Results tagged ‘ spring trianing ’

Astros ramp up the spring intensity

The Astros have made an effort to ramp up the intensity this spring, and that’s been evident in several areas. Instead of just taking batting practice daily, the hitters are given situations – counts, men on base – when they step into the box so it gives them something to think about while they’re getting in their swings.

The team has gone as far as putting runners on base – behind a screen, of course – during batting practice so that even the runners get practice reacting to balls as they are hit. On Tuesday, there will be a competition between teams led by Jason Castro and Brett Wallace, who will have to pick a hitter to step into the plate in a scenario laid out by the hitting coach.

“From a staff standpoint, it does a number of things,” manager Bo Porter said. “One, we’re putting them in a competition where they’re going to compete. There will be something in which the losers will have to do at the end of the game. Two, it lets us know from a staff standpoint that they understand not only who they are but they also understand who their teammates are by who they pick to execute different situations.”

The hitting coaches have been keeping a points tally, and the winning team will get a reward.

Here are a couple of injury updates:

  • Right-hander Asher Wojciechowski is awaiting results from an MRI performed Monday on his lat, which is a large back muscle that helps control the shoulder. He suffered the injury Feb. 1 and has yet to throw off the mound. He expressed some frustration Tuesday.

“This is taking longer than I thought I would,” he said.

  • Right-hander Jesse Crain said his ailing right calf is progressing nicely. Crain is continuing his throwing program while recovering from biceps tendinitis surgery he had in October.

“The calf’s getting a lot better,” he said. “I should be out and hopefully running within the next week. The good thing is if I was on the mound throwing and getting ready for the season and this happened, it would be a setback. As far as where I am with my throwing program, it didn’t affect any of that. That’s a good thing and it’s still process, day by day thing and building my arm strength back up. Hopefully every day it’s getting stronger, which it is.”

Big day from Singleton ends Astros’ stay in Florida

The Astros wrapped up Grapefruit League play with an 11-4 win over the Tigers on Thursday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium, getting a pair of homers from Jonathan Singleton and one each from Jason Castro and Rick Ankiel.

After the game, the clubhouse was bustling with activity as players showered, packed and boarded buses for their charter flight to Houston. The Astros will play the Cubs in exhibition on Friday and Saturday at Minute Maid Park.

“I think everybody is excited to get on the airplane and get back to Houston,” Astros manager Bo Porter said.

With four homers Thursday, the Astros have hit 46 homers in 33 games in Florida — their most since hitting 48 in 2002. Porter says he’s confident the power surge will carry into season.

“I’m extremely confident,” he said. “You’d rather be in this position than have a spring where you haven’t hit the ball and wondering if they can hit or not. These guys have good track records, they’ve played at a high level and we believe we have 25 quality baseball players.”

Singleton homered in his first two at-bats off Anibal Sanchez.

“I was just going out there trying to do my best,” he said. “He left a couple of pitches over the plate and I tried to put a good swing on it.”

Singleton, the team’s top prospect, will remain in Kissimmee through the end of May while he sits out his 50-game suspension for a second failed drug test, testing positive for marijuana. He will start the season at Triple-A Oklahoma City but could be hitting homers at Minute Maid Park before 2013 is out.

Game 11: Porter unhappy after loss to the Tigers

What happened: The Astros played their poorest game of the spring, striking out 15 times, issuing nine walks and committing a pair of fielding errors in an 8-5 loss to the Tigers on Monday afternoon (boxscore).

What we learned: Being able to throw hard is great, but control remains the key Astros prospect Jarred Cosart made his first spring start and struggled with his control, allowing four hits, three runs and four walks. He threw only 23 of his 48 pitches for strikes and admitted he was working too fast.

“I wanted to establish the fastball early and they had the scouting reports that I’m a fastball guy and they were attacking from the start of the game,” Cosart said. “I was up in the zone and you just can’t do that with Major League hitters. You have to put them away when you get ahead.”

What we learned II: CF Justin Maxwell has some serious raw power. Well, we actually already knew this based on his several tape-measure shots from a year ago, but his first home run of the spring — a mammoth two-run blast to left field — in the sixth inning was admired by all.

“I don’t try to hit home runs, especially in Spring Training,” Maxwell said. “I’m just trying to hit the ball hard and just trying to find my swing right now and get better timing. … That’s just the thing. Any time I’ve tried to hit a homer I foul it off or don’t make contact, so depending on the game situation I try to hit the ball hard. If I barrel it, I have a good chance to have a positive result.”

What else: RHP Alex White also struggled with his control, allowing four hits, three runs (two earned) and two walks in 1 2/3 innings. … Tigers reliever Al Albuquerque struck out Chris Carter, George Springer and Nate Freiman in succession in the eighth inning. … RHPs Josh Zeid and Josh Fields each threw a scoreless innings, and LHP Kevin Chapman threw 1 1/3 scoreless with two strikeouts.

What went wrong: Plenty. Let’s start with the on the mound, where Astros pitchers labored most of the game and wound up walking nine batters. Houston hurlers threw only seven first-pitch strikes and worked repeatedly into deep counts. Astros manager Bo Porter said the issue would be addressed, but the thing that really had Porter fired up was the defense. A fielding error by Jonathan Villar at short didn’t hurt the club, but Jake Elmore‘s fielding error at second allowed an unearned run to score.

The Astros have committed 15 errors in 11 games.

“We’ve got to catch the ball,” Porter said. “We’ve come back from every deficit we’ve had this entire spring. Offensively, we’re scoring runs, but at the same time we’ve got to make it a little bit easier on our pitching staff to catch the ball when it’s hit to us, and our pitchers got to do a better job of pitching ahead in the count and limiting some of those deep counts.”

What they said: “This is the thing: either you make the plays or we’re going to find someone else who’s going to make them. That’s not hard to figure out,” — Astros manager Bo Porter on the team’s defense.

What’s next: Porter, who spent the previous two years as third base coach of the Nationals, returns to Viera, Fla., on Tuesday when the Astros play the Washington Nationals at 12:05 p.m. CT at Space Coast Stadium. RHP Lucas Harrell, the team’s Pitcher of the Year in 2012, will be making this third start and should be able to be stretched to four innings.

Who’s injured: RHP Hector Ambriz (ankle) is scheduled to make his first appearance in a spring game Tuesday. … C Max Stassi (sports hernia surgery) is out six to eight weeks.

Tweet of the day:

Links of the day: All kinds of good stuff in the Astros notebook: More on the meeting between George Springer and Torii Hunter, when the first round of roster cuts could happen, Mike Foltynewicz’s thoughts on the upcoming season and Tony DeFrancesco enjoying role with club after managing final 41 games last year.

The day in photos (light day today):

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Rick Ankiel, Trevor Crowe and Matt Dominguez

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John Mallee and Carlos Pena

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Astros catchers past and present: Jason Castro and Alan Ashby

Game 8: Astros slug three homers, rally to tie Cards

What happened: The Astros came from four runs down, scoring a pair of runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, to earn their second tie of the spring, 8-8, against the Cardinals on Friday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium (boxscore).

“Just a great job by the whole group, just coming back and battling, battling, battling and getting into hitter’s counts and putting good swings on the ball,” manager Bo Porter said.

More on Porter in this video:

What we learned: OF George Springer has a hot bat. Literally. Springer, who homered twice earlier in the week, didn’t go deep Friday, but he gave his bat to OF Chris Carter and told him he’d hit a home run. Carter blasted a long blast to left field in the fifth, finally showing the kind of power we’d heard about when he came over from Oakland.

“It feels good to finally square up a ball,” Carter said. “The last few at-bats I’ve been struggling making solid contact. You want to impress early and quick, but you have to stick with what you’re doing.”

What we learned II: Porter is going to have some tough roster decisions to make. IF Brandon Laird is having a terrific spring and slugged his second homer on Friday — one day after hitting a grand slam — and OF Brandon Barnes homered for the second time this spring. Both are battling for the few roster spots, but they’re certainly helping their cause.

“As camp goes along, you want to make it to the end of camp and have tough decisions,” Porter said. “When you come into camp and have competition and one guys runs away with it, you say to yourself, ‘Wow, we must not have too much depth.’ The fact we have great competition for the roster spots going on in camp, lets us know from an organizational standpoint we have a lot of depth.”

What else: RHP Jose Veras, in his final performance before leaving for the World Baseball Classic, had a 1-2-3 fourth inning with two strikeouts. … The Astros bashed out 12 more hitters with a pair of catchers — Rene Garcia and Jason Jaramillo — having two hits apiece. … RHP Bud Norris looked strong, allowing two runs and two hits in three innings, but he had a pair of 1-2-3 innings. … Josh Zeid, Rhiner Cruz and Josh Fields each threw a scoreless, hitless inning.

What went wrong: For the second day in a row, an error opened the door for the opposition. The Cardinals scored two unearned runs in the fifth after a Brett Wallace error, and a Jake Elmore error at shortstop in the sixth led to three unearned runs with Paul Clemens on the mound.

“From a standpoint of it being Spring Training, these are teachable moments and you stress it to the ballplayers that cannot give up extra outs,” Porter said. “When get the ball, handle the ball, take care of the ball. The more men that get on base, the more opportunities they have to score.”

What they said: “I felt a lot better. It’s great to get your legs under you and you go out and compete. I’m still working on some things, just trying to stay back over the rubber and trying to find my delivery and all that. I felt good and I’m excited to keep it going.” — RHP Bud Norris on his second spring outing.

What’s next: LHP Dallas Keuchel gets his first start of the spring when the Astros face the Braves at Osceola County Stadium at 12:05 p.m. CT Saturday. Keuchel has a relief appearance under his belt, but he’s competing for a spot in the rotation. RHP Philip Humber will throw in the game as well as the Astros try to divvy up starts.

Who’s injured: RHP Hector Ambriz (ankle) continues to ease closer to game action. … C Max Stassi (sports hernia surgery) is out until early April.

Links of the day: Astros OF J.D. Martinez admits he put too much pressure on himself last year. Now, he’s trying to retool his swing and win a spot on the club. The Astros notebook has hitting coach John Mallee’s thoughts on the team’s hot start at the plate, Bo Porter talking about roster construction and RHP Paul Clemens’ thoughts on his career.

Tweet of the day:

The day in photos:

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Vince Coleman and Bo Porter

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Jimmy Paredes and Bo Porter

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Delino DeShields Jr.

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Tyler Greene catches up with old teammate

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Robbie Grossman, Jimmy Paredes, George Springer and Vince Coleman

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Dave Clark gets animated

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Rick Ankiel and Tyler Greene

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Jose Altuve

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Old friend J.R. Towles is with the Cardinals

Game 1: Astros hit, run, pitch way past Phillies

What happened: The Astros bashed out 14 hits, including a home run by Brandon Barnes, and got some solid pitching across the board to beat the Phillies, 8-3, in their Grapefruit League opener and American League debut (boxscore) on Saturday. After practicing their post-game handshake for two weeks, the Astros finally got a chance to use with their first win of the spring.

“Offensively these guys swung the bats and ran the bases great,” manager Bo Porter said. “I think base running was a key factor in the game and it put a lot of pressure on the other team and created more scoring opportunities for us.”

What we learned: The Astros are going to be aggressive. They stole four bases early in the game, including a double steal by Tyler Greene and Trevor Crowe in the third inning, and Porter says they will force the issue and put pressure on opponents as much as possible.

“It’s a staple of our team,” Porter said. “I told the guys earlier on in the spring that if you want to find out an identity of a ballclub, watch them run the bases. It’s aggressive, but it’s controlled aggression, and we are only going to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented in front of us.”

What we learned II: RHP Jarred Cosart does OK in pressure. Cosart, the right-hander who’s battling for a spot on the club, returned to Clearwater to face his former team and pitched two perfect innings, overcoming some nerves in the bullpen prior to the game. He was acquired by Houston from the Phillies in 2011. Cosart had good arm speed on his changeup and was locating his fastball well.

“I felt great,” he said. “I was a little worried in the bullpen. It was a little off down there. Originally, I was supposed to come in in the fourth and that didn’t work out and they wanted to get Xavier [Cedeno] some work with some lefties and face [Ryan] Howard and some other guys. That kind of threw me off. I got in there and was a little sporadic in the bullpen. Nerves had something to do with that. When I got out there, it was clicking pretty well and I was getting the ball out of my glove, which is what we had been working on all Spring Training. I’m ecstatic.”

What we learned III: Barnes is a gamer. Barnes made a good first impression by hitting Houston’s first homer of the spring and throwing out a runner at the plate from center field. Here’s video of the homer.

“I’m just going to come out here and play as hard as I can,” Barnes said. “I went out to winter ball and worked on some things, and I’m just trying to carry it over here and keep going. We’re going to make a good push at this and we’re going to work hard every day.”

What else: RHP Lucas Harrell had a few mechanical issues, but for the most part he kept the ball down and made it through two innings and got in his work in his first start (Harrell video here). … OF Robbie Grossman made a nice impression by going 2-for-3, and 2B Marwin Gonzalez also went 2-for-3. … RHP Josh Zeid, RHP Sam Demel and LHP Xavier Cedeno each threw a scoreless inning.

What went wrong: The Astros had one mental mistake in the first inning. With Howard at at-bat and a shift moving another infielder to the right side of the second base, Chase Utley was able to advance two bases when no one covered third on a ball hit between first and second.

What they said: “It always feels good when you play well. More importantly, we played clean baseball. There were no errors, we swung the bat well and our situational hitting was good. Defensively, we made the plays we were supposed to make, and when you do those things right it gives you the best chance to win ballgames.” — manager Bo Porter.

What’s next: RHP Bud Norris takes the mound for the Astros in their first home game of Grapefruit League play at 12:05 p.m. CT Sunday against the Mets at Osceola County Stadium. He’s scheduled to throw two innings. Second baseman Jose Altuve, catcher Jason Castro, outfielder Rick Ankiel and designated hitter Carlos Pena, all of whom didn’t make the trip to Clearwater on Saturday, are scheduled to get their first game action.

Who’s injured: RHP Hector Ambriz (sprained ankle) and catcher Max Stassi (oblique) continue to progress.

Links of the day: Astros notebook has Carlos Correa’s thoughts as he hits camp, some thoughts on how the Astros are going to get creative with their pitching staff in the Minor Leagues and much more.

The day in photos:

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Bo Porter warms up his arm.

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Bo Porter gets interviewed.

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The future: Jarred Cosart, George Springer and Delino DeShields.

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Jeff Murphy and Ryan Howard.

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Bo Porter throws batting practice.

Game 9: Washed out in Kissimmee

Rain washed out the Astros and Tigers on Sunday afternoon in Kissimmee. Astros manager Brad Mills decided about 45 minutes prior to Sunday’s game being cancelled that left-hander Wandy Rodriguez wasn’t going to start the game.

Rodriguez instead threw a simulated game indoors, throwing 60 pitches in four simulated innings. The Astros know what Rodriguez is capable of doing and wanted to keep the rotation on the same schedule of days instead of pushing Rodriguez back a day.

“I tried to throw the same as in a game and I located my pitches,” said Rodriguez, who will start Friday against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Kyle Weiland never got a chance to face the Yankees when he made seven appearances for the Red Sox last season, but he’ll get that opportunity Monday when he makes his first Grapefruit League start for the Astros.

Weiland, acquired by the Astros on Dec. 14 along with Jed Lowrie in exchange for Mark Melancon, is among a handful of players in the mix for a slot in the rotation. The chance to pitch under the lights against the Yankees in Tampa will be a good test.

“I’m excited about it,” he said. “It’s the first start of the year for me, and I’m looking forward to it. It will be a good opportunity for me to get down there and see where I’m at as far as command and how my pitches are doing going up against good hitters. I think I’m ready for it and my arm is feeling good.”

Here are some other notes from Sunday;

  • Catcher Humberto Quintero (bulging disk) caught in the bullpen Sunday for the second day in a row. Quintero caught Livan Hernandezs side session Saturday and felt some stiffness in his back, though it got better the longer he was out there. He caught Sergio Escalona on Sunday and will swing off a tee Monday.
  • Chris Snyder was scheduled to be in the lineup Sunday to catch consecutive games for the first time this spring. Jason Castro will be behind the plate on Monday. Mills said the way the catching rotation was set up, Snyder was making most of the road trips and facing all the right-handed pitchers and Castro was staying in Kissimmee and facing all the left-handed pitchers. “That’s not quite how we wanted to work things out and we had to mix it up,” Mills said. “I don’t have any problem with Castro facing lefties, but we want to mix it up.”
  • Left-hander Sergio Escalona (elbow) threw his first bullpen session Sunday since being shut down for a few days and came through it fine. Escalona threw at about 90 percent effort and reported no problems with the elbow inflammation that’s kept him out of spring action.
  • Infielder Angel Sanchez (back) was scheduled to see his first action of the spring Sunday before the game was rained out. He was also scheduled to be in the starting lineup at second base Monday against the Yankees in Tampa, but that was before Sunday’s game was called off.

Note: I’m heading to Houston for a few days, so Tag’s Lines will be dormant until I get back to work on Saturday. Y’all stay cool while I’m gone.

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