named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year after he hit .341 with 40 doubles, 18 homers and 89 RBIs combined between Class A Lexington and Double-A Corpus Christi, where he finished the season. He was named the South Atlantic League’s Most Valuable Player and was a midseason and postseason All-Star.

Astros lineup Sunday vs. Giants

The Astros try to salvage the final game of their three-game series in San Francisco when they face the Giants this afternoon. Houston will once again have a challenging pitching matchup, with left-hander Barry Zito (5-1, 1,90 ERA) on the mound. Brett Myers (2-2, 3.52 ERA) will pitch for the Astros.

Astros manager Brad Mills has Jeff Keppinger at the top of the lineup, giving Michael Bourn a day off. This is the Astros’ first game against a left-handed starter since April 23. Jason Michaels is starting in center field and hitting second.

Here are the lineups:

ASTROS

2B Jeff Keppinger

CF Jason Michaels

1B Lance Berkman

LF Carlos Lee

RF Hunter Pence

3B Pedro Feliz

SS Tommy Manzella

C Kevin Cash

RHP Brett Myers

GIANTS

CF Aaron Rowand

LF Andres Torres

3B Pablo Sandoval

C Bengie Molina

1B Aubrey Huff

SS Juan Uribe

RF Nate Schierholtz

2B Matt Downs

LHP Barry Zito

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: Astros play best game of spring to beat Mets

The Astros played their most complete game of the spring Tuesday in beating the New York Mets 8-4 in Port St. Lucie. They had 13 hits, didn’t commit an error, turned three double plays and stole three bases. And they did it without Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence, who didn’t make the trip to Kissimmee.

Here’s the breakdown:

The good: Where to begin? Let’s start with the defense, which was superb. The Astros turned three double plays, including a nice 1-6-3 double play started by pitcher Brett Myers in the third. Pedro Feliz made a sparkling diving stop and threw out Jeff Francouer in the second, and Jason Michaels made a pair of terrific catches in left field in the fifth.

On the first catch, he made a run to his right and tumbled after caching Francouer’s fly ball. Two batters later, he made a long run into the Mets bullpen and made a sliding catch at the wall, all the while avoiding the extra pitchers and while garden chairs that were in his way.

“I’m going over there and out of the corner of my eye see these guys moving these chairs and I say, ‘This ought to be good.’ So I said ‘Let me just slide here,’” Michaels said. “I’m not going to go into the wall, but I slid and ended up surprisingly catching it.”

The Astros scored three in the first off Johan Santana, including a solo homer by Kaz Matsui, who went 2-for-2 with two runs scored and two walks. First baseman Geoff Blum was 4-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs, and Feliz was 2-for-3. Catcher Jason Castro came off the bench and was 2-for-2 with a well-struck double over the head of the center fielder.

Myers, making his second start in Grapefruit League play, gave up two runs and four hits in three innings, and reliever Matt Lindstrom breezed through two innings and struck out one batter. Shane Loux and Sammy Gervacio also had scoreless innings.

Myers gave up a two-run homer to David Wright in the first, but he was happy with the way he was able to keep the ball down. He gave up singles in the second and third but got inning-ending double plays both times.

“The first inning I struggled a little bit making an adjustment to the mound and things me and Arnie worked on in the bullpen,” Myers said. “You go from different mound to different mound, and it just took me a little bit longer to make an adjustment. I was able to make the adjustment and it was great. I made some good pitches. The one David Wright hit was down and he put a good swing on it.”

Michael Bourn stole second and third in the second, and Chris Shelton stole second in the third.

The bad: Not much really on the field, but there is a new injury concern. Reliever Alberto Arias was pulled after facing two batters and giving up a homer and a walk. Arias was diagnosed with a mild strain of his upper back and will be examined perhaps as early as Wednesday.

“It felt it before today, but I felt it more on my first pitch of the game,” Arias said.

Mills didn’t want to take any chances.

“He’s had it kind of bothering him,” he said. “They said it was feeling pretty well. He said he could have pitched out there, but what was coming out we didn’t think it would be safe. The doctor’s going to take a look at him and we’ll go from there.”

What they said: “It was a very well-played game. We made some pitches when we had to and the guys swing the bats, we ran the bases and we made some big plays on the double plays. It’s fun to see a game played like that and the guys are rewarded for their efforts. The hitting is going to come. We can look at that as we’ve got a good ballclub and these guys can swing the bat, but it was things like the base running that was good today, the defensive plays were outstanding, the extra effort. They did a super job.” - manager Brad Mills.

What’s next: The Astros return to Kissimmee, Fla., to face the Florida Marlins on Wednesday at 12:05 p.m. Central. Wandy Rodriguez will make his second start of the spring, and will be followed by Felipe Paulino. Both are expected to pitch three innings. Henry Villar, Fernando Abad, Roy Corcoran, Gary Majewski and Casey Daigle are also scheduled to pitch.

Astro-notes: General manager Ed Wade said right-hander Brandon Lyon, who hasn’t faced a hitter this spring after getting a cyst on his shoulder drained, will throw his third bullpen session in five days on Wednesday. If all goes well, he could pitch live batting practice on Friday. … Polin Trinidad, Evan Englebrook and Jose Valdez each threw a scoreless inning in a Minor League mini camp game on Tuesday against Detroit in Kissimmee. … Minor League first baseman Koby Clemens made the trip to Port St. Lucie with the Major League club to Spring Training and went 0-for-1 as a late-inning replacement. His father, Roger Clemens, was spotted in the stands along the right-field line.

Day 16: Tough day for non-roster pitchers

The Astros lost to the Atlanta Braves 9-4 on Sunday at Champion Stadium to fall to 2-2 this spring. Most of their regular starters played, with Michael Bourn and Geoff Blum among those that didn’t make the trip.

Here’s the breakdown:

The good: Lance Berkman appears to be fully recovered from his bruised knee. He went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles, an RBI and a strikeout and looked very Puma-like going into second base. After his second at-bat, manager Brad Mills asked him how he felt and he told the skipper he wanted another at-bat. Carlos Lee also had a double, and Hunter Pence (1-for-2), Pedro Feliz (1-for-2) and J.R. Towles (1-for-3) continue to swing hot bats.

Even Kaz Matsui, who has one hit in 10 at-bats this spring, smoked a ball hard in his first at-bat, but it was caught for an out. Jason Michaels also hit a couple of balls hard that resulted in a pair of rare outs for him. On the mound, Henry Villar continues to impress. He threw a scoreless inning, as did Evan Englebrook.

The Astros also had nice execution on a failed squeeze bunt in the second inning by Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson with third baseman Pedro Feliz making the tag of the runner between third base and home plate.

The bad: There were some ugly pitching lines, with non-roster relievers Gary Majewski and Roy Corcoran each giving up three runs. Majewski got the loss after allowing three hits, one walk and two earned runs in two-thirds of an inning, and Corcoran followed him and allowed four hits and three earned runs in one inning.

Josh Banks, also a non-roster invitee, was roughed up for five hits and two runs in two innings. Starter Brian Moehler pitched in out and of trouble in his first start and wound up allowing four hits, two walks but only one run in his two innings.

Houston did commit one error, but it probably should have been a hit. Shortstop Tommy Manzella was swallowed up by a grounder that took a bad hop. Mills said after the game the ball nearly took Manzella’s face off. He was right. Mills also said there was one relay and cut-off situation he would have liked to have seen performed better.

What they said: “It was nice to see Lance swing the bat real well, and I thought Carlos swung the bat real well. Kaz hit that line drive to lead off the game, so there were some well-hit balls. There at the end of the game, too, [Chris] Shelton up the middle. J-Mike hit a couple of balls hard. Any time you can put those at-bats together and hitting the balls on the button [that's good]. They hit some balls on the buttons, too, but they found the holes and found the alleys.” - Astros manager Brad Mills.

What’s next: The Astros return home to face the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday at Osceola County Stadium. Bud Norris will make his first start of the spring as the Astros finally get through their starting rotation one time. Mills said Sunday second baseman Kaz Matsui would be given the day off, with Jeff Keppinger starting at second.

Among the other pitchers scheduled to throw Monday are Tim Byrdak, Jeff Fulchino, Shane Loux, Chia-Jen Lo, Gustavo Chacin and Polin Trinidad.

Astros face arbitration decisions

If you were the general manager of the Astros, what would you do?

The Astros have until Tuesday night to offer salary arbitration to their own free agents – a list that includes shortstop Miguel Tejada, closer Jose Valverde, reliever LaTroy Hawkins, outfielder Jason Michaels and infielder/outfielder Darin Erstad.

Players offered arbitration have until next Monday to decline or accept the offer. If they accept, they are considered signed players and will have their salary determined through an arbitration hearing or negotiations. If they decline, they are still free to sign with the Astros or any other team.

The decision to offer arbitration has high stakes. Tejada, Valverde and Hawkins were classified as Type A free agents, which means the Astros would get draft picks if the players were offered arbitration and sign with another team. If they’re not offered arbitration and sign with another team, the Astros don’t get compensation.

If a Type A player signed with another team after being offered arbitration, the Astros would receive the signing club’s first-round draft pick in next year’s draft (assuming it’s not in the top 15 picks) and a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds. A Type B free agent, such as Doug Brocail, would bring only a sandwich pick.

Tejada made around $14 million last season and appears headed for a healthy pay cut on the free-agent market, which makes it seem unlikely the Astros would offer him arbitration. Valverde, who made $8 million last season, is likely headed for a raise after coming off a season in which he was 4-2 with a 2.33 ERA and converted 25 of 29 saves. He would be less likely to accept arbitration if he was offered by the Astros because he could command a higher salary in free agency.

The Astros have been in negotiations with Hawkins for weeks and are eager to re-sign him to be an option at closer if Valverde leaves. Hawkins had a base salary of $3.5 million last season and made nearly $4 million in incentives and was 1-4 with 11 saves and a 2.13 ERA.

Here’s what I would do:

Jose Valverde: Offer arbitration. He’ll have some strong interest and will likely get a multi-year deal from somebody, so I think it’s doubtful he would accept arbitration. If he does, you have an expensive, but capable closer.

Miguel Tejada: Don’t offer. He’ll get nowhere near the kind of money in the free-agent market than he would in arbitration, which he would accept in a heartbeat. If he wants to come back, it will have to be at a discount. The Astros can’t afford paying a third baseman $14 million next year.

LaTroy Hawkins: Offer arbitration. Sure, he’ll get a raise, but the Astros need the Hawk, especially if Valverde bolts. If he accepts and becomes the closer, he’ll still likely make less than Valverde did in closer’s role last season.

Jason Michaels: Don’t offer. I think the Astros should re-sign him, but I don’t expect there to be a big market for him and he’s not going to bring compensation anyway.

Darin Erstad: Don’t offer. Erstad is one of my favorite guys, but how much does he have left?

 

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