Results tagged ‘ Jeff Keppinger ’

Keppinger gets shot in wake of Matsui departure

Jeff Keppinger is the Astros’ starting second baseman. In all honesty, Keppinger had been the starter after the first week of the season, but he had been pretty much splitting playing time with Kaz Matsui. Keppinger made his 21st start of the season at second base Wednesday, the day Matsui was given his walking papers after a terrible start at the plate.

Keppinger isn’t going to make anyone forget Craig Biggio. He has no power, but he’s a reliable and dependable player who doesn’t strike out much at all and gets the most out of his at-bats. He went 3-for-5 on Wednesday with two doubles and four RBIs and relishes hitting behind the speedy Michael Bourn and getting all those fastballs from pitchers who are afraid of Bourn’s speed.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Keppinger said of the chance for more starts at second. “That’s why I’m here. I’ve always looked at myself as a second baseman and I’ve always tried to be able to be a starter. I don’t know if they’ve named me a starter or what, but they keep running me out there and batting me in the two hole. That’s fine with me.”

Defensively, Keppinger isn’t flashy. He’s going to make the routine plays and every now and then get himself on a highlight reel. He’s a low-key, no-frills player whom his teammates love because he plays the game hard and without fanfare.

“The name of the game when you’re hitting is to hit the ball,” Keppinger said. “All I try to do put the barrel on it and put it in play and from there you can’t control much else. If you hit a ball hard and you hit it at them, you’re out. That’s going to happen a lot.

“But the more times you put the ball in play, the more chances you have of getting a hit. In the field, I’m just trying to catch the ball and I’ll figure out what to do with it after that.”

Keppinger isn’t the long-term answer at second, but he’s certainly earned a shot now that Matsui is out of the picture. Matsui, although the utmost professional, will be viewed as a huge bust in Houston after signing a three-year $16.5-deal to replace Biggio.

Matsui played well in 2008 but couldn’t stay on the field. He played a career-high 132 games in 2009, but didn’t play well. This year, he just looked like he was washed up.

So the Astros eat the rest of his contract and move on. They’ve called 25-year-old infielder Oswaldo Navarro, who can give them some more versatility off the bench, which is important considering Keppinger will be in the lineup for the immediate future.

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.”

 

Mills juggling lineups

Astros manager Brad Mills has used 11 different lineups in the first 11 games of the season, which isn’t too surprising when you consider the offensive struggles the club has had this year. Mills is trying to find something, anything that will get the team going.

On Saturday, he had Jeff Keppinger in the leadoff spot against a left-hander. That’s mostly because center fielder Michael Bourn is nursing a groin injury, but Keppinger is a great choice to hit leadoff against lefthanders. He hits lefties well and the running game is somewhat diminished with a left-hander on the mound.

The fact that Keppinger is in the lineup at all is a good thing, considering he’s swinging the bat so well and Kaz Matsui isn’t.

Mills has also had to change his lineup with Lance Berkman on the disabled list. With Berkman out, Pedro Feliz is getting starts at first base against lefties with Chris Johnson starting at third. Feliz is generally at third and Geoff Blum at first against right-handers. If Berkman were healthy, he’d be making all the starts at first, Feliz would be entrenched at third and there would be less lineup combinations.

Ultimately, Mills would like to settle on a more consistent lineup. That won’t happen until the club starts winning and Berkman is back.

“You’d like to settle on something,” Mills said.

What is going to be interesting is what the Astros will do when Berkman returns on Tuesday, as it appears he will. With Feliz returning to third, that would probably mean Johnson would be the odd man out, but what do you do with Matsui if he’s not playing?

 

Keppinger should be starting at second base

Jeff Keppinger isn’t going to hit .391 for the season, and he’s probably not going to hit .291 when all is said and done, either. He’s a career .279 hitter entering this year, but is off to a terrific start at the plate in 2010 after going 2-for-4 with three RBIs as the starting shortstop in Thursday’s win — yes, win — over the St. Louis Cardinals. Kaz Matsui, on the other hand, is hitting .095.

At this point, I’m all for Keppinger getting the bulk of the playing time at second base. He’s proven to be a better hitter in his career than Matsui, who’s a career .271 hitter entering this year. Neither one provides much power, though Matsui did hit nine homers in a career-high 132 games last year. Matsui had a stellar year on defense last year, but Keppinger is no slouch and will make most of the plays Matsui will make.

It’s probably not wise to make a judgment on a player nine games into the season, but Matsui has been a disappointed since he was signed to replace Craig Biggio following the 2007 season. He’s in the last year of a three-year deal, so what do the Astros have to lose by starting Keppinger at second base? Perhaps they could trade Matsui down the road or even release him if he continues to struggle, but the best Astros team right now is with Keppinger at second base.

Keppinger doesn’t strike out nearly as much as Matsui and kills left-handed pitchers. He struck out only 82 times in 1,181 career at-bats coming into this year, and he led the Majors in 2008 by striking out once every 20.9 plate appearances.

Kudos to manager Brad Mills for trying to find ways to keep Keppinger in the lineup as long as he’s swinging at hot bat, whether it’s at shorstop or second base. He can even play some third and first base. The problem is putting Keppinger in the starting lineup on a full-time basis weakens the bench. Keppinger is tremendously valuable coming off the bench because of versatility, which is something Matsui doesn’t possess.

But Keppinger should continue to be in the lineup every day, and he should be starting at second base as long as Matsui has trouble getting on base.

Astros injury updates

Roy Oswalt was unavailable to the media Monday morning because the Astros sent him to the doctor have an upper-respiratory infection checked out. Oswalt, who left Saturday’s game with tightness in his lower back, said he had flu-like aches during the game.

As far as his back is concerned, Oswalt gave manager Cecil Cooper a thumbs-up Monday, leading Cooper to believe that Oswalt would be available to pitch Thursday against Atlanta. And general manager Ed Wade concurred.

“All indications I’ve gotten from [pitching coach] Dewey [Robinson] and from [head athletic trainer] Nate [Lucero] are that he should be ready to go in his next start,” Wade said.

Meanwhile, infielder Jeff Keppinger was unavailable Monday because of a stiff back and remains day-to-day. Reliever Alberto Arias, on the disabled list with a right hamstring strain, received a pain-killing injection in his right knee over the weekend is feeling better.

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