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Astros hitters will get their first look at live pitching during workouts Sunday, when the pitchers will throw to batters with a screen in front of the mound. There will be four days of live batting practice before the manager Bo Porter will hold an intra-squad game on Thursday.
“I just want the pitchers to make it through safe,” Porter said. “That’s more pitching practice than live batting practice. Whenever you incorporate screens and the backstops, that’s always been tough on the position players. It’s more about the pitchers than anything else. It does all those guys good to see a live arm and pick up the velocity on the baseball.”
The team will meet with the Major League Baseball Players’ Association on Friday and hold a like workout in advance of Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla. Porter said the real evaluating of the players won’t begin for a while.
“Right now I’m honing on guys’ workouts,” he said. “When you get to the beginning stages of Spring Training and you don’t have the competition aspect of another team, you want to watch guys and see how they work. You watch them from a fundamental standpoint and see if anyone needs extra, extra, extra work as far as a particular fundamental.”
Porter stressed fundamentals to his club again Saturday, saying that in the American League teams don’t usually bunt until they’re behind late in the game. He said it’s vital teams field those bunts successfully to get outs to increase their chances of winning.
“You increase your chances of winning the game when you execute these plays properly,” he said. “It puts an emphasis on it, and the players actually understand the significance.”
- In case you missed it, Astros owner Jim Crane told MLB.com he was looking forward to playing golf with President Barack Obama on Sunday. Obama is spending the weekend at Crane’s Floridian National Golf Club. MLB.com has the details.
Here are the pictures of the first full-squad workout:
Seeing that Rice University was set to honor Philip Humber on Thursday with a commemorative plaque for the perfect game he threw last year as a member of the White Sox, Astros manager Bo Porter decided to honor the right-hander as well.
The Astros toasted Humber in the clubhouse prior to Thursday’s workout at Osceola County Stadium with glasses of sparkling cider. Porter even arranged for Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who was behind the plate when Humber threw the perfect game April 21 against the Mariners, to be on the phone from Arizona to lead the toast.
“Obviously, it’s quite an honor and it’s special when you’re able to accomplish pinnacles in this game,” Porter said. “We’re grateful to have Philip Humber in our organization and get him over from the White Sox, but we wanted to acknowledge him today.”
Humber threw the 21st player in Major League history to throw a perfect game last year. There were two more perfect games thrown during the season by San Francisco’s Matt Cain, who sent 27 Astros down in order June 13, and Seattle’s Felix Hernandez. Dennis Martinez, who threw the 13th perfect game in history 1991 for Montreal, is the Astros’ bullpen coach.
“We’re lucky enough to have two people in our clubhouse in Dennis Martinez and Philip Humber that have accomplished that feat,” Porter said.
Porter was grateful for Pierzynski to accommodate the ceremony by getting on the phone at 7 a.m. MT.
“I talked to him this morning and the timing worked perfect and he was able to get on the phone,” Porter said. “He led the toast and we toasted Philip and it was fun for the group.”
Other things we learned Thursday morning:
- You have noticed on the photos the Astros don’t have their names on their backs this spring. That’s by design. Manager Bo Porter wants them to earn their names, which will be placed on the jerseys on Opening Day. More on that later.
- In an effort to try to establish some camaraderie in the clubhouse, Porter is going to start having food delivered to the clubhouse following each workout. He hopes that will encourage players to sit around and talk and get to know each other more.
- Position players continue to trickle into Kissimmee. Former first-round Draft picks George Springer and Delino DeShields Jr. arrived to camp on Thursday. This will be their second Major League camp, and the two friends are roommates again this year. Catcher Carlos Perez, who was held up on visa issues, could arrive Thursday, too.
- The Astros have added Minor League catcher Ryan McCurdy to their spring roster as another body to catch bullpens. He will wear No. 98.
Here are a couple of quick morning photos from Kissimmee:
The biggest news of the day concerning the Astros actually happened nearly 1,000 miles away in Houston, where the club announced its 2013 radio and television broadcast team. There wasn’t much mystery to the names, but with the start of games only 10 days, the incoming broadcasters can talk publicly about their new roles. Stay tuned.
Today’s Astros notebook has tons of information, including injury update on catcher Max Stassi, what Bo Porter has to stay about leadership and a look who might hit leadoff for the Astros. We also take a closer look at manager Bo Porter and what he’s done in the first few days of camp to transform the mood of the club.
At Osceola County Stadium, another three groups of pitchers got on the mound for the first time.
Group 1B: Erik Bedard, Philip Humber, Jordan Lyles, Jose Cisnero, Rudy Owens.
Group 2B: Dallas Keuchel, Jose Veras, Josh Fields, Ross Seaton, Rhiner Cruz.
Group 3B: Paul Clemens, Chia-Jen Lo, Hector Ambriz, C.J. Fick, Sergio Escalona.
It was a big step for Escalona, who missed all of last season following Tommy John surgery.
“That is one step right now to just keep going to the goal,” he said. “I say ‘Thank God.’ That’s everything I have to say. I was patient, I was working for this day and, like I said, it’s one step at a time. I can’t get overexcited and just try to do everything to my best. I’m excited and really happy for today and just need to prepare for the second one.”
Here is the day in pictures:
Every day for Astros manager Bo Porter is simply about laying a foundation. Every day will be another brick in the team’s master plan of building a championship contender, he said, and the Astros took another step towards that process Tuesday when pitchers and catchers worked out for the first time.
“It was a good brick,” Porter said of the first workout.
The groups of pitchers that put in their first in the bullpen were:
Group 1A: Lucas Harrell, Bud Norris, John Ely, Jarred Cosart, Brad Peacock.
Group 2A: Wesley Wright, Edgar Gonzalez, Alex White, Sam Demel and Jose Valdez.
Group 3A: Xavier Cedeno, Josh Zeid, Kevin Chapman, Brett Oberholtzer.
Those who didn’t throw Tuesday will get on the mound Wednesday. When the pitchers weren’t throwing, they were rotated through three fundamental stations, covering pick-offs, fielding bunts and holding runners. The end of the day brought conditioning tests.
“When I heard running test, the first I heard as a pitching coach is, ‘I don’t want to lose anybody, I don’t want a groin tear or have a misshape with plantar fascistic,’” pitching coach Doug Brocail said. “They slowed some of our guys down. It was no big deal.”
Porter didn’t want the players to do too much on the first day.
“We don’t want them to come out here and blow out the first day,” he said. “It was good to see the guys get on the mound. I like the fact the majority of guys that stepped up there today, they kept the ball down and worked the outer half of the plate. It was good.”
The first day of workouts went smooth enough for Porter that the only thing he planned to change Tuesday was saving his voice. Porter was forced to yell across the fields several times to get someone’s attention, and by the end of the day the clubhouse staff had purchased air horns.
“I think the schedule went well,” he said. “The guys got a lot of work in.”
The pitchers will throw twice in the bullpen before throwing twice to live hitters once position players are here. They will take a three-day break before starting to work in games.
“Everybody looked good today,” Brocail said. “The adrenaline is starting to flow. I’ve been lucky. I’ve had Norris, Harrell, Zeid, [Ross] Seaton and Cosart at home for the last month and a half [in Houston] and on their bullpen day showed up and worked, and the other days we weren’t throwing bullpens I got to see who was coming in early and busting their hump every single day.”
There was some room for fun. Porter, who was a defensive back at the University of Iowa, pretended to cover Harrell, challenging him to get separation from him.
“It’s very important to have fun,” he said. “You come out here and look at the work schedule and there are portions of the day the work schedule is going to dictate you get right to it, but we get to certain aspects of the day we want these guys to be loose, we want them to have fun and at the same time get their work in.”
Another new wrinkle this year: The pitchers lined up to give each other congratulatory handshakes following the workout, mimicking what happens on the field after a win.
“If you want to be it, you have to be it before you are it,” Porter said. “We talk about the culture, we talk about winning. We’re going to do things around here that symbolizes winning and get these guys’ mindset used to shaking hands.”
Here is the day in photos:
Astros pitchers and catchers hit the field Tuesday morning at Osceola County Stadium for the first official workout of Spring Training. They’ll be joined on Saturday by the rest of the position players, many of whom are already in Kissimmee and working out.
Among those to arrive Tuesday were outfielders Rick Ankiel and Fernando Martinez, who said he has decided not to participate in the World Baseball Classic. Manager Bo Porter is thrilled to see so many position players in the field.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “We’ve had great participation in our offseason program and had guys in Houston working out throughout the offseason. You look around from a position-player standpoint, and I want to say we had about 15 players, position players, out yesterday doing a voluntary workout. It shows their anxiousness and excitement to get this thing started.”
Porter plans to address the team prior to Saturday’s workout, but he did have a few words before pitchers and catchers hit the field Tuesday.
“We talked about change,” he said. “You can look around and tell things are changed. We talked about the opportunities that present themselves in this organization. I told them, ‘Embrace both of them. Embrace change and embrace the opportunity,’ and we’re looking for guys to take the bull by the horn and take the opportunity to become Houston Astros.”
Here are some early photos:
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow met with the front office and the field staff for a few hours Monday afternoon to pore over every player on the Spring Training roster. It’s standard procedure in advance of pitchers and catchers hitting the field Tuesday for the first official workout of the spring.
Pitchers and catchers were officially scheduled to report Monday, and the only player who didn’t show up was catcher Carlos Perez, who’s dealing with visa issues in his native Venezuela. Luhnow didn’t have a timetable for his return, but doesn’t think it will be a long-term issue. The Astros have 29 pitches and six catchers currently in camp.
“The staff, we just all got together upstairs and talked through every pitcher and catcher in camp and it look us a few hours to do that,” Luhnow said. “Really talking about what our expectations are this spring, what’s it’s going to take for them to make the club, what scouting reports do we have for them from last year, talking about new players we haven’t seen yet. Trying to give everybody who’s here in camp as much background as they can on the players that are here.”
Monday’s Astros notebook has updates on who might start on the mound on Opening Day, the health of left-hander Sergio Escalona and more.
Here are some pictures from Monday’s camp activity:
The Astros came from five runs down in the second inning and drilled the Tigers, 14-7, on Tuesday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium (boxscore).
Before we get to the breakdown, be sure to check out the Astros notebook, which is chock full of Astros news, including an update on center field Jordan Schafer, what Jed Lowrie is doing to swing the bat so well and how Angel Sanchez is trying his hand in the outfield. And there’s much more.
The big news came earlier in the day when the Astros released veteran pitcher Zach Duke and veteran outfielder Jack Cust after both struggled throughout the spring.
Here’s the breakdown:
What went right: Wandy Rodriguez got off to a very shaky start by giving up five runs in the first two innings and then settled down to finish with four very strong innings against the Tigers. He allowed six hits and five runs and threw a spring-high 90 pitches in six innings, but he got better as the game progressed and retired 12 of the final 14 batters he faced.
“I told you the other day, I wanted to go longer in the game and I did it today. I tried to throw everything, my breaking ball, my fastball, my change-up,” Rodriguez said. “I used a lot of my change-up today and threw a lot of good ones today.”
Fernando Abad came into the game and got a big out in the seventh, and Brandon Lyon threw a scoreless inning.
The Astros bashed out 13 hits, including four doubles and two home runs, en route to scoring 14 runs. Jason Castro ripped a two-run double in the second inning and went 2-for-4 with two runs scored. Jed Lowrie hit the ball hard once again, including a two-run single to right field from the left side of the plate.
Brian Bogusevic went 2-for-3 with three runs, two RBIs and two walks and hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning for the last of the Astros’ nine unanswered runs after falling behind 5-0. Jose Altuve went 2-for-2 with two runs scored and also walked a pair of times, which is a very good sign.
Brian Bixler came off the bench and launched a long, three-run homer to left field in the eighth inning, giving him three homers in 25 spring at-bats. The other hits belonged to J.B. Shuck, Angel Sanchez, who’s hitting .412, Carlos Lee, Chris Johnson and Jake Goebbert.
The Astros didn’t commit an error and were 7-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
What went wrong: Rodriguez struggled early, giving up a Brennan Boesch homer in the first and allowing four more runs in the second, including a inside-the-park homer by Austin Jackson. J.B. Shuck couldn’t corral Jackson’s fly ball at the wall and it rolled back towards the infield.
Mills said he is continued to be concerned with the number of runs the Astros are giving up in first innings this year. He said they’ve given up 25 runs in the first inning in 24 games this spring.
“We need to kind of clean that up a little bit,” he said.
Rhiner Cruz’s run of good pitching ended when he gave up a run, a hit, two walks and hit a batter in two-thirds of an inning in the seventh, raising his spring ERA to 8.53. Wilton Lopez allowed two hits and a run in the ninth.
What they said: “The big thing was to see Wandy come back and pitch like he did. He was frustrated with himself when they were able to jump out in front of us with that five-run lead. He wasn’t happy with himself, but he saw the guys get right back into the game and Wandy was able to continue and pitch very well.” — Astros manager Brad Mills on Tuesday’s outing by left-hander Wandy Rodriguez.
What’s next: Lucas Harrell will start against the Marlins at 12:05 p.m. CT on Wednesday in Kissimmee. Harrell is starting in place of Bud Norris, whose start was pushed back two days because of tightness in his triceps. Harrell is trying to win a bullpen spot as a long reliever, but he could start the year in the rotation at Triple-A.
Injury update: Center fielder Jordan Schafer flew to Atlanta on Tuesday to be examined by the same hand specialist he saw when he broke his wrist in 2009. General manager Jeff Luhnow said he’s likely out of game action until the weekend. … Right-hander Bud Norris, who’s dealing with tightness in his right triceps, said Tuesday he hopes to be 100 percent when he starts Friday against the Braves.
There are no photos today, but check back tomorrow. Until then, stay cool.
Of course, the big news of the day at Astros camp was the announcement that Jimmy Paredes was being sent to Minor League camp to work at second base, meaning Chris Johnson is the likely starter at third base. Here’s a video package of Astros manager Brad Mills and GM Jeff Luhnow talking about the decision.
Here is the breakdown of Friday’s game:
What went right: Pitching, pitching, pitching. The Astros held the Nationals to three hits and didn’t give up a hit until Jayson Werth singled with two outs in the seventh inning off Brett Myers. Starter Bud Norris walked one batter in three hitless innings and Lucas Harrell retired all nine batters he faced. Then there was another strong outing by Myers, who pitched a scoreless innings while working in back-to-back games for the second time this spring. Brandon Lyon also had a scoreless inning.
Astros manager Brad Mills said early Friday he wanted to see the Astros tighten things up with only two weeks left before the start of the regular season, and the team did just that. Houston bashed 12 hits and didn’t make an error. Brian Bixler, starting in the outfield, strengthened his case to make the team by going 2-for-4 with a homer against his former team while starting in the outfield. Chris Johnson also belted a homer.
Carlos Lee also had a pair of hits and an RBI. Jed Lowrie, Travis Buck, Justin Ruggiano, Jose Altuve, Jack Cust and Brett Wallace also had hits. For Cust, his pinch-hit single in the third inning was his first of the spring, snapping an 0-for-24 drought. Cust still isn’t seeing any time in the outfield because of cranky left elbow.
What went wrong: Bud Norris was held to three innings because he woke up Friday with tightness in his triceps, but manager Brad Mills has no concerns and says Norris will be able to make his next start.
Other than a homer allowed by Fernando Abad to Jason Michaels, there’s not much that went wrong for the Astros. The only starting position player to not get a hit was Brian Bogusevic, but he walked and stole a base and scored.
What’s next: The race for the fifth spot in the starting pitching rotation will take center stage when Kyle Weiland takes the mound to face the Pirates at 12:05 p.m. CT in Bradenton, Fla. Weiland has allowed four hits and two runs in seven innings in his last two spring starts.
What they said: “He really had a tough time getting his arm loose and had a little tightness in his triceps. So when he went out there, [pitching coach Doug Brocail] was saying, ‘Let’s see if we can get 45 pitches out of you anyway and get some work in and get through three innings.’ Sure enough he did, and he threw the ball really well.” — Astros manager Brad Mills on starting pitcher Bud Norris.
Injury update: CF Jordan Schafer, who sprained his left hand making a diving catch in the outfield on Sunday, said he’s still a few days away from being able to return to the lineup. Schafer took some swings off a tee Friday but had to shut it down when he tried to hit live pitching. … LHP Sergio Escalona has hit a roadblock in his recovery from a hyper extended left elbow suffered swinging a bat early in camp. The Astros said he was set to be examined by a doctor. … OF Jack Cust was originally scheduled to start in the outfield in Friday’s B game, but was moved to designated hitter because of his balky left elbow. Cust has yet to make an appearance in the outfield during a Grapefruit League game this spring, but he came off the bench and delivered a pinch-hit in the third to snap an 0-for-24 spring drought.
Here are the pictures:
Behind a dominant pitching performance from Mets knuckle-baller R.A. Dickey, the Astros lost to the Mets, 8-2, on Thursday afternoon to fall to 9-9. Here is the boxscore.
Now, onto the breakdown:
What went right: Rhiner Cruz, a Rule 5 pick from the Mets, had easily his best outing of the spring, and it came against his old team. He struck out a batter to end the fourth and strand runners at second and third, and then pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning and finished with two strikeouts.
Closer Brett Myers continues to pitch extremely well. He pounded the strike zone in his one inning of work, pitching around an error, and was at 90-92 mph on the radar gun. “He was spotting his fastball and his curveball had good depth,” manager Brad Mills said. “He was able to throw the curveball two different speeds — a hard one and a softer one, and both of them had real good depth. Obviously, he’s starting to get the feel for that because it was the same way last time.”
Henry Sosa also pitched well, allowing one hit and striking out two batters in 1 2/3 innings of work.
Not much to brag about at the plate, though the Astros did scorch some balls in the ninth inning, including a hit by Brad Snyder. Justin Ruggiano came off the bench and had a pair of hits, including a double. The only other hit was a single by Scott Moore, who also made a tremendous defensive play at third base in the eighth.
Matt Downs hit a rocket in the ninth inning that would have been extra bases had the left fielder not made an acrobatic catch at the wall.
What went wrong: The Astros didn’t manage a hit against Mets starter R.A. Dickey until Justin Ruggiano’s pinch-hit in the sixth inning. Among those going 0-for-3: J.B. Shuck, Travis Buck, J.D. Martinez, Jimmy Paredes and Jason Castro. When Dickey changes speeds like that, he’s tough to hit.
Wandy Rodriguez battled command problems all game, throwing 80 pitches in 3 2/3 innings. He allowed six hits, four runs and walked five batters and said after the game he understands he needs to pitch deeper into games. Rodriguez hasn’t had a good spring, but he did the same thing last year and was pretty good in the regular season.
Sergio Escalona, in only his second appearance of the spring because of an elbow hyper-extension, gave up four hits and four runs (three earned) in one-third of an inning.
The Astros also committed three errors: a fielding error by Paredes at third, a missed catch by Carlos Lee at first on a throw from Paredes that was a little wide and a fielding error by Moore. Ruggiano and Snyder collided in right-center field chasing a ball, but Snyder hauled it in.
What they said: “His concern comes from he wants to be out there throwing to work on things. When his pitch count gets so high early the game, those are stressful innings and I don’t want to kill him out there.” — Astros manager Brad Mills on pulling starter Wandy Rodriguez in the fourth after 80 pitches.
What’s next: Bud Norris starts when the Astros return home to face the Washington Nationals at 12:05 p.m. CT on Friday. Norris gave up five hits, five runs and four walks in his previous outing Saturday against the Yankees. Shortstop Jed Lowrie, who fouled a ball off his foot Tuesday and hasn’t played since, is scheduled to make his return to the lineup.
Injury update: Center fielder Jordan Schafer (left hand sprain) is day-to-day, but won’t play until Saturday at the earliest. … Shortstop Jed Lowrie, who fouled a ball off his foot Tuesday and hasn’t played since, is scheduled to make his return to the lineup Saturday.
Here are a few pictures from Digital Domain Park: