Results tagged ‘ Mark Melancon ’

Luhnow’s first trade is a good one

Less than a week after being introduced as general manager of the Astros, Jeff Luhnow put his first major imprints on the club when he acquired Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie and pitcher Kyle Weiland in exchange for closer Mark Melancon.

“For me, it’s the classic win-win trade,” Luhnow said. “Boston had the need for a bullpen arm. We’re going to suffer a loss in our bullpen by not having Melancon there for us, but what we’re able to get back is a guy who can play a premium position and who has had success with the bat and who has done a lot of good things. To add on top of that a young pitcher capable of being a starting pitcher in the big leagues, we felt this is an opportunity to take advantage of.”

I’m never one to judge trades until you get a better idea of how the players will perform in their new uniforms, but at first glance this appears to be a good deal for both sides. But, in this space, let’s focus on the Astros.

The Astros needed a shortstop after losing Clint Barmes and they got one in the hard-nosed Lowrie, who could probably use a fresh start. He’s a switch-hitter who’s under club control for three more years, so he fits into what the Astros are doing. You can bet Astros manager Brad Mills gave his endorsement of Lowrie, considering he was his bench coach in Boston for two years.

Sure, the Astros had internal candidates to play shortstop from a group including Angel Sanchez, Diory Hernandez, Rule 5 pick-up Marwin Gonzalez and non-roster invitee Brian Bixler, but Lowrie is a better option to be the everyday man at shortstop.

Lowrie, 27, has played a part-time role with the Red Sox since 2008, appearing a career-high 88 games last season and hitting .252/.303/.382. He had his best year in 2010 when he hit .287/.381/.526 with nine homers and 24 RBIs, but he was limited to 171 at-bats. He’s a career .214 hitter with a .293 on-base percentage as a left-hander and a .326 hitter with a .385 on-base percentage as a right-hander.

Weiland, a 25-year-old right-hander who went to Notre Dame, made a steady rise through Boston’s system after being drafted in the third round in 2008. He got his feet wet in the Majors last season, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t come to Astros camp and compete for a spot in the rotation. He throws in the low 90’s with his fastball, but can hit 95 mph and has good sink, according to scouting reports. He was a closer at Notre Dame, but appears to have a future in the rotation.

The Astros will miss Melancon, who went 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and 20 saves in his first full season in the Majors last year. He moved into the closer’s role when Brandon Lyon went down for the season with an injury and he appears to have a bright future, but the Astros have a growing crop of young bullpen arms, including Rule 5 pick-up Rhiner Cruz and David Carpenter, who made his debut last year. Lyon will return healthy next year and could close in the final year of his contract.

Plus, the Astros are unlikely to contend next year, so having a lights-out closer isn’t tantamount. Expect the club to get a good look next year at several arms they believe could close in the future.

The bottom line is the Astros traded one young player and received two more in return. The rebuilding continues.

Let’s take a stab at what the Astros’ Opening Day lineup could look like:

CF Jordan Schafer (L)

2B Jose Altuve (R)

LF J.D. Martinez (R)

1B Carlos Lee (R)

RF Brian Bogusevic (L)

3B Jimmy Paredes (S)

SS Jed Lowrie (S)

C Jason Castro (L)

Report: Astros acquire Lowrie, pitcher from Red Sox for Melancon

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow made his first significant player move Wednesday, acquiring infielder Jed Lowrie and pitcher Kyle Weiland from the Red Sox in exchange for reliever Mark Melancon, according Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com.

The Astros couldn’t be reached to confirm the deal.

The Astros acquired Melancon from the Yankees at the Trade Deadline in 2010 as part of the Lance Berkman deal.

Lowrie, a 27-year-old switch-hitter, would satisfy the Astros’ need for a shortstop following the departure of Clint Barmes in free agency. He’s a career .252 hitter with 19 homers and 117 RBIs in 256 games with the Red Sox since 2008, and he batted .252 with six homers and 36 RBIs last season.

Weiland, 25, is a right-hander who made his Major League debut last season and was 0-3 with a 7.66 ERA in seven games (five starts). A third-round pick of the 2008 Draft, he went 23-31 with a 3.51 ERA in 90 career games in the Minor Leagues, including 85 starts.

Melancon, 26, could fill the Red Sox’s need for a closer. He pitched in a career-high 71 games for the Astros last season and was 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and saved 20 games. He took over as closer in the first half of the season after Brandon Lyon went down with an arm injury.

Melancon sees action in Taiwan

Astros closer Mark Melancon made his first appearance for the Major League All-Stars in their tour of Taiwan by pitching a scoreless ninth inning Friday night in a 6-2 win over the the Chinese Taipei national team in Taichung.

The MLB All-Stars won, 3-2, on Saturday to take a 4-0 lead in the five-game set heading into Sunday’s finale, which will air on MLB.TV and MLB Network at 8 p.m. CT.

Click here to see Melancon get the final out.

Astros bullpen enjoying success

No one is more encouraged by how well the Astros’ bullpen has pitched in the last few weeks than interim pitching coach Doug Brocail, who took over June 14 when Brad Arnsberg was let go by the team.

Houston’s bullpen, which currently consists of five rookies, entered Saturday having posted a 0.95 ERA in its last 14 games. Astros relievers had allowed four earned runs in 38 innings pitching during that span. Still, the Astros are last in the National League with a 4.40 ERA.

“The guys are throwing well, especially from where we were,” Brocail said. “Every time we’ve called on them, they’ve done a good job. I think the important thing is they’re picking each other up. If a guy comes in and doesn’t get the job done, we’ve been really good lately about picking him up. It’s nice to see that we’re getting some things accomplished.

“When I came on, the big worry was ‘Oh my God, you inherited a bullpen that’s blown 19 saves.’ You know what? They’re all rookies. They’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to get better and hopefully learn from it and that’s where we’re at now.”

Right-handers David Carpenter, Enerio Del Rosario, Anuery Rodriguez and Fernando Rodriguez are rookies, along with left-hander Sergio Escalona. The only non-rookies in the bullpen are close Mark Melancon, who was a rookie last year, and set-up man Wilton Lopez, who’s in his second full year.

“The thing is, when you have some rookies you’ve got to make sure they’re communicating and talking to each other,” Brocail said. “We’ve tried to stress that.”

Blown saves costing the Astros

As an Astros fan, it’s probably hard to stomach the team’s 13-21 record considering they’ve blown nine saves this year — the most in the Major Leagues. The Astros have converted only five of 14 save chances, which translates to a league-worst 35.7 save conversion rate. Last year, the Astros blew 15 saves in the entire season.

The struggles of the bullpen, which is last in the Majors with a 5.54 ERA and .305 batting average against, were on full display Sunday when left-hander Fernando Abad gave up a three-run homer in the eighth inning to Ryan Doumit, allowing the Pirates to steal a 5-4 win.

The Astros have rallied to win three of the games in which they have blown a save, so it’s safe to say blown saves have cost them six wins. That’s the difference between being 19-15 and 13-21 – their record heading into Monday’s game against the Reds.

Although it’s unreasonable to expect any team to have not blown a save a month into the season (every team has blown at least one save), letting six wins get away can have a huge effect on the standings. A 19-15 record would put the Astros in first place in the NL Central (one of the blown saves was against St. Louis, which is currently 20-15).

Mark Melancon and Jeff Fulchino have both blown one save, but they’ve been pretty effective this year. Melancon has allowed 14 hits and struck out 12 in 16 2/3 innings, and Fulchino has allowed 15 hits and has struck out 15 batters in 16 innings.

Lyon, the team’s closer, has blown four saves and landed on the disabled list last week with biceps tendinitis and a partial tear of his rotator cuff after blowing a game in Cincinnati. Enerio Del Rosario (5.14 ERA), Wilton Lopez (5.14), Abad (7.50) haven’t been as effective as the team had hoped.

Here’s a breakdown of the Astros’ nine blown saves (games the Astros won are in italics):

  • April 1 at Philadelphia – Astros lead 4-2 going into the bottom of the ninth inning before the Phillies rally on Opening Day for three runs off Brandon Lyon to win, 5-4.
  • April 8 vs. Florida – With a 2-1 lead through seven innings, Wilton Lopez gives up two in the eighth to blow a save in a 4-3 loss to Marlins.
  • April 17 vs. San Diego – The Astros led, 6-4, through seventh innings before Mark Melancon gave up four runs (two earned) in the eighth. The Padres win, 8-6.
  • April 23 at Milwaukee – Brandon Lyon allows one run in the eighth to tie the game, but the Astros score three in the ninth to win, 9-6.
  • April 26 vs. Chicago – Jeff Fulchino gives up a run in the eighth inning of one-run game, but the Astros rally to win, 6-5.
  • April 28 vs. St. Louis – The Cardinals erupt for nine runs in the sixth inning to wipe out a 4-1 deficit, with Fernando Abad giving up four runs in two-thirds of an inning to blow the save. St. Louis wins, 11-7.
  • April 30 vs. Milwaukee – Brandon Lyon allows a run in the ninth, but Astros score a run in bottom of inning to win, 2-1.
  • May 4 at Cincinnati – Reds score three in the bottom of the night without an out off Brandon Lyon to win, 3-2.
  • May 8 at Pittsburgh – Fernando Abad gives up a three-run home in the bottom of the eighth to Ryan Doumit to allow Pirates to win, 5-4.

First plate appearance eventful for Melancon

Astros pitcher Mark Melancon made his first career plate appearance in the seventh inning Thursday night, and it was one to remember. Melancon scrambled for a batting helmet and bat and wound up drawing a walk in an eight-pitch at-bat against Padres starter Dustin Moseley, even though he thought he had struck out looking earlier in the at-bat and began heading to the dugout.

“I have to give so much respect to Dustin Moseley because I played with him last year and he’s one of the classiest guys I’ve ever played with,” Melancon said. “To be able to have my first at-bat against him, I’m pretty thankful for that. It’s pretty neat to face a guy that you have so much respect for. He pitched a heck of a game. He was average eight or nine pitches an inning. It was pretty neat to face him and then Nick Hundley was my catcher in college, so it was a pretty cool at-bat for me.”

Melancon borrowed a helmet from Jason Bourgeois and a bat from Brett Wallace.

“Wallace gave me his bat and said, ‘That’s the lightest one I’ve got,'” Melancon said. “I looked at him and said,’ I can use a heavy one.'”

When asked about the pitch he thought was a strike, Melancon had some fun.

“It was a close pitch,” he said. “I just assumed the umpire was going to ring me up because I’m a pitcher and never had an at-bat before, and I figured he was ringing me up and I was kind of alright with that, I guess. I think Hundley was assuming the same thing and I know he was wanting the same thing. When he called ball I was pretty excited to be back in the box, for sure.”

When the inning was over, Melancon had to focus on the job he gets paid to do and wound up pitching out of a mess in the eighth.

“I threw eight warm-up pitches and every one of my warm-up pitches I had no idea where the ball was going, and about the third one I said ‘OK, I understand I just had my at-bat, but this is a big part of the game and I have to bear down and focus on pitching, because that’s what I’m here to do,'” he said. “It took me five more pitches to do that, and fortunately when the guy got back in the box I was ready to go and calmed down from the AB and being on base, which was like being on Mars for me.”

Here are postgame notes:

  • Thursday marked the Astros first shutout of the season and first since blanking the Cubs 4-0 on the last game of the season last year. It also marked the club’s first 1-0 shutout since beating the D-Backs by that count on Aug. 21, 2009. The team’s previous 1-0 shutout,in which itallowed three hits or less came on June 7, 2006, vs. Chicago.
  • The last time the Astros shutout the Padres was on May 8, 2009, and the last time they did so while allowing three hits or less, was on Sept. 17, 1993. The last time the Astros beat the Padres by a count of 1-0, while allowing three hits or less, was on May 24, 1991.
  • CF Michael Bourn’s stolen base in the sixth inning marked the Astros 500th stolen base at Minute Maid Park. Bourn now has 81 career stolen bases at Minute Maid Park, all coming as an Astro, and is the all-time leader in that category at MMP. Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman are tied for second on that list with 39 apiece.
  • RHP Bud Norris tossed six scoreless innings, allowing two hits and three walks, while fanning seven. He has now tossed 13 consecutive scoreless innings againt the Padres, dating back to his seven-inning performance on July 3, 2010 at San Diego.
  • RHP Mark Melancon tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings tonight and has not been scored upon in 7 2/3 innings of relief this season. That marks the club’s longest scoreless innings streak in 2011. He leads all Astros relievers in games and innings pitched.
  • 1B Brett Wallace extended his career-long hitting streak to seven games by doubling in the second inning Thursday. During the run, Wallace is hitting .375 with two doubles, one home run and 4 RBIs.
  • 3B Matt Downs has run his career-long hitting streak to five  games, hitting at .538 (7-for-13) in that span. His previous long streak was three games, most recently accomplished from June 13-Sept 7, 2010.
  •  C Humberto Quintero went 2-for-3 Thursday and has now gone 5-for-6 with a walk in his last seven plate appearances. Along with catcher J.R. Towles, Astros catchers have combined to hit .348 (16-for-46) with three doubles, one home run and three RBIs.

Postgame notes from Monday’s loss to Cubs

The Astros teased their fans on Monday night and nearly pulled off what would have been a terrific comeback. The Astros were trailing 5-1 in the seventh when they rallied for three runs off Cubs starter Ryan Dempster, getting a pinch-hit solo home run from Hall and a two-run homer by Angel Sanchez – the first of his career – to cut the lead to 5-4.

Then the frustration kicked in. The Astros were 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position, including 2-for-7 in the final three innings, and stranded a total of 12 runners.

“It’s tough when you have the record we have to take away moral victories,” Hall said. “Moral victories won’t get you in the playoffs, but at the same time we’ve got to take this momentum we did gain tonight and take it into [Tuesday].”

Here are some postgame tidbits:

  • Houston has recorded double-digit hits in each of the last four games and is hitting .324 in that span.
  • Astros starting pitchers posted a 1-1 record and a 3.77 ERA through their second turn in the rotation. In the first turn, Astros starters combined for an 0-4 record and a 9.62 ERA.
  • Houston’s bullpen combined for five scoreless, hitless innings and has not allowed a run since Saturday, a span 6 2/3 innings.
  • SS Angel Sanchez hit his first career Major League home run in his 317th career at-bat in the seventh inning. The game marked Sanchez’s second multi-RBI game of 2011 (April 5 at Cincinnati).
  • Matt Downs, who recorded a RBI-pinch-hit single in the fifth, is 3-for-7 with three RBIs in his last three games.
  • Bill Hall hit his sixth career pinch-home run in the sixth inning with he clanked one of the right-field foul pole. It is his first pinch-hit homer since May 14, 2010 at Detroit, and the first by an Astros player since Jason Michaels on Aug. 1, 2010 against the Brewers.
  • Bill Hall has an extra-base hit in each of his last three games (double, triple and homer).
  • CF Michael Bourn and Bill Hall each extended their hitting streaks to a team-leading six  games. During their streak, Bourn is hitting .320 (8-for-25) and Hall is hitting .368 (7-for19).
  • RHP Mark Melancon tossed one scoreless inning and has not allowed a run in his six appearances this season, covering five innings.
  • Monday’s s attendance of 20,175 is the second-smallest crowd in Minute Maid Park history, trailing a crowd of 18,594 on April 8, 2003 against the Reds.
  • All fans with a valid ticket to tonight’s game will receive a free sandwich at Chick-fil-A on Tuesday courtesy of Bill Hall’s seventh-inning home run, which hit the right -field foul pole.

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.

Astros arms race chugging along

The Astros have 30 healthy pitchers in camp, many of whom have a chance to make the team. There will be only 12 spots on the active Major League roster on Opening Day, and the battles for the final spots in the rotation and in the bullpen figure to go down the final days of camp. Considering that Thursday was only the second day, we have miles to go.

The pitchers who didn’t throw off the bullpen mounds Wednesday were able to get on the bump Thursday, including Mark Melancon, Bud Norris, Nelson Figueroa and Ryan Rowland-Smith. Astros manager Brad Mills stood behind the pack of 10 mounds and watched this group of pitchers throw for the first time this spring.

“Bud threw the ball really well,” Mills said. “I thought the command Rowland-Smitih showed down in the zone was really good. We’ve seen some good arms the last few days.”

Mills said he didn’t get a chance to see Alberto Arias throw in a controlled setting for the first time since he underwent right shoulder surgery April 22, but he made it a point to ask the right-hander how he felt.

“He said his arm felt fine,” Mills said.

The pitching groups will alternate throwing in the bullpen the next two days before taking Sunday off. Position players work out for the first time Sunday, and they will get thrown right into the fire. Mills said the pitchers will throw live batting practice to the hitters on Monday.

Meanwhile, the position players continue to trickle into the facility. Matt Downs arrived Thursday morning, and Jason Bourgeois checked in the afternoon.

Earlier today, I posted a photo of Sergio Escalona wearing Roy Oswalt’s No. 44 jersey. It was an unusual sight, to say the least, so I’m capping today’s coverage with another unusual sight — the great beard of relief pitcher Jeff Fulchino. At least, I think that’s Fulchino behind that hair.

beard.jpg 

Astros stockpile young talent

The Astros’ success from 1997-2005 was a product of some terrific front-office moves. They drafted well, made some key free-agent signings and weren’t afraid to trade away some of their top prospects to get players in return. When the big contracts become burdensome and the youth pipeline began to dry up, the Astros were forced to shift course.

What made matters worse was the disastrous draft of 2007, which led to a shake up in the front office. Ed Wade took over as general manager and was asked to rebuild a farm system considered one of the worst in baseball, and one of the first thing he’s he did was hire Bobby Heck as scouting director.

The 2008 draft produced catcher Jason Castro and pitcher Jordan Lyles, and the Astros are still waiting to see what the 2009 and 2010 drafts produce, though several of their top prospects came from those drafts, including 2009 first-round pick Jiovanni Mier.

But what Wade and his staff have managed to do is add even more young players to the system in the past few months with a series of trades, as well as the Rule 5 draft. Here’s a look at the moves the teams has made since July 1 that have netted 11 young players in return:

  • July 1, 2010 – Acquired infielder Angel Sanchez from Boston in exchange for Kevin Cash.
    Comment: Sanchez did a nice job at the plate while starting at shortstop for much of the second half of the season while Tommy Manzella was on the disabled list. Sanchez has no power and is limited defensively, but he has skills.
  • July 29, 2010 – Acquired pitcher J.A. Happ, infielder Jonathan Villar and outfielder Anthony Gose from Phillies in exchange for Roy Oswalt.
    Comment: Oswalt didn’t want to be in Houston anymore, and the Astros were thrilled to get the switch-hitting Villar, who immediately became one of the team’s top prospects.
  • July 29, 2010 – Acquired first baseman Brett Wallace from Blue Jays in exchange for Gose.
    Comment: With Lance Berkman on his way out, the Astros spun Gose to the Blue Jays for Wallace, who became the starting first baseman at the Major League level.
  • July 31, 2010 – Acquired pitcher Mark Melancon and infielder Jimmy Paredes from the Yankees in exchange for Lance Berkman.
    Comment: The Astros weren’t going to pick up Berkman’s hefty option for 2011, so he agreed to a trade to the Yankees. Melancon is a key part to the bullpen, and Paredes is a speedy third baseman who was put on the 40-man roster.
  • Aug. 19, 2010 – Acquired pitcher David Carpenter from the Cardinals in exchange for Pedro Feliz.
    Comment: With rookie Chris Johnson tearing it up at the plate, Feliz was done in Houston. Still, the Astros managed to get something for him in a trade. Carpenter was added to the 40-man roster and could be in the mix this year in the bullpen.
  • Dec. 9, 2010 – Selected right-handers Aneury Rodriguez and Lance Pendleton in the Rule 5 Draft.
    Comment: Both Rodriguez and Pendleton will compete for a spot in the rotation this spring, but they must remain on the active roster or be offered back to their former clubs (Rodriguez came from the Rays and Pendleton the Yankees).
  • Dec. 23, 2010 – Acquired left-hander Wes Musick and right-hander Jonnathan Aristil from the Rockies in exchange for Matt Lindstrom.
    Comment: Lindstrom was due for a big raise in arbitration, and the Astros were worried about his health and inconsistency last year. They got a pair of young arms in return who have some potential.
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