Results tagged ‘ Kaz Matsui ’

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:

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.

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 face roster move ahead of Berkman activation

The Astros will likely activate first baseman Lance Berkman from the 15-day disabled list prior to Tuesday’s game against the Marlins, which means Puma will make his 2010 debut in the season’s 13th game.

Berkman, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee March 13, went 3-for-4 with a homer and a double Sunday in his second of two rehab starts at Triple-A Round Rock, and said after the game he was ready to return to action.

“I’ve already talked to Brad Mills and tried to call [general manager] Ed Wade,” Berkman told MLB.com via phone Sunday. “[Mills] asked me if I could go Tuesday, and I said, ‘Absolutely.’ He said is this the type of thing where we’re going to have to nurse you along, and I said, ‘No, you can run me out there for about 10 or 15 games and see what happens.’ I anticipate being in the lineup on Tuesday and not coming out of it until the end of the year.”

Berkman’s long-awaited returns means space has to be created on the 25-man roster. Berkman is an infielder, so it’s likely the Astros will have to make a move with an infielder. The likely choice is rookie Chris Johnson, who’s playing time would dwindle to nearly nothing when Berkman returns and plays first base and Pedro Feliz stays at third full time instead of getting some reps at first.

Could the Astros be considering doing something with Kaz Matsui? He has gotten buried on the bench while Jeff Keppinger is off to a .371 start at the plate. Matsui is hitting .095 but is still owed more than $5 million, so it’s unlikely the Astros would release him at this point. But if they’re going to commit to Keppinger, Matsui is not suited to coming off the bench.

The most important thing for the Astros is Berkman’s return to a lineup that sorely needs him.

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.

Day 32: Great day for the Astros on the field

With 11 players from Minor League camp in uniform, the Astros blasted the Pittsburgh Pirates 11-3 on Tuesday afternoon in Bradenton, Fla. They bashed out 11 hits and got good pitching across the board, including a very strong outing by starter Felipe Paulino.

Here’s the breakdown:

The good: Nothing was more impressive Tuesday than Paulino, who held the Pirates to seven hits (six singles), one walk and one run and struck out six batters in five innings in his longest outing of the spring. He threw 73 pitches, including 50 for strikes, and seemed to put everything together.

He’s been working on all spring with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg on simplifying his mechanics.

“I’m happy because that’s what I was looking for,” Paulino said. “I’ve been trying to battle my mechanics all Spring Training and I’m getting better. All that work I’ve been doing is coming together. At the same time, I’m getting smoother and you what happened. Everything was coming fast out of my hands.”

Houston manager Brad Mills was impressed with how Paulino escaped a jam in the first by striking out Lastings Milledge.

“When he got a couple of runners on, he was able to stop it right away and he did not allow the inning to build and that’s crucial and it was nice to see him get to that stage,” Mills said.

Brandon Lyon, making his second appearance in a Grapefruit League game, threw a crisp 1-2-3 sixth inning and had one strikeout. Mills missed the first half of the spring schedule while recuperating from having a cyst drained in his right shoulder.

“At this time of year, you’re trying to get results and I definitely feel like I have some work to do in a short period of time, but I feel pretty good about it,” he said.

Gary Majewski, a non-roster invitee, threw two scoreless innings in relief and allowed no hits, two walks and struck out two batters to lower his ERA to 7.00.

Offensively, there was plenty of good news to go around. Kat Matsui went 3-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI and is hitting .306, Jason Michaels went 2-for-3 to improve his average to .310, and Chris Shelton was 3-for-3 with two runs and four RBIs.

Even the Minor Leaguers got in the act. Drew Locke was 2-for-5 and made a terrific catch while flipping over the right-field railing to end the game, and center fielder T.J. Steele was 2-for-5 with two runs scored and an RBI.

The bad: I could nitpick and focus on Kaz Matsui and Minor Leaguer Collin DeLome getting picked off first base, but why spoil an otherwise great day?

What they said“I want opportunities to give wins to the Astros, and at the same time the Astros had confidence in me last year and they waited for me the last two years, and I have to do something better this year for them.” – Paulino.

What’s next: The Astros’ road trip continues Wednesday when they travel to Port St. Lucie to face the New York Mets at 12:10 p.m. CT on MLB.TV. Casey Daigle, a non-roster relief pitcher, will get the start for the Astros, whose rotation got jumbled because of Sunday’s rainout. Outfielders Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee, who didn’t travel with the team to Bradenton on Monday, are scheduled to make the trip to face the Mets. Jeff Fulchino, Matt Lindstrom and Tim Byrdak are also scheduled to throw for Houston.

Blum could see more playing time at second base

One of the benefits the Astros received from signing veteran Pedro Feliz to play third base this year is that it frees up Geoff Blum to do other things. Sure, he’ll see some playing time at third, but he’s also capable of playing shortstop, second base and first base.

Blum only appeared in one game at shortstop last year and will be down the depth chart at that position, behind Tommy Manzella and Jeff Keppinger. He won’t get much playing time at first base, either, unless Lance Berkman gets injured.

That leaves second base, where starter Kaz Matsui is going to have to produce in the final year of his contract. Matsui has been a disappointment offensively with the Astros, even though he played in a career-high 132 games last year. He hit .250 with an on-base percentage of only .302.

Blum, a switch-hitter, is more than capable of playing long stretches at second base if Matsui struggles or gets injured, and general manager Ed Wade said last week he and manager Brad Mills won’t hesitate to use Blum at second.

“Millsie and I have talked, and my opinion to him is we need to put the best lineup on the field we can put out there,” Wade said. “Our hope is Kaz is playing the majority of the time, but we’ve got alternatives. If there’s a point in time it looks like giving either Geoff Blum or Keppinger more at-bats over there [will help the offense] or if Edwin Maysonet makes the club and is playing well, we have to be opened-minded about putting our most productive lineup on the field.”

 

Astros battling sickness

Second baseman Kaz Matsui was scratched from the starting lineup Sunday with flu-like symptoms, and he’s not the only player dealing with sniffling, sneezing and coughing. Tommy Manzella, Edwin Maysonet, Miguel Tejada, Michael Bourn, Humberto Quintero and first base coach Jose Cruz are also dealing with various illness issues.

“We could go around the clubhouse and say that about a lot of guys,” interim manager Dave Clark said. “It’s just out there right now, and hopefully we can over this thing pretty quick.”

_____________________________________________________________________________

Roy Oswalt, who won’t pitch in the final week of the season, was kicking back and relaxing in the clubhouse prior to Sunday’s game and was nice enough to give me a quick update on his back condition. Oswalt, who has a bulging disk in his back, will be doing more cycling and swimming in the offseason to help strengthen his core.

Oswalt is going to cut down on his running, which means no more running stadium steps like he has done in the past.

“As far as core work, I’ve been doing the same thing all year,” Oswalt said. “The last days I’ve felt pretty good, but I’ve had eight days off. It’s the first time I’ve had eight days off in a row, so I think I just needed a little time.”

_____________________________________________________________________________

Left-hander Mike Hampton, who underwent rotator cuff surgery on Sept. 15 and won’t pitch in 2010, made a visit to the clubhouse on Sunday and was still wearing a sling.

“I have a long way to go, but I should be alright,” he said. “Sleeping is the toughest part right now, but it’s better than it was. I’ll start rehabbing here in another week or so and go through the whole deal and get healthy and see if I can strike my kids out.”

Wright progressing, Matsui slumping and September call-ups

Astros left-hander Wesley Wright is scheduled to throw in the bullpen Sunday before going out on a Minor League rehab assignment to Triple-A Round Rock. Wright has been on the DL since Aug. 12 with a left shoulder strain that is the result from arm fatigue.

“I’m doing whatever I can to get my legs in shape until my arm gets back to where it needs to be,” Wright said. “It’s close and I’m ready to give it some games and see how it reacts. I’m just ready to get back on the mound. This year has been a long, frustrating one for me.”

After going 4-3 with a 5.01 ERA in 71 appearances in his rookie year in 2008, Wright is 2-2 with a 5.97 ERA in 33 games this year. He’s been shuffled between Round Rock and the Astros after spending all of last season in the Major Leagues, and he was even wheeled out of Wrigley Field on a stretcher last month after suffering from dehydration.

“I had heard about the sophomore slump or jinx or whatever you want to call it,” he said. “As an athlete, you try not to believe in those things, but perhaps. I was sitting here watching TV and I saw the [2008 National League] Rookie of the Year [Geovany Soto] is hitting .217. Baseball is a game where you constantly have to made adjustments. That’s what I’m in the progress of doing.”

______________________________________________________________________________

Kaz Matsui was back in the lineup Saturday with hopes of breaking out of a 1-for-25 slump, including no hits in his last 14 at-bats. He entered Saturday hitting .235, but has been especially poor from the left side of the plate. He’s hitting .222 left-handed and .290 right-handed.

“His left-handed swing has not been there,” manager Cecil Cooper said. “He has not had the good left-handed swing. He has not had the patience he normally has left-handed. As a matter of fact, he looks like a different hitter left-handed than he looked a year ago.”

Matsui hit .293 in 96 games in his first season with the Astros last year, batting .291 right-handed and .294 left-handed. He was on the disabled list three different times, but has managed to avoid the DL but one time this year. Saturday marked his 95th game.
Cooper said he will continue to play Matsui.

“The guy can do so many things for us,” Cooper said. “When he does get on, he can run. He’s one of the two or three guys we have that goes first to third without any problems. We have to keep him healthy and give him time off and hopefully in these last few games he finds his swing because we need him to be an offensive force for us as a left-handed hitter.”

_____________________________________________________________________________

Don’t expect the Astros to have a flurry of September call-ups when the rosters can be expanded to 40 players on Sept. 1. Astros general manager Ed Wade believes in calling up players who are going to play a role on the team and doesn’t believe in using the call-ups as a reward.

The Astros already expect to get back injured pitchers Doug Brocail and Wesley Wright, along with rehabbing infielder Aaron Boone.

“Whether it’s playing defense or pinch-running or pinch-hitting, you have to fill a need,” manager Cecil Cooper said. “Or maybe be a guy that’s a good situational pitcher that comes in.”

Among those likely to be called up is catcher J.R. Towles, who is recovering from an injury and might not be ready. Most teams like to add a third catching option for September. But don’t expect Chris Johnson and Tommy Manzella to get a call. Not only are they unlikely to get playing time, but they will begin to accrue Major League service time when recalled.

Cooper explains Saturday's lineup

The Astros had an unusual lineup Saturday against the Dodgers with Chris Coste at first base and Jason Michaels in center field. Coste was playing in place of the injured Lance Berkman, and Michaels was in place of Michael Bourn, who was given the day off.

“I need to get Michaels going somehow,” manager Cecil Cooper said. “I think this is a pretty good test, and the other guy [Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw] has been tough against left-handed hitters. This will give Michaels a chance to hopefully get going.”

This will be the 10th start of the season for Michaels. He’s hitting .173 this season, and eight of his 13 hits have been doubles.

Coste, acquired July 10 off waivers from Philadelphia, will be making his first start for the Astros while facing a left-handed starter.

“That’s going to be his role for now,” Cooper said. “That’s going to be a role he can fill.”

Second baseman Kaz Matsui, who’s hitting lead-off with Bourn out, has four consecutive multi-hit games coming into Saturday. He has reached base safely via a hit or walk in 10 consecutive games. Batting right-handed, he’s hitting .348 with a .444 on-base percentage this year.

“He’s been really going strong,” he said. “He’s really swung good from the right side. The left side, he’s been missing a little bit and chasing a lot of bad balls. The last few games he’s looked much better from the left side.”

Cooper said Matsui would likely be out of the lineup Sunday for rest.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 73 other followers