Results tagged ‘ Nelson Figueroa ’

A night of heroes at Minute Maid Park

The Astros’ 5-3 win over the Padres was truly a team win in every sense. Nelson Figueroa had a good start, the bullpen came through nicely and Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence had terrific diving catches.

Then was the bottom of the seventh, when the Astros rallied for a pair runs and got a pinch-hit RBI single by Joe Inglett, with Matt Downs going hard into second base earlier in the inning to break up a potential double play.

“You need things like that,” manager Brad Mills said. “You have great plays and timely hitting and guys hustling on the bases and beating plays and diving in the outfield. Things of that nature are huge. This team is capable of doing that, and they really did a good job tonight.”

The Astros can win their first series of the season and even their 10-game homestand at 5-5 if they can win Sunday’s finale.

Here are some postgame notes from Saturday’s game:

  • Saturday was the Astros’ first win this season while hitting a home run. They had come into the game 0-5 in games in which they had at least one home run.
  • RHP Nelson Figueroa did not factor into the decision after pitching 6 2/3 innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks. He tossed a season-high 111 pitches, the fourth-highest pitch count for an Astros starter this season.
  • RHP Mark Melancon tossed one-third of a scoreless inning, stranding two inherited runners en route to the win. He has now tossed eight innings over nine appearances this season without allowing an earned run. By stranding two runners, Melancon has stranded all seven of his inherited runners this season and since being acquired by the Astros, Melancon has inherited 14 runners without allowing any of them to score.
  • CF Michael Bourn has now reached base safely in 12 straight games and in 13 of his 14 games this season. Since last season, Bourn has reached base safely in 51 of his last 53 games.
  • Bourn collected his seventh steal of the season and has now stolen 15 consecutive bases without being caught (dating back to Sept. 4, 2010).
  • 3B Chris Johnson connected for his first home run of the season tonight, a two-run shot in the fourth inning. The homer snapped an 0-for-10 streak and an 81-at-bat homerless streak. Johnson went 22 games between home runs.
  • RF Hunter Pence collected his ninth RBI of the season at Minute Maid Park and his 11th overall in 2011. Entering the game, Pence ranked tied for sixth in the Majors in RBIs at home
  • LF Carlos Lee went 1-for-4 and has now hit safely in his last four games and in seven of his last eight.

Analyzing the Astros rotation

Besides a strong effort from Brett Myers in the April 1 season opener at Philadelphia, the first time through the rotation was a rough one for the rest of the Astros starters: Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris, J.A. Happ and Nelson Figueroa.

Myers has started two of the Astros’ six games and is 0-0 with a 2.03 ERA, allowing nine hits and three earned runs in 13 1/3 innings. He’s given the Astros their only two quality starts and appears to be picking up where he left off last year, when he was one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball and went at least six innings in all but one start.

The Astros’ 8.22 ERA by their starters ranks last in baseball entering Friday, well behind Detroit’s 7.75 ERA. The good news is it can only get better, and I’d be surprised if a couple of those guys didn’t come back with good outings this week. And that brings us to today’s poll question. Which starter, other than Myers, do you think is most likely to have a better season?

 

With the Astros set to play 10 consecutive games at home starting tonight against the Marlins at Minute Maid Park, it will be an important second time through the rotation for Rodriguez, Norris, Happ and Figueroa. The quartet went a combined 0-4 with a 12.98 ERA in their first four starts combined, with only Figueroa pitching beyond the fourth inning. And that was because the bullpen so taxed that manager Brad Mills had to get as much out of him as he could.

The good news is Rodriguez, Norris and Happ — who will face the Marlins this weekend — have pitched better at Minute Maid Park:

  • Rodriguez is 3-2 with a 2.35 ERA in six career starts vs. Marlins and is 38-26 in his career at Minute Maid.
  • Norris is 5-5 with a 4.43 ERA in 14 home starts last year.
  • Happ is 4-1 with a 3.22 ERA in eight career starts at Minute Maid.

The message here is don’t panic. It’s one time through the rotation against a pair of teams favored to win their divisions. Not that the Astros don’t want to one day be able to beat good teams — they did sweep the Phillies last year — but there is plenty of baseball left. The Marlins, Cubs and Padres are coming to town, and if the Astros manage a, say, 6-4 homestand, they’re 7-9 and in much better shape than they were last year at that time.

Game 31: Shuck steals the show

Friday’s game against the Yankees wasn’t televised, so there’s no video evidence that will tell the story of the outstanding game outfielder J.B. Shuck had. The evidence was on Shuck’s uniform, which was covered from neck to feet in dirt.

In short, Shuck played like a guy trying to make a team. Getting the start in left field before more than 11,000 fans under the lights at Steinbrenner Field, Shuck stole the show in a 6-4 loss to the Yankees. He went 1-for-4 at the plate with a hustling double and an RBI, but he made two terrific diving catches and threw out a runner at the plate.

“Shuck had a great game,” Astros pitcher Nelson Figueroa said. “Shuck was outstanding. It could have been a lot worse day if it wasn’t for Shuck. He made some great plays.”

Shuck made a diving catch in the left-center gap in the second to rob Eduardo Nunez of a hit, coming out of nowhere to corral the ball. The crowd gave him a standing ovation. In the fourth, he charged towards the infield and went horizontal to catch Brett Gardner’s blooper for an out. In the sixth, he fielded a fly ball and threw a rope to the plate to complete a double play.

“I got a bead on it in the gap and I though I had a chance and just dove for it and was able to get to it,” Shuck said. “The other just happened to stay up long enough and I was able to slide in there and avoid running into [shortstop Angel] Sanchez. You don’t think about it and you just go after it.”

Shuck, 23, is a non-roster invitee who’s battling with Jason Bourgeois for the final bench spot. He definitely  helped himself Friday.

Here’s the recap:

What went right: Outside of Shuck’s great game, there were a few other encouraging signs. Chris Johnson went 1-for-3 with a triple and a run scored, and Matt Downs came off the bench and went 1-for-1 with a double and is now hitting .286 in Grapefruit League action.

Michael Bourn, Jason Michaels, Hunter Pence and Oswaldo Navarro also had one hit each for the Astros. On the mound, Jose Valdez pitched a scoreless inning.

What went wrong: I always hesitate to say any starting pitcher’s outing went “wrong” in Spring Training, but Nelson Figueroa would certainly have liked to have a better a line than nine hits, five runs, four walks and two homers allowed in six innings. Figueroa did throw 106 pitches, so he got in his day’s work, and he pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the first.

“It was fun to get the work in and get to 100 pitches,” he said. “I felt like I was still strong, but at the same time I’ve had a sinus infection the last two days and it kind of felt like I was in a fish bowl starting out. I felt a little weak in the first inning and it started to unravel quick and I was a little worried about that a short day and a long inning.

“I got out of that first inning and felt good and made some good pitches. I found Eric Chavez’s bat a few times. I’m just really working on command and locating my pitches and get comfortable with [catcher Carlos] Corporan. All in all, it could have been a better day result-wise. We were still in the ballgame when I left. It was fun to be out there and get the work in.”

Ross Wolf pitched the seventh and gave up two hits and one run, striking out one batter. At the plate, the Astros struck out nine times, including Pence twice. Angel Sanchez and Brett Wallace were 0-for-3, and center fielder Michael Bourn made a throwing error.

What they said: “I think I’m going to put mayonnaise and mustard on his sandwich before he comes in. He did a great job today. It was great to see him and have some fun and continue to see the young kids working hard and being productive.” — Astros pitcher Nelson Figueroa on the great defensive play Friday by left fielder J.B. Shuck.

What’s next: The Astros’ bullpen will be on display when they return to Osceola County Stadium to face the Washington Nationals at 12:05 p.m. CT. Opening Day starter Brett Myers was originally scheduled to start, but he will pitch in a Minor League game because he’s already faced Washington twice this spring. The Astros will piece things together with their bullpen, with Henry Villar getting the start. Also pitching are Brandon Lyon, Wilton Lopez, Enerio Del Rosario, Mark Melancon, Aneury Rodriguez and Fernando Abad.

Injury report: Shortstop Clint Barmes left the game after being hit in the left hand by a pitch. He had a nasty bruise and some swelling and will undergo X-rays on Saturday morning. Read more about it here.

Sorry, no pictures again today. I spent the pregame in the press box writing the story that updates the status of the team’s impending sale. Details can be found here.

Options a factor a decision time

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

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

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

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

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

Game 25: Lyles, Figueroa emerge in rotation battle

The Astros aren’t saying it just yet, but you can certainly read between lines. The race for the fifth starter’s spot appears to be down to veteran Nelson Figueroa and top prospect Jordan Lyles, both of whom pitched well in their outings Sunday.

Lyles pitched in relief and held the Pirates to two hits and one run and struck out four batters in 3 2/3 innings, drawing some terrific praise from manager Brad Mills and catcher Humberto Quintero, who said ‘Wow’ when asked about his first time catching the 20-year-old.

“I’m excited when I see a young pitcher like this throw that kind of stuff. I’m surprised and excited because I’ve never seen a 20-year-old throw fastballs and breaking balls like that,” Quintero said.

Figueroa started the other split-squad game against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista and gave up six hits and one earned run in five innings, lowering his ERA to 3.86. General manager Ed Wade admitted Figueroa might have come to camp with a leg up, and now it seems he’s pretty much a lock to make the team in some role.

“I think if you take out that inning and a half over there against the Phillies [on Monday], I think I put myself at the top of the list, hopefully, for the No. 5 starter job,” he said. “I definitely showed all the different things I could do — a continuation of last year — getting out there and pitching, keeping the team in the ballgame. They’ve been all close games for us. The bottom line is I think I can help this team out in that role all year long.”

What is known is that Ryan Rowland-Smith is out of the running for the rotation spot. The team told him upon his arrival at the ballpark Sunday he was now competing for a bullpen spot, and manager Brad Mills said following the game he was now being considered for a bullpen spot. A year after beginning the season as the third man in the rotation in Seattle behind Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez, Rowland-Smith couldn’t crack the Astros’ rotation.

“I want to have a good last week and embrace whatever role they give me and contribute,” Rowland-Smith said. “I’ve probably spent 50 percent of my career in the bullpen, and I’ve had a lot of success in the bullpen before I got a chance to start.”

If you look at the lack of innings Rule 5 picks Aneury Rodriguez and Lance Pendleton have been getting, it’s apparent they’re not being considered for the fifth spot. The team would have to offer them back to their former teams — the Yankees for Pendleton and Rays for Rodriguez — if they don’t make the 25-man roster, or they could work out a trade and keep them in the system.

“The two Rule 5 guys have done a nice job,” Wade said. “In their circumstances, even if we come to a determination that somebody else has stepped into the fifth spot, we’ll probably hold onto them as long as we can. Even if they don’t make the club, we’d love to keep them in the organization, but those are conversations we would have to have with the Yankees and the Rays.”

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The Astros had their last of six split-squad dates of the season Sunday, and lost both — 3-1 to the Pirates in Kissimmee, and 5-3 to the Braves in Lake Buena Vista. I stayed in Kissimmee to watch Jordan Lyles, and I’m glad I did. Here’s a breakdown from that game:

What went right: Jordan Lyles threw 3 2/3 innings in relief and was dominant, holding the Pirates to two hits and one run and striking out four batters in 3 2/3 innings. Fernando Abad had a much needed good outing, throwing a scoreless inning, and Sergio Escalona and Enerio Del Rosario put up zeroes.

Del Rosario, acquired in a trade from the Reds last September, hasn’t allowed an earned run in eight outings, covering 10 innings of work. Mills said he’s in the thick of the race for a bullpen spot.

“He’s thrown the ball extremely well and continues to get outs and throw strikes,” he said.

At the plate, Humberto Quintero went 2-for-2 to raise his spring average to .440, and Jordan Lyles, Hunter Pence (1-for-3) and Matt Downs (1-for-3) had the other hits.

What went wrong: The Astros were stifled offensively by Pirates starter Charlie Morton, who threw six scoreless innings and struck out five batters. Michael Bourn (0-for-3), Anderson Hernandez (0-for-4), Carlos Lee (0-for-3), Brian Bogusevic (0-for-4) and Oswaldo Navarro (0-for-3) had tough days at the plate.

Lyles was charged with his first error of the spring when he dropped an easy tapper to the mound in the fourth inning.

What they said: “I’m just getting ready for the season. I’m still trying to get my arm in shape. I’m going out there and hopefully I can build on the season I had last year. I felt pretty good right now, like I did going into last season. I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing and see where it goes.” — Astros pitcher Jordan Lyles.

What’s next: Brett Myers, who will start for the Astros on Opening Day, will make his second-to-last Grapefruit League start when he faces the Detroit Tigers on Monday at Osceola County Stadium. Myers threw a spring-high five innings in his previous outing, and could approach 100 pitches against the Tigers before being backed down for his final spring start March 26. Among the others scheduled to pitch are Wilton Lopez, Mark Melancon and Jeff Fulchino.

Injury update: Wandy Rodriguez threw without issue in the bullpen Sunday and is good to go for Tuesday’s game after missing a start with mild shoulder tendinitis. … Infielder Angel Sanchez has dealing with a sore back and will be out until at least Wednesday.

Here are the photos:

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Above: Alberto Arias draws chuckles from teammates when he dives and slides across the grass to field a ball during drills on Sunday morning.

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Above: Brian Bogusevic flips to Patrick Urckfitz covering 1B during morning drills.

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Above: Wandy Rodriguez, who had missed a start with mild shoulder tendinitis, throws a light bullpen session on Sunday morning. He’s scheduled to pitch Tuesday.

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Above: Brian Bogusevic makes a throw to second base during morning drills.

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Above: See if you can find the ball. Dave Clark hits some balls to the outfielders.

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.

Game 11: Crisp win over Mets

The Astros split a pair of games Tuesday afternoon, beating the New York Mets, 5-4, in Kissimmee, and losing, 3-2 , to the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers.

The race for the fifth starter’s spot was front and center Tuesday afternoon, with three of the five candidates for the job – Nelson Figueroa, Aneury Rodriguez and Lance Pendleton – all in action in two different games.

Figueroa started the split-squad game against the Mets, his former team, and gave up three hits and one run in one inning. He allowed the Mets to load the bases with one out in the first inning, but allowed just one run on a sacrifice fly.

Rodriguez started the Astros’ other split-squad game against the Red Sox in Fort Myers and gave up four hits and one walk in three scoreless innings. He was followed on the mound by Pendleton, who allowed two hits, two walks, one run and hit one batter in two innings.

Here’s the breakdown of the win over the Mets:

What went right: Plenty, beginning on the mound, where Figueroa, Mark Melancon, Wilton Lopez, Casey Fien and Sergio Escalona all pitched well.

The Astros banged out nine hits, including doubles by Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence, Clint Barmes and Oswaldo Navarro and a home run by J.R. Towles. It was Towles’ first home run of the spring.

“I just want to see the ball and put a good swing on it and I can’t do anything other than that,” said Towles, who went 1-for-3 to raise his average to .273. “That’s all I’m really looking to do.”

Barmes, having scrapped the leg kick he worked on all winter, went 2-for-3 to raise his average to .167, and Pence went 2-for-2 with a double and is hitting .524 this spring.

What went wrong: The only pitcher to get roughed up was Cesar Carrillo, who allowed two hits and two runs in one inning. Matt Downs and Brett Wallace, both of whom have had good springs, each went 0-for-3. The Astros were 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

What they said: “When I first got to spring I was looking at some video and some pictures [of the 2007 and 2008 seasons], and my hands were lower than they had been [recently], so I just got my hands a little lower and am sitting back on that back leg a little bit and not going out to get it. I’m feeling good and seeing the ball well. I’ts working for me, so I don’t need to change anything right now.” – Astros catcher J.R. Towles.

What’s next: The Astros meet the Mets for the second day in a row, traveling to Port St. Lucie for Wednesday’s 12:10 p.m. CT game. Ryan Rowland-Smith, one of five men competing for the fifth starter’s job, will make his second start and his third outing of the spring. He allowed three runs in his first spring start Friday against the Cardinals. Jordan Lyles, also battling for the final spot in the rotation, will follow Rowland-Smith.

Injury update: Jason Michaels, who was originally in the lineup in the outfield against the Red Sox, was scratched because of back spasms. … Bud Norris, who strained his hamstring on Monday, said Tuesday he felt fine.

Now to the photos:

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Above: Catcher J.R. Towles cover the plate during some drills early Tuesday.

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Above: That’s Telvin Nash, a burly outfielder brought over from Minor League camp to play in Tuesday’s game, taking a swing during batting practice.

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Above: Carlos Lee practices tagging up from third base.

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Above: Ryan Rowland-Smith practices fielding a ground ball during drills. Bud Norris awaits the throw at third base.

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Above: Hall of Fame announcer Milo Hamilton convinces Hall of Fame guy Clint Barmes to be his guest on Astroline on Wednesday night. He said yes.

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Above: That’s former Astros pitcher Tim Byrdak, now trying to win a job with the Mets.

Game 5: The race for fifth starter begins

The Astros won their second Grapefruit League of the spring, beating the Florida Marlins 5-3 on Thursday afternoon at windy Osceola County Stadium. It was another day of some stellar pitching performances.

Here’s the breakdown:

What went right: The Astros jumped on the Marlins for two runs in the first inning and two more in the second inning. Brett Wallace continued his strong spring with a two-run single in the first, and Humberto Quintero and Clint Barmes added RBI hits in the second to make it 4-0. Quintero had an RBI in the sixth, going 2-for-2. Drew Locke went 2-for-2 with his first two hits of the spring.

“It felt good,” Locke said. “I’ve been working a lot in the cage with Barney [hitting coach Mike Barnett] and I finally felt comfortable up there. I think I was rushing things, trying to do too much up there. I kind of fixed a couple of things and had a couple of good swings. I got that first hit out of the way and now I can just relax up there.”

Nelson Figueroa made his first start and threw two scoreless innings, allowing two hits and one walk, and Enerio Del Rosario, Fernando Rodriguez and Gustavo Chacin each threw a scoreless inning. Figueroa pounded the zone and threw 31 pitches in his audition for the No. 5 starter’s spot.

Wallace started a nice 3-6 double play at first base, and Koby Clemens, who replaced Wallace later in the game, made a nice pick off a relay throw from Matt Downs.

What went wrong: There were a few hiccups on the mound, which is to be expected to you run so many arms out there. Aneury Rodriguez, a Rule 5 pickup, gave up three hits, one walk and one run in two innings, and Wesley Wright and Henry Villar each allowed a run and a hit in one inning, but nothing to be concerned about.

Michael Bourn hit into a pair of double plays, which is quite unusual.

What they said: “Figgie was Figgie, and he threw the ball extremely well and the guys that followed him up were just consistent. A couple of them work themselves into some jams but they were able to battle through it and get themselves out of jams, and it’s good to see Chacin come in and do a good job and Henry at the end do a good job. We got some real good performances from some people.” - manager Brad Mills.

What’s next: Friday should be fun. Lance Berkman is scheduled to make his return to Osceola County Stadium when the Cardinals travel to face the Astros. Ryan Rowland-Smith will make his first start of the spring, with Brandon Lyon, Jeff Fulchino, Fernando Abad, Mark Melancon, Casey Fien, Ross Wolf and Patrick Urckfitz also scheduled to throw.

Injury update: Catcher Jason Castro was diagnosed with a torn medial meniscus and will undergo surgery Friday morning in Houston. It’s unknown how long he’ll be out, but my best guess is the range of one to two months. We’ll know more tomorrow after Dr. David Lintner gets in the knee and looks around. … Outfielder J.D. Martinez did some running and other drills on Thursday, but still hasn’t been cleared to play. He’s going to be at least a couple of more days before he gets in a game.

Sorry, no photos today. The Castro developments kept me occupied and off the back fields in the morning. You can bet I will have some on Friday, with an emphasis on the Puma’s return.

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.

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Jordan Lyles heading to Spring Training

Not that it should come as any surprise, but right-handed pitcher Jordan Lyles, the Astros top prospect, will be at Spring Training when pitchers and catchers report in a little more than five weeks, general manager Ed Wade said.

“At this point, I’m pretty much certain he will be there,” Wade said. “We’re going to sit down here [soon] and contact players. There’s a number of guys – including some six-year Minor League free agents we’re committed to contractually to giving an Major League invitation – we’ll be reaching out to. It’s safe to assume Jordan will be one of them.”

Lyles, 20, went a combined 7-12 with a 3.57 ERA in 27 games (26 starts) combined between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Round Rock. He spent most of the season at Corpus Christi, going 7-9 with a 3.12 ERA in 21 games.

Lyles will compete for the fifth spot in the Astros’ rotation with Nelson Figueroa, Ryan- Rowland-Smith and Rule 5 picks Aneury Rodriguez and Lance Pendleton and will be one of the most interesting players to watch during the spring.

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