Results tagged ‘ Matt Lindstrom ’

Lindstrom reacts to trade to Rockies

Matt Lindstrom was shoveling ice and snow from his mother’s driveway Thursday morning in Rexburg, Idaho, when he phone started going crazy. He soon found out he had been traded for the second consecutive offseason, but the news wasn’t all necessarily bad.

Lindstrom, who makes his offseason home in the Denver area, had been traded to the Colorado Rockies, who sent Minor League left-handed pitcher Wes Musick and right-handed pitcher Jonnathan Aristil to the Astros. “It’s pretty exciting,” Lindstrom told MLB.com on Thursday. “It’s a little bit bittersweet because I enjoyed my time in Houston so much and all my teammates and everyone was really good to me down there. I’m going to miss even [the media]. At times I wasn’t as good as I thought I was, but [the media] wasn’t too hard on me. I’m really excited to get going to Colorado and help them out and provide late-inning relief, especially because that’s where I spend my offseason.”

Lindstrom said he had talked to both Astros general manager Ed Wade and Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd on Thursday.

“[O'Dowd] clued me in on what they’re going to have me do and that’s provide late-inning relief,” he said. “Whatever the innings may be, there’s a lot of good guys over there already and hopefully I can contribute.”

Lindstrom, whom the Astros acquired a year ago in a trade with the Marlins, went 2-5 with a 4.39 ERA and a team-high 23 saves in 58 appearances. Lindstrom lost his closer’s job when he struggled in the second half of the year and wound up spending two weeks on the disabled list with a lower back strain.

“There were things I learned through my journey last year,” Lindstrom said. “I’m just going to take care of myself and be healthy all year and I know if I can do those things, good things will happen.”

When asked how he feels now, Lindstrom said: “Feel awesome.”

Lindstrom made $1.625 million last season and was due a raise in arbitration, which made him a candidate to be traded by the budget-minded Astros. Houston has feels good about its bullpen depth, with Brandon Lyon saving 20 games last season and Wilton Lopez developing into a dependable late-inning arm.

The Astros have also shopped infielder Jeff Keppinger, who started at second base for most of last season but has been pushed back to the bench by the signing of Bill Hall earlier this week. Houston traded with the Rockies in November to acquire shortstop Clint Barmes. Keppinger is still dealing with foot issues.

With the acquisitions of pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith, Barmes and Hall and trading away Lindstrom, the Astros are pretty much done this offseason, unless they can find a taker for Keppinger. They are also still in the market for a left-handed reliever.

In the last sixh months, the Astros traded away Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Pedro Feliz and Lindstrom and got eight prospects in return, plus they took two more in the Rule 5 Draft. That’s 10 young players injected into the system.

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I am on vacation all of next week — like I was this week, with the exception of helping my colleagues here and there on all the Astros news that happened — and I want to wish everyone who reads this blog a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Spring Training is around the corner!

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: relief pitching

Here it is: the eighth and final installment of the Astros’ position-by-position breakdown. Today we’ll take a look at relief pitching, which general manager Ed Wade says is one of the strengths of the team. Before we get to the bullpen, here are the links to the previous seven entries in the series (click on the desired position to view the entry): catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, outfield, starting pitcher.

RELIEF PITCHING

2010 bullpen to begin season: Brian Moehler, Jeff Fulchino, Sammy Gervacio, Chris Sampson, Tim Byrdak, Matt Lindstrom and Brandon Lyon.

2010 end-of-season bullpen: Fernando Abad, Tim Byrdak, Gustavo Chacin, Enerio Del Rosario, Jeff Fulchino, Matt Lindstrom, Wilton Lopez, Brandon Lyon, Mark Melancon, Felipe Paulino, Henry Villar and Wesley Wright.

Others who made an appearance: Nelson Figueroa, Brian Moehler, Casey Daigle, Gary Majewski, Kevin Cash.

Combined 2010 stats of Astros relief pitchers: 24-23 record, 45 saves in 60 opportunities, 4.49 ERA (ranked 13th in the NL).

Free agents: None.

Arbitration eligible: LHP Tim Byrdak, LHP Gustavo Chacin, RHP Matt Lindstrom, RHP Felipe Paulino.

What happened: The Astros traded for hard-throwing Matt Lindstrom last December and plunked down $15 million on a three-year contract for Brandon Lyon to bolster the back end of the bullpen after losing both Jose Valverde and LaTroy Hawkins to free agency. Lyon developed a cyst in his shoulder and was behind all spring, opening the door for Lindstrom to win the closer’s job.

Lindstrom got off to a terrific start, posting a 1.40 ERA in his first 19 appearances and going 10-for-10 in save opportunities. He blew three saves and posted a 5.23 ERA in June and began battling back spasms that eventually cost him the closer’s job and forced him to the disabled list in August.  Lyon took over as closer in early August and finished with 20 saves in 22 chances and a 3.12 ERA.

Lindstrom, who led the team with 23 saves, and Lyon became the first set of teammates to save at least 20 games in the same season since the 1992 Cincinnati Reds.

Wilton Lopez, who the Astros acquired on a waiver claim in 2009, took on an important role in the back of the bullpen and wound up pitching in 68 games and posted a 2.96 ERA. The Astros also got good mileage out of lefty Tim Byrdak and right-hander Jeff Fulchino, who battled injuries and wasn’t as sharp as he was in 2009. Fan favorite Chris Sampson had a good first half and was eventually sent to the Minors after some struggles and designated for assignment. Alberto Arias, who was injured in Spring Training, and Sammy Gervacio were quickly shut down because of shoulder troubles.

As the year progressed, the Astros got a good look at right-handers Henry Villar and Mark Melancon, who was acquired from the Yankees in the Lance Berkman trade.

What’s next: Astros general manager Ed Wade doesn’t plan to do much to the bullpen in the offseason and sees it as one of the strengths of the club. Lyon and Lindstrom will once again compete for the closer’s job in the spring, though both could again wind up finishing off games at some point. The Astros like what Lopez brings to the back end of the bullpen and envision Melancon as a future late-game reliever.

Arias, who had surgery for rotator cuff impingement, could be in the picture next year along with Gervacio, who missed most of the year with rotator cuff inflammation. Gervacio had mixed results in the Minors but showed some good flashes with the Minor Leagues. Fernando Abad had a good Major League debut in his 22 appearances and will be a left-handed option, along with Wesley Wright.

Who’s on the farm: Left-hander Douglas Arguello, the pitcher of the year at Double-A Corpus Christi, will be in spring camp next year competing for a job. Abad and Villar, both of whom came up late in the season, could lead the next wave of youngsters in the pen. Don’t forget Chia-Jen Lo, who missed much of last year with a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament.

Medical updates on Bourn, Lindstrom

Right-hander Matt Lindstrom, who’s been on the disabled list since Aug. 17 with a lower back strain, threw between 30 and 35 fastballs at about 80-85 percent effort in the bullpen prior to Sunday’s game and reported no problems.

Lindstrom was originally scheduled to throw Saturday and begin a Minor League rehab on Monday for Double-A Corpus Christi, but the back began bothering him again and moved back his bullpen session by one day.

“I’m not trying to throw as hard as I can out there,” Lindstrom said. “I was just trying to get a feel for the mound again and stuff. We’re going to continue to reevaluate how I feel and go from there. I’m anticipating an outing with the Double-A team within the next couple of days, so it should be fine. It’s a day-to-day thing. Whenever I wake up I try to see how I feel, but today was a good day.”

This has been a frustrating stretch for Lindstrom, who struggled through back issues and lost his job as closer just prior to going on the disabled list. He’s going to take the day off Monday, but is encouraged his arm feels great.

“I was making really good progress in Philly, and the last couple of days started to feel the spasms come back a little bit and we tried to stay off it,” Lindstrom said. “That’s why we pushed my bullpen back to today. Today I was waking up and feeling a little cranky, but we did the things we needed to do to get ready to throw another ‘pen. It went well.”

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Center fielder Michael Bourn left Sunday’s loss to the Mets in the eighth inning with a strained hamstring. He said he was day-to-day and hoped to be able to play in Monday’s series opener against the Cardinals in Houston, but don’t expect the Astros to rush him to action.

Bourn said he first injured the hamstring beating out an infield hit in the third inning Sunday. He left the game in the eighth.

“It’s alright,” he said. “It got tight on me earlier in the game and that’s why some balls I couldn’t run out. Before it got too bad, I came out. I knew better than to try to keep going in there and to try to run again. You could feel the tightness and it was hot out there. Instead of being dumb, I tried to be smart.”

Bourn’s single Sunday gave him an eight-game hitting streak. He’s batting .382 during the streak with a .432 on-base percentage and five stolen bases. His infield hit was his National League-leading 32nd of the season.

 

Lindstrom knows DL right move

Matt Lindstrom, who has been battling back problems for several weeks, was placed on the 15-day disabled list following Wednesday’s loss to the Mets. The Astros recalled left-hander Fernando Abad from Triple-A Round Rock.

Lindstrom was removed from his role as closer Tuesday following a tough stretch of games in which he was 0-3 with two blown saves and had allowed nine earned runs in 2 1/3 innings in four appearances. His back had been affecting his mechanics, and the Astros finally decided to put him on the disabled list.

“His back just hasn’t been getting any better,” manager Brad Mills said. “We talked to him before the game and it wasn’t letting him finish any of his pitches and letting him be the pitcher he is. We need to get him right.”

Lindstrom, who has saved 22 games in 28 opportunities, was clearly frustrated, but didn’t disagree with the decision.

“It’s not getting any better and I don’t want to cost my team anymore games,” he said. “So the good news is my arm feels great and that’s why it’s so frustrating for me now because I can’t get on the same page as my back. We’re just going to try to treat it for 15 days and get it some rest and hopefully come out firing when this DL stint is done and I can be me again and help the team win.”

Lindstrom said rest will be the key.

“I’m going to continue to work hard as far as getting this taken care of so I can help us win games in September,” he said. “When I’m right and feel the way I usually do, there’s no hesitation on the mound, no question marks. I can throw pitches with conviction and locate better without thinking the back is going to spasm or fall on my face with the next pitch. I had this all the way back in May in Colorado and I’ve been fighting it for two months, and hopefully this stint will help it get better.”

Abad, 24, was with Houston earlier this year and appeared in one game, throwing one inning in his Major League debut. He was 4-3 with a 2.50 ERA in 14 games at Round Rock.

Lindstrom falls on the sword

Shortly after Matt Lindstrom was traded to the Astros, someone who had covered him in Florida told me he was one of the most stand-up guys you could find. After dealing with the incredibly stand-up Brad Lidge for several years, I was somewhat curious at how Lindstrom would handle failure, and he’s definitely cut from the same cloth as Lidge.

Lindstrom was waiting for reporters when the clubhouse opened following Tuesday’s 4-2 loss in the Braves, a game in which he gave up two homers in the ninth inning to blow his sixth save of the season and second in five days.

“I’m just devastated,” said Lindstrom, who had allowed only two homers in 42 1/3 innings this year prior to Tuesday. “J.A. [Happ] pitched a great game, the guys battled back, so it’s really tough right now to swallow. I don’t even know what to say, except I take responsibility for this and I look forward to getting back here tomorrow and work on what’s going on with my mechanics so I can get my location back.”

Astros manager Brad Mills and Lindstrom’s teammates rallied around the normally reliable closer, who squandered a save on Friday in Milwaukee in his previous save chance. It was only the second time in his career he’s allowed two homers in a game.

“We all struggle sometimes and he’s our closer, and if we’re up tomorrow by one I hope he comes into the game,” said rookie third baseman Chris Johnson, who continued his torrid second half by going 3-for-4 to raise his average to .366. “He’s our closer. We want him out there.”

Mills didn’t hesitate when asked if he has considered moving Brandon Lyon into the closer’s role.

“Not at all,” he said. “He’s the guy.”

Lindstrom has been dealing with back spasms for the last few weeks, and he’s understandably reluctant to use it as an excuse. But the Astros need to figure out how much it’s affecting his performance and, if it is, try to map out a plan to get him better.

When the hard-throwing Lindstrom is on his game, he proved he’s a capable Major League closer. The task now is to get him back to that form after Tuesday’s ninth-inning nightmare.

“It’s nothing you want to experience, but that’s a crazy game,” he said. “That’s a good fastball-hitting team in Atlanta, and you know that I’m going to go out there and throw fastballs and it’s up to me to make the location, so I didn’t get the job done tonight.

“The biggest disappointment for me is making my team go out there. They were battling all game and it takes two minutes to ruin it. Those guys battled hard all night, and that’s the toughest thing.”

The Astros at the halfway point

After 81 games — midpoint in their 162-game schedule — the Astros are 32-49, which puts them on pace to go 64-98, which would be their worst record in club history. I once thought the club was a shoo-in to reach 100 losses, but it is 15-15 in its last 30 games and has been playing better for the most part.

Will that continue? A lot of it will depend on what happens by the end of this month and the trade deadline. If the Astros trade Roy Oswalt, who pitched terrific on Friday, for some prospects, and perhaps even Brett Myers, they will be in a full-fledged youth movement and there figures to be some growing pains.

The Astros are already committed to rookies Chris Johnson at third base and Jason Castro at catcher, and it appears 26-year-old Angel Sanchez will get substantial playing time at shortstop until rookie Tommy Manzella returns from his broken finger. If the Astros do get some top-notch prospects for Oswalt, the second half of the season will be worth watching if the future of the club is on display.

This is one of the few seasons in last 20 years the Astros are pretty much out of it at the All-Star break, due in large part because sluggers Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence struggled collectively to begin the season. At the end of the season, they could wind up having decent numbers, but their inability to hit — along with Pedro Feliz and Kaz Matsui — early in the year buried the Astros.

Lee is on pace to hit 20 homers and drive in 82 runs, which would way below his career averages, not to mention he’s hitting .238. Berkman is hitting .240 and has seven homers and 35 RBIs at the midpoint, but he did miss the first two weeks of the season. Pence? He’s on pace to hit .257 with 22 homers an 77 RBIs.

On the mound, Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez — the top two pitchers in the Astros’ rotation — are on pace to lose 20 games. That’s a shame for Oswalt, considering he’s delivered 14 quality starts in 17 outings and has a 3.32 ERA. He’s stuck at 142 career wins, leaving him two shy of Joe Niekro for the club’s all-time lead. Whether gets a chance to get it or gets dealt will be one of the biggest story lines for the second half of the season.

Here’s predicting the Astros play better in the second half of the season and avoid 100 losses, whether it’s from the veterans stepping up at the plate or the infusion of youth paying dividends.

Here are my Astros awards at the midpoint:

Astros Player of the Year: Michael Bourn. He’s hitting .264 with one homer and 20 RBIs from the leadoff spot with on on-base percentage of .340, but he’s stolen 25 bases, is among league leaders in outfield assists and is on his way to a second Gold Glove.

Astros Pitcher of the Year: Matt Lindstrom: He’s got 19 saves in 23 chances for a team that has only 32 wins. He’s posted a 2.97 ERA and proven to be a terrific pickup from the Marlins. He’s got a chance to make the All-Star team. A case could certainly be made for Oswalt or Myers.

Astros Rookie of the Year: Wilton Lopez. The durable reliever is 3-0 with a 3.98 ERA in 30 games. At the end of year we may be giving this to Chris Johnson or Jason Castro, but they haven’t been around long enough at this point.

 

 

Day 39: Busy, busy day at Astros camp

What a day at Astros camp.

The day began with the news the Astros had made nine roster moves, which essentially gave the starting catching job to J.R. Towles, and ended with Lance Berkman telling MLB.com he suffered a setback Tuesday in his recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery. In between, Bud Norris pitched well against the Phillies and Matt Lindstrom was named closer.

Other than that…

Let’s start with the biggest news, which is Berkman. It’s growing increasingly unlikely he’d be ready for Opening Day. He felt so good taking batting practice Tuesday he said he was about “70 percent” certain he’d be ready for Monday. After trying to run, his hopes diminished.

“When I tried to run, I just couldn’t do it,” he said. “They’re going to back me down for a few days and see what happens.”

The recovery time on the surgery was two to four weeks, and Berkman has barely passed the halfway point. If he starts the season in the disabled list, he would have to miss at least the first four games of the regular season before being eligible to return.

Astros GM Ed Wade plans to meet with Berkman and head athletic trainer Nate Lucero on Wednesday to talk about the slugger’s immediate future.

“I was hopeful that by increasing activities that it wouldn’t irritate it, and apparently it’s going to,” he said. “I need to drop down to where I just swing a little bit. Today I took ground balls and moved around a good bit, and it didn’t respond like I wanted it to.”

If Berkman starts the year on the DL – and that is a good possibility – that would create another opening on the roster. We’ll get to that later. But if Berkman is placed on the DL, the earliest he’s be able to play in the fifth game of the season, April 10, against Philadelphia.

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Lindstrom, who had a terrific spring, was named closer by manager Brad Mills after Tuesday’s game against the Phillies. The hard-throwing right-hander hasn’t allowed an earned run in eight appearances this spring, though he nearly did Tuesday after he loaded the bases with no outs and worked his way out of the jam.

Lindstrom came to camp competing with Brandon Lyon for the closer’s role, but Lyon was behind and didn’t appear in a game until March 18. Lyon had a cyst drained in his right shoulder in January and had to get his arm strength back.

But Lindstrom left little doubt with how well he’s pitched.

“He’s throwing the ball well, and obviously with Brandon Lyon slow getting out of the gate from the cyst, it’s a logical move to make having him down there close to games in the ninth inning and still have an alternative to run with Lyon at some point,” Wade said.

Lyon, who signed a three-year, $15-million deal, has 54 career saves, including 26 with Arizona in 2008. Lindstrom has saved 20 games in his career, including 15 with Florida last year.

“We told Brandon Lyon he was going to be extremely valuable for us and going to be extremely valuable getting to us getting to that point as we go forward,” Mills said. “Nothing against Brandon at all, but when Matt did throw the ball as well as he did and Brandon was getting slow in getting going, that was probably it.”

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The Astros trimmed their roster by nine players Tuesday morning to get to 29, and in the process awarded an Opening Day roster spot to catcher J.R. Towles, who was competing with No. 1 prospect Jason Castro for the starting position. They haven’t announced Towles is the starter, but the belief all along was Towles and Castro were competing for the starting spot with Humberto Quintero as backup.

Castro was among nine players told by Mills and Wade they weren’t going to make the Opening Day roster. Castro and right-hander Casey Daigle were reassigned to Minor League camp, and right-hander Wilton Lopez and utility man Edwin Maysonet were optioned to Triple-A Round Rock.

In addition, non-roster invitees Gary Majewski (right-hander), Gustavo Chacin (left-hander), Drew Meyer (infielder), Chris Shelton (first baseman) and Kevin Cash (catcher) were reassigned to Minor League camp, but will remain with the team through this weekend’s exhibition games in Houston. Daigle will remain with the team until after he pitches Thursday’s Grapefruit League finale.

What does this all mean?

Towles is going to be the starting catcher. He told reporters team brass told him he was going to be the everyday guy. That’s not surprising. Castro had a very good spring, but Towles had a better spring at the plate and has some experience. And what’s wrong with Castro getting his feet wet in Round Rock?

The moves also leave the Astros with 14 pitchers, two of which (Alberto Arias and Yorman Bazardo) are injured. They’re likely going to carry 12 pitchers so it appears here are the 12: Roy Oswalt, Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris, Felipe Paulino, Brian Moehler, Matt Lindstrom, Brandon Lyon, Jeff Fulchino, Chris Sampson, Tim Byrdak and Sammy Gervacio.

Gervacio had a great spring and deserved it, but Lopez and Daigle had great springs and were sent out. I’m guessing we’ll see those guys again soon.

What about the infield? The Astros have seven infielders remaining, including Lance Berkman, who could be headed to the disabled list. If Berkman is disabled, that leaves Geoff Blum, Kaz Matsui, Tommy Manzella, Pedro Feliz, Chris Johnson and Jeff Keppinger as the six infielders.

That’s why I was somewhat surprised they sent out Maysonet on Tuesday. If Berkman is disabled, Maysonet seems to be a much better fit to make the team as a utility infielder than Johnson, who’s a third baseman. Johnson has had a great spring, but they still want him to play every day. It will be interesting to see what they do if Berkman is disabled.

The Astros need to trim one more outfielder from among the two non-roster players: Cory Sullivan and Jason Bourgeois. Let’s be honest: Sullivan is the guy, especially considering Bourgeois had had trouble staying healthy.

So final four roster cuts could be the four injured guys: Berkman, Arias, Bazardo and Bourgeois.

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As far as the game goes, the Astros beat the Phillies 5-2 on Tuesday to improve to 13-12 with two Grapefruit League games left. Philadelphia pretty much had its Opening Day lineup on the field, except for pitcher and catcher, so this was a good test for Bud Norris.

Here’s the breakdown:

The good: Norris held the Phillies to six hits and two runs and struck out seven batters in five innings. He had a 1-2-3 first, allowed two runs and three hits in the second and one hit in each of the other three innings.

“I felt great,” he said. “The plan was to go out there and throw strikes and compete and give my team a chance to win the game. I competed and made a lot of pitches.”

Lindstrom walked two batters and allowed a hit to load the bases with no outs in the sixth, but he got two strikeouts and a groundout to escape and keep his spring ERA spotless. Jeff Fulchino threw a scoreless inning and had two strikeouts, Tim Byrdak allowed one hit and struck out one batter in one inning and Chris Sampson struck out three batters in one inning.

At the plate, Michael Bourn went 4-for-5 with two doubles, a triple and a stolen base and appears to be fully recovered from his strained oblique. Carlos Lee went 2-for-3 with an RBI double and a three-run double, and Pedro Feliz had two hits. Hunter Pence scored two runs.

The bad: They were 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position. OK, now I’m nitpicking.

What they said: “I thought he threw the ball really well. It scared the daylights out of me when he stuck his hand up there, but at the same time I thought he threw the ball really well and it was so nice to see. The ball was coming out of his hand really good, even after he was hit in the hand.” - Mills on Norris, who was hit in the pitching hand by a line drive in the third.

What’s next: The Astros will send left-hander Wandy Rodriguez to the mound Wednesday against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at 12:05 p.m. CT. Rodriguez is scheduled to throw only two innings before catching a plane for Houston, where his wife is scheduled to deliver the couple’s second child Thursday. Moehler, Sampson and Gervacio are also scheduled to pitch. Right-hander Roy Oswalt, who had an injection into his lower back Monday in Houston, will start a Minor League game Wednesday. Shortstop Tommy Manzella will also play in that game.

Lindstrom named closer

Astros manager Brad Mills said Tuesday right-hander Matt Lindstrom will be his closer to start the 2010 season. Lindstrom, acquired in a trade from Florida in December, hasn’t allowed an earned run in eight games this spring, striking out eight batters and allowing five hits in 8 2/3 innings

Lindstrom came into Spring Training competing with Brandon Lyon for the closer’s role, but Lyon didn’t pitch until March 18 after having a cyst drained in his right shoulder in January. Lyon, who signed a three-year, $15-million deal, has 54 career saves, including 26 with Arizona in 2008.

Lindstrom has saved 20 games in his career, including 15 with Florida last year.

“We told Brandon Lyon he was going to be extremely valuable for us and going to be extremely valuable getting to us getting to that point as we go forward,” Mills said. “Nothing against Brandon at all, but when Matt did throw the ball as well as he did and Brandon was getting slow in getting going, that was probably it.”

Lindstrom and Lyon were two one of the Astros’ biggest offseason acquisitions following the departure of closer Jose Valverde and setup man LaTroy Hawkins in free agency. In 191 career games – all with the Marlins – Lindstrom went 8-8 with a 3.88 ERA and 20 saves in 171 2/3 innings, striking out 144 batters and walking 71.

 

 

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