Results tagged ‘ Jeff Keppinger ’

Keppinger’s return creates roster decisions

Jeff Keppinger, who was the Astros’ most consistent hitter last year and led them in doubles, is expected to make his 2011 debut by the end of the month, which begs the question: What will the Astros do when Keppinger returns?

It’s no secret Bill Hall has struggled, so perhaps they slid Hall back into a utility role and give Keppinger consistent at-batsat second base. Perhaps they part ways with Hall, even though that would cost them a few million dollars. But there’s no doubt Keppinger’s ability to put the ball in play is something the Astros can certainly use.

Astros outfielder Jason Michaels will be activated from the disabled list Friday, and infielder Joe Inglett will be the odd man out. That sets the stage for the next roster move upon Keppinger’s return.

Keppinger will begin a Minor League rehab assignment Thursday night for Double-A Corpus Christi, which plays in Frisco, Texas. Keppinger will play nine innings at second base Thursday and Saturday and serve as designated hitter Friday and Sunday before moving to Triple-A Oklahoma City.

“Once I get there it’s going to be based on how I’m feeling,” said Keppinger, who underwent surgery Jan. 14 to remove the sesamoid bone from his foot.  “I’m excited to be able to get out of here and play some competitive ball. My foot’s been feeling pretty good for a week and a half now, two weeks. It’s not like it was bad before, but it just ached a little bit when I did a lot of work.”

Keppinger, who hit .288 with a team-high 34 doubles and drove in 59 runs in 137 games last year, has been playing extensively in extended spring in recent days and then doing sprints and leg lifts to build up his strength. He’s had about 40 at-bats and is eager to see better pitching.

“Once you get out of there, you can actually start feeling the excitement of getting back,” he said.

Of course, Keppinger has been following the Astros during the first six weeks of the season, while talking to teammates like Jason Michaels, Chris Johnson and Bud Norris.

“I had one of the trainers down here post a boxscore every day when I come in,” he said. “I don’t have a computer – my wife took it home a week and a half ago – but I would get on the computer when they were playing. I’m ready to get back.”

Options a factor a decision time

As the Astros debate their remaining roster decisions in the next few days, one of the factors that will come into play is which players are out of options. Players who are out of options and don’t make the 25-man roster must clear waivers before being sent to the Minor Leagues, so the Astros would risk losing them.

The Astros have seven players who are out of options for 2011 – right-handers Nelson Figueroa and Alberto Arias, infielders Clint Barmes, Angel Sanchez and Jeff Keppinger, catcher Humberto Quintero and left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith. Of those, only Sanchez and Rowland-Smith are battling for roster spots at this point.

“It’s certainly something we talk about,” general manager Ed Wade said. “We try to weigh all factors, including out-of-options status. Whether it’s one of the out-of-options guys or the Rule 5 players, we try to factor in everything before we make a decision.”

Sanchez, who returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing a few days with an upper back strain, is among five players competing for two backup spots on the infield. Rowland-Smith is in the hunt for a slot in the bullpen. Keppinger will start the year on the disabled list, and Arias is likely to be disabled, as well. Barmes, Figueroa and Quintero are locks to make the club.

Pitchers Lance Pendleton and Aneury Rodriguez were both taken in the Rule 5 Draft, which means they must remain on the 25-man roster all season or be offered back to their former clubs. That’s assuming, the Astros can’t work out a trade to keep them. Pendleton came from the Yankees, and Rodriguez from the Rays.

Spring brings optimism for Wade

When general manager Ed Wade met with some members of the media earlier this week to address the team’s arbitration stance, the discussion didn’t stop there. Wade addressed a number of other topics, including the state of the Major League club, Jeff Keppinger and the young players who will play a huge role in 2011.

Here are Wade’s answers to some of those questions:

On the state of the club: “We like our club. I said when the offseason began that we didn’t expect it to be a headline-busting offseason for us. We very specifically had some things in mind. We replaced the middle of our infield with Bill Hall and Clint Barmes coming on board. We think those are some really good steps in the right direction for us. We’ve created competition for the fifth starter’s spot and we did things that did not create an environment where we could stump the progress of the young guys who came on last year and got their feet wet at the big-league level. We had a good four months last year, the last four months. We need to figure out a way to get off to a better start, and the things we tried to do this offseason were to give us every opportunity to do that.”

On having so many young players in key roles: “People stay away from the phrase ‘rebuilding,’ but I think good franchises are always in some type of rebuilding mode because that means you’re bringing players through the system or have acquired younger players who have begun to establish a new core nucleus of your club. I think it’s a process you have to go through frequently, and I think the fact a number of guys were up in early, late June last year and joined the organization at the trade deadline in July, they should benefit from the experience they had a year ago. I know people look at our club and say they’re not a lot of veterans around and where does our leadership come from, and at some times it’s the mental make up of the younger players, who recognize they have a great opportunity not only to produce on the field but have a presence in the clubhouse. We have a number of players who have indicated a willingness to do that and feel refreshed with the opportunity to step up and show what they’re capable of doing both on the field and in the clubhouse.”

On the progress of Jeff Keppinger, who underwent surgery on his left foot Jan. 14: “When the surgery was performed, the specialist who did the surgery in North Carolina indicated the normal process would call for probably a three-month rehab before he’s running aggressively, and that takes us probably into early or mid-May if everything is moving in a straight line. Keppinger has indicated through Nate Lucero, our trainer, he’s feeling great right now and if we could shave some weeks or months off that rehab schedule, that would be great. It would be dictated by the progress he makes and what the doctors tell us.”

On which players he’s most anxious to see this spring: “Brett Wallace has been talked about a lot from the standpoint of this is a golden opportunity for Brett to step up and win the first base job when he gets to Spring Training, and he’s got to do that because we know we’ve got alternatives. We know we can play Carlos Lee at first base or Brian Bogusevic coming through the organization with the ability to play over there. I think, again, Brett is one of those young guys who will benefit from having been here the second half of last season and find out you have to make adjustments at the big-league level. Every successful young player is challenged at the big league level and the ones who remain successful are the ones who make adjustments. I’m anxious to see him and anxious to see J.A. Happ in our uniform all year long. I think we saw a real good sample of what he’s capable of doing by what he did a year ago. I’m looking forward to seeing the guys who we were counting on to show whatthey’re capable of doing over six months, primarily our outfield trio. Hunter [Pence] and Carlos got off to tough starts last year and came on strong, and I would anticipate you’re not going to see those slow starts again. I’m anxious to see Chris Johnson at third base and given the opportunity to go out there and build on the type of season he had. Newness is always great, and I’m anxious to see the two new middle infielders [Barmes and Hall] as well. I guess what I’m saying is I’m excited to see everybody when I get down there.”

On the top prospects coming to Spring Training, including RHP Jordan Lyles: “The message delivered to these younger guys when we call them up is you’re not going to make the club out of Spring Training. No matter how many times you say that, they’re going to come in and try to make the club. Sometimes we’re reluctant to bring in younger guys like that, but we thought creating an environment for Jordan Lyles, who probably does have a chance to make our club, and some of these other younger guys, it gives them a chance to see what a big-league environment is all about and, in all candor, gives us a chance to pump our chest a little bit that we’ve got a substantial number of young guys who are on the near horizon and have a chance to help this club in the not-too-distant figure. And why not bring them in and show them off and get them in shape and send them back to Fred Nelson on the development side and put them in the right spot to continue their development?”


Astros make tender decisions

Right-hander Sammy Gervacio, who missed most of last season with right rotator cuff inflammation, was the only unsigned player on the 40-man roster the Astros chose not to tender a contract to prior to Thursday’s deadline to do so.

The move reduces Houston’s 40-man roster to 36 and makes Gervacio a free agent and able to sign with any team, but general manager Ed Wade said the club will attempt to re-sign him at some point. The shoulder ailments limited the side-armed Gervacio to just 13 combined relief appearances last season between Triple-A Round Rock and the Astros.

“It’s really a move of economics more than anything because of the uncertainty of his status going into Spring Training,” Wade said. “Had he been injured coming into Spring Training and unable to perform, we would have had to carry him on the Major League disabled list.

“While we’re protecting ourselves with respect to the tender, we still want Sammy to be part of our picture going forward.”

Gervacio, who went 1-1 with a 2.14 ERA in 29 games in his Major League debut in 2009, is still dealing with shoulder discomfort despite not pitching in a game since May 3. He made $403,000 last season, which is slightly above the league minimum.

“We’re going to have to be cautious how we bring him along,” Wade said.

Wade said the club never entertained the possibility of non-tendering pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Matt Lindstrom, infielders Clint Barmes and Jeff Keppinger and outfielders Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence, all of whom are arbitration eligible and figure to play a key role in 2011.

“All of those players have value and will be counted on in some fashion going forward,” Wade said.

Keppinger ($1.15 million salary in 2010), Bourn ($2.4 million), Pence ($3.5 million) and Lindstrom ($1.625 million) are in their second year of arbitration eligibility and Rodriguez ($5 million) and Barmes ($3.25 million) are in their third and final year.

Earlier this week, the Astros agreed to terms on one-year contracts with right-handed pitcher Nelson Figueroa ($900,000) and catcher Humberto Quintero ($1 million), thus avoiding arbitration with both players. Right-handed pitchers Brandon Lyon and Brett Myers and outfielders Carlos Lee and Jason Michaels are also all signed through 2011 or beyond.

Astros face arbitration decisions

UPDATE: The Astros signed Humberto Quintero to a one-year, $1 million deal Tuesday, and I’ve updated this entry accordingly…

Thursday is the deadline for teams to tender contracts to players who are eligible for arbitration. For the Astros, the list of players eligible for arbitration goes seven deep: pitchers Wandy Rodriguez, Nelson Figueroa and Matt Lindstrom, infielders Clint Barmes and Jeff Keppinger and outfielders Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence.

With Rodriguez, Bourn and Pence leading the way – they made a combined $10.9 million in 2010 – the Astros are going to have to commit a sizable amount of their 2011 payroll to arbitration-eligible players. Of course, the club could choose to non-tender some of these players and save money, and last week they outrighted left-handers Tim Byrdak and Gustavo Chacin, who were heading for arbitration.

Last year, the Astros wound up paying out $16.84 million to eight arbitration-eligible players. Rodriguez was the only player to wind up going to an arbitration hearing. He was asking for $7 million and the club won the hearing and had to pay him $5 million.

Here’s a closer look at each of the Astros’ seven arbitration-eligible players and what the chances are of the club tendering a contract:

LHP Wandy Rodriguez
2010 stats: 11-12, 3.60 ERA, 32 starts.
2010 salary: $5 million.
Can become free agent: 2012.
Tender prediction: Likely.
Analysis: I really can’t envision a scenario in which the Astros wouldn’t tender him a contract, even though he’s due another hefty raise. He was their best pitcher in 2009 and had a terrific second half in 2010. Heading into free agency, it would behoove Rodriguez to put it all together for next season and repeat what he did in 2009. Good starting pitching isn’t cheap, and the Astros hope they get what they pay for in 2011.

RHP Nelson Figueroa 
2010 stats: 7-4, 3.29 ERA in 31 games (11 starts); 5-3, 3.22 ERA in 18 games (10 starts) for Astros.
2010 salary: $416,000.
Can become free agent: 2014.
Tender prediction: Likely.
Analysis: Figueroa is 36 and just now reaching arbitration, so he’s still not making much money in the baseball world. And he had a pretty good season for the Astros in 2010 after they picked him up off waivers, which is why it would make sense to tender him. He’s a solid clubhouse citizen and could compete for a spot in the rotation or give them a steady option in long relief.

RHP Matt Lindstrom
2010 stats
: 2-5, 4.39 ERA, 23 saves, 58 games.
2010 salary: $1.62 million.
Can become free agent: 2013.
Tender prediction: Likely.
Analysis: Lindstrom had an up-and-down first season in Houston, and he really struggled in the second half when his back issues began to mess with his delivery. When he was healthy, he was a pretty solid closer. He’s still relatively inexpensive when you consider his age (30) and his stuff, and I doubt the Astros would give up on him after one rocky half of a season.

IF Clint Barmes
2010 stats
: .235/.305/.351, 8 HRs, 50 RBIs (with Colorado).
2010 salary: $3.325 million.
Can become free agent: 2012.
Tender prediction: Definitely.
Analysis: The Astros landed Barmes in a trade with the Rockies on Nov. 18 in exchange for Felipe Paulino. He’s likely going to be their starting shortstop next season and will be playing for a contract because he’s a free agent after next year. Considering the offensive shortcomings the Astros had at shortstop last season, paying around $4 million for Barmes for one year isn’t a bad deal.

2B Jeff Keppinger
2010 stats
: .288/.351/.393, 6 HRs, 59 RBIs, 34 2Bs.
2010 salary: $1.15 million.
Can become free agent: 2013.
Tender prediction: Definitely.
Analysis: Keppinger is coming off a career season in which he was the Astros’ starting second baseman for most of the season. There’s still a chance the Astros could acquire a second baseman with more pop and better range and return Keppinger to a reserve role, but he’s too much of a steady hand not to want back on the roster. He rarely strikes out or gets into prolonged slumps and had a pretty good on-base percentage a year ago.

CF Michael Bourn
2010 stats
: .265/.341/.346, 3 HRs, 25 RBIs, 52 SBs.
2010 salary: $2.4 million.
Can become free agent: 2013.
Tender prediction: Definitely.
Analysis: Bourn didn’t quite have the breakout season on offense in 2010 that he enjoyed in 2009, but he made the All-Star team, won his second Gold Glove and led the league in stolen bases. He was up and down on offense, but finished the season with a flourish at the plate before a strained oblique injury cost him the final two weeks of the season.

RF Hunter Pence
2010 stats
: .282/.325/.461, 25 HRs, 91 RBIs, 18 SBs.
2010 salary: $3.5 million.
Can become free agent: 2014.
Tender prediction: Definitely.
Analysis: He’s coming of a career season in which he was named the team’s Most Valuable Player after tying career high with 25 homers and setting career high with 91 RBIs. This is Pence’s second year in arbitration eligibility and he’ll still have two years remaining after 2011, so he’s under the Astros’ control for three more years at least. He’s going to get a nice raise in 2011, but he’s earned it.

Astros position breakdown: second base

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

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

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

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


2010 Opening Day starter: Kaz Matsui.

2010 end-of-season starters: Jeff Keppinger.

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

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

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

Arbitration eligible: Jeff Keppinger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Astros lineup for Tuesday; Keppinger unavailable

The Astros will try to get back on track Tuesday night against the Mets and Johan Santana, (10-6, 2.89 ERA) who hasn’t allowed an earned run in his previous two starts. He’ll start against Nelson Figueroa (3-1, 3.38 ERA), who is making his first start for the Astros and second this year.

Jeff Keppinger, who left Monday’s game with a sprained left big toe, could have a small fracture in the toe, general manager Ed Wade said. Keppinger had an X-ray and was going to undergo an MRI to further gauge the extent of the injury.

“He got an X-ray done and now they’re going to do an MRI to see what’s going on in there,” Wade said. “There’s a possiblity he’s got a small fracture. Wehther it’s an old fracture or new fracture, they’ll be able to ascertain that once he gets the MRI done.”

Here are the lineups, with Chris Johnson back up to fifth in Keppinger’s absence:


CF Michael Bourn

SS Angel Sanchez

RF Hunter Pence — Hitting .500 (10-for-20) in  his last five games

LF Carlos Lee

3B Chris Johnson — Leads NL in batting average since All-Star break (.427)

1B Brett Wallace

2B Geoff Blum

C Jason Castro

P Nelson Figueroa


SS Jose Reyes

LF Fernando Martinez

3B David Wright

CF Carlos Beltran

1B Ike Davis

RF Jeff Francoeur

C Josh Thole

2B Ruben Tejada

P Johan Santana

Why was Keppinger moved down in order? I have an answer

Astros manager Brad Mills wasn’t happy with the way his club performed offensively in Sunday’s loss to the Pirates, so much so he spent much of the charter flight to Chicago following the game trying to figure out ways to get the bats going.

Mills unveiled a new lineup Monday night, moving steady Jeff Keppinger down in the order to strengthen the bottom of the lineup while flip-flopping Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee. Pence took over the No. 4 slot, with Lee hitting fifth in front of Keppinger, who has batted second most of the year.

The move was made, basically, so the Astros wouldn’t have their three weakest hitters bunched together at the bottom of the order. With Sanchez hitting second, he can make outs more useful by putting down bunts, hitting behind runners, etc.

I’ll let Mills explain it: “Kepp has done a great job for us all year, but we’re not being able to utilize what he’s been for us,” Mills said. “His on-base percentage is huge, and you want that from your No. 2 guy, but we’re not able to score him. He’s scored 37 runs and he’s been here all year.

“It’s a situation I’m hoping that we’ll be able to use his bat, because he is swinging the bat well, to drive in some runs. Hitting sixth and having a good hitter behind Carlos will get him some better pitches. Now Hunter is swinging the bat better, and I wanted to be able to split up Lance [Berkman] and Carlos. What this does is stretch out our lineup a little bit.”

The Astros tied a season high with five runs and seven hits in the first inning Monday.

Postgame notes from Astros-Giants

Here are some tidbits from the Astros’ 6-3 win over the Giants on Wednesday:

  • The Astros snapped a five-game losing streak overall and also snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Giants, which dated to Aug. 2, 2009.
  • Astros starter Brett Myers set an Astros franchise record by throwing at least six innings in 15 consecutive starts to begin the season. The last Astros pitcher to throw at least six innings in 15 consecutive starts at any point in the season was Roy Oswalt, who did so in 17 straight starts from Aug. 2, 2008 through April 27, 2009. Roger Clemens was the most recent Astros pitcher to have a 15-game streak in one season (2005).
  • Myers improved to 4-0 at home this season with a 2.68 ERA in eight starts. Entering the game, he was one of five Major League starters to be undefeated at home (minimum seven starts). Houston has won Myers’ last seven starts at Minute Maid Park.
  • Myers went 2-for-3 with an RBI, marking his second career multi-hit game (Sept. 11, 2003 at Atlanta).
  • Right-hander Matt Lindstrom converted his sixth save in his last 10 chances. He is 16-for-20 in save chances this season.
  • Right-hander Brandon Lyon owns a 1.75 ERA in his last 27 games, including 24 scoreless outings.
  • Second baseman Jeff Keppinger’s three RBIs are his most since a career-high four on May 19 against Colorado. He has four games this season at least three RBIs.
  • In his first at-bat with the Astros, Houston native Jason Bourgeois recorded his first hit since Sept. 25, 2009 vs. Philadelphia. He made his first start since Sept. 6, 2009 against the Giants.
  • The Astros committed three errors, which ties a season high for a game. Chris Johnson had two of those, giving him three errors in two games.


Who should represent Astros at All-Star Game?

We’re about a month away from the All-Star Game in Anaheim, and it appears unlikely the Astros will have anyone voted into the starting lineup, which isn’t surprising. Fans can still cast their votes for starters up to 25 times at and until July 1, but no Astros were in the running when the latest NL vote total was released last week.

So who should represent the Astros in the All-Star Game?

When it comes to position players, no one is really having an All-Star-type season. Jeff Keppinger, who isn’t on the ballot at second base, leads the team with a .292 batting average, 18 doubles and 21 multi-hit games, so perhaps he’ll get picked as a reserve. Right-fielder Hunter Pence, an All-Star a year ago, is hitting .260 with 10 homers and 28 RBIs and would be somewhat of a more jazzy pick than Keppinger. But the competition in the outfield will be fierce.

Former All-Stars Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee haven’t put up the numbers, and neither has Pedro Feliz.

Pitchers, of course, aren’t picked by the fans, so it could be up to the players, managers and coaches in the league to decide who the Astros’ All-Star rep will be. Roy Oswalt has been terrific this year, posting a 3.16 ERA in 13 starts (11 quality starts). But his 4-8 record from a lack of run support could cost him. Brett Myers (4-4, 3.18 ERA) has pitched into at least the sixth inning in all 13 of his starts, and he has a good relationship with NL manager Charlie Manuel of the Phillies.

But there are so many terrific pitching candidates in the NL, it might be hard to justify taking Oswalt or Myers. The bottom line is the Astros have to have at least one All-Star representative, and it’s anyone’s guess at this point who it might be.