Results tagged ‘ Wandy Rodriguez ’

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 28: Strong return for Wandy

The Astros — playing without regulars Hunter Pence, Chris Johnson and Brett Wallace — were held to two hits on Tuesday in a 3-1 loss to the Nationals. But the news of the day was the solid return of left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, who pitched four strong innings in his first start in nearly two weeks.

Here’s the breakdown:

What went right: Rodriguez, who will start the Astros’ second regular-season game of the year, allowed three hits and one unearned run and no walks in four innings. He threw 70 pitches in the game, and then tossed 12 more in the bullpen to reach his pitch count instead of perhaps getting pulled in the middle of an inning.

Right-hander Henry Villar has helped his chances of the making the club with a terrific spring performance. He threw two more scoreless innings Wednesday against the Nationals, striking out two batters, to lower his ERA to 1.80.

Villar, who made the jump from Double-A to the Majors last year, has thrown two innings in his past four spring outings, pushing his Grapefruit  League total to 12 innings. He’s allowed three hits, one walk and one earned run and struck out eight batters in that span.

Not much to report at the plate. The Astros had only two hits, a third-inning single by Oswaldo Navarro and an RBI single by Michael Bourn in the sixth.

Several Astros starters played nine innings Tuesday in 84-degree heat Wednesday, including center fielder Michael Bourn, shortstop Clint Barmes, second baseman Bill Hall, catcher J.R. Towles and first baseman Matt Downs. Building up endurance is important.

What went wrong: The Astros were held to two hits, going 2-for-27 at the plate against four different Washington pitchers. Clint Barmes (.208 spring average) was 0-for-4, and Bill Hall (.200), Carlos Lee (.222), J.R. Towles (.314) and Matt Downs (.256) were 0-for-3.

The Astros made one error, which led to the Nationals pushing across an unearned run in the third. Barmes made a nice two-out stop of a ground ball and bounced his throw past Downs at first base, and the runner eventually scored.

Left-hander Fernando Abad continued his Spring Training struggles , allowing four hits and two runs in one inning Tuesday. He gave up a two-run, tie-breaking homer to Mike Morse in the eighth inning to suffer the loss.

What they said: “You know what, the last inning I felt my shoulder a little bit tired because I had a long time of not throwing in a game. But everything is fine. I feel great.” — Astros pitcher Wandy Rodriguez on his first start since March 10.

What’s next: Left-hander J.A. Happ makes his second-to-last start of the spring when the Astros travel to Bradenton, Fla., on Wednesday to meet the Pirates at 12:05 p.m. CT. Happ, who will start the Astros’ third regular-season game, is coming off his best start of the spring, holding the Marlins to four hits and no earned runs in four innings Friday in Jupiter, Fla. Jose Valdez, Enerio Del Rosario, Gustavo Chacin and Wesley Wright are also scheduled to pitch

Injury update: Closer Brandon Lyon was supposed to throw one inning in a Minor League game on Tuesday, but he had to be scratched due to an illness. … Infielder Angel Sanchez, meanwhile, was able to play in a Minor League game in Kissimmee. He led off five innings and went 1-for-3 with two walks and had no problems with his ailing back. Mills said Sanchez will return to the lineup Wednesday against the Pirates in Bradenton.

Sorry, no photos today. Will break out the trusty camera again in Bradenton on Wednesday.

Game 18: Norris slowly gaining strength

The Astros’ split-squad team lost the Braves, 7-1, on Sunday afternoon in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The game was pretty uneventul for the Astros until the ninth inning, when Minor League outfielder Telvin Nash hit perhaps the longest homer in the history of Champion Stadium, sending a pitch over the giant scoreboard in left-center.

The Astros had a much better day against the Tigers in Lakeland, where J.R. Towles went 3-for-4 with his second homer of the spring in a 3-1 win. But since I was at Disney here’s the breakdown of the loss to the Braves:

What went right: Aneury Rodriguez, Brandon Lyon, Jeff Fulchino and Mark Melancon each threw one scoreless inning in relief, with Fulchino striking out a pair of batters. He has looked extremely sharp this spring and completely recovered from offseason elbow surgery. He’s likely pitched himself onto the Opening Day roster at this point.

Melancon gave up two hits and a walk, but escaped without allowing a run. The only hits the Astros managed were by Anderson Hernandez, Hunter Pence, Tommy Manzella and a mammoth home run by Minor League outfielder Telvin Nash.

What went wrong: The Astros were held to four hits in 31 at-bats and struck out 10 times against the Braves. Bud Norris started and allowed five hits, five runs and two walks in three innings, but Norris is still working on pitches and his outing shouldn’t be any kind of cause for alarm. The good news, Norris said, is he got his pitch count up and he felt fine.

Carlos Lee made a fielding error in left field, and Arcenio Leon was roughed up in one inning of work, allowing two hits and two runs and one home run.

What they said: “Just the biggest point right now is getting the pitch count up there, and I felt pretty good. The slider wasn’t where I wanted it to be today. The first home run it definitely hung up there and the guy made a good swing on it, so I’m still working on stuff. All in all, I was worried about getting my pitch count up there.” — pitcher Bud Norris, who gave up home runs to Wilkin Ramirez in the second and Chipper Jones in the third inning Sunday.

What’s next: The race for the fifth spot in the rotation heats up when Nelson Figueroa takes the mound for the Astros against his former team, the Philadelphia Phillies, at 12:05 p.m. CT at Osceola County Stadium. Figueroa has won both is his previous Grapefruit League starts, allowing one earned run in five innings. Reliever Wilton Lopez, who has four perfect one-inning outings under his belt this spring, is also scheduled to pitch for Houston.

Injury update: Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez has come down with mild tendinitis in his left shoulder and will be skipped Tuesday as a precaution. … Astros general manager Ed Wade said he was pleased with how right-hander Alberto Arias, who’s throwing on flat ground, and infielder Jeff Keppinger, who’s coming off foot surgery eight weeks ago, are progressing from their injuries. 

Here are the pictures:

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Above: Astros players stretch prior to Sunday’s game against the Braves.

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Above: The Astros had been using the designated hitter all spring, but Bud Norris became the first pitcher to hit in a game. He struck out in his only at-bat against the Braves.

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Above: Brandon Lyon is interviewed by MLB Network prior to the game.

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Above: Carlos Lee plays catch on the field prior to Sunday’s game.

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Above: Koby Clemens makes contact during batting practice.

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Above: Hunter Pence is never shy about signing autographs for Astros fans.

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Above: Michael Bourn grabs a bat and emerges from the dugout for Sunday BP.

Game 14: Good performances abound in walk-off win

The Astros rallied for a run in the ninth-inning for a walk-off win over the Nationals, 6-5, on Thursday night at Osceola County Stadium. Bryce Harper, the top pick in the draft last year, made an errant throw from right field to allow the winning run to cross the plate.

Tied at 5 in the ninth with Jimmy Paredes on first base, Brian Dopirak sent a laser into the right field corner. Paredes was originally given the stop sign at third base, but Harper’s poor throw allowed him to score the winning run.

What went right: There were solid pitching performances up and down the boxscore, beginning with starter Wandy Rodriguez. The left-hander was pretty good in his third start of the spring, allowing four hits and one run in four innings. He threw 71 pitches (25 in the first inning) and retired eight of the final nine batters he faced.

Brandon Lyon threw a crisp 1-2-3 inning and benefitted from a terrific diving stop by second baseman Bill Hall, and Jeff Fulchino allowed a lead-off hit in the sixth, but quickly got a double play and finished the inning in quick fashion. Ross Wolf and Sergio Escalona also pitched scoreless innings and struck out one batter.

At the plate, the Astros had 13 hits, with Jason Bourgeois (2-for-4) and Chris Johnson (2-for-3) leading the charge. Johnson ripped a two-run single in the third inning and is now hitting .304. Matt Downs continues to make a push to make the club, going 1-for-3 with an RBI double while starting at first base. Tommy Manzella had two plate appearances and put down a sacrifice bunt and drew a walk to start out the ninth.

What went wrong: Wesley Wright had a rough night on the mound, allowing three hits, two walks and four runs in one inning, raising his ERA to 13.50. Hunter Pence finally cooled down and went 0-for-4, but no one is worried about him.

There wasn’t much else manager Brad Mills could feel badly about. The Astros squandered a bases-loaded situation in the first inning when Bill Hall hit into a double play, but Hall came back with a double in the third. 

What’s they said: “Last year, I got hurt and didn’t get to finish up the season, and then Houston came in and to be part of this team and organization, it’s a great feeling alone by itself. My first at-bat [in the seventh], I came up looking to drive the ball and missed that pitch and got a little under it [and popped out]. I tried to make the adjustment to my next at-bat and stayed through it a little bit longer and was looking for a pitch up in the zone and jumped on it. I felt good. My swing’s been feeling pretty good. It felt good to help the team win and come up in that situation and do that.” — Astros outfielder Brian Dopirak on his ninth-inning heroics. 

What’s next: Manager Brad Mills and his coaching staff will have the opportunity to watch two games on Friday, with the Astros playing a split-squad game against the Red Sox in Kissimmee in the afternoon and playing another game against the Nationals in Viera at night. This will be the Astros’ fourth split-squad date of the spring. Brett Myers will start against the Red Sox and is scheduled to throw about 75 pitches, and Rule 5 pick Lance Pendleton will start against the Nationals.

Injury update: Outfielder Jason Michaels, who was scratched from Tuesday’s game in Fort Myers due to back spasms, has made progress and returned to the lineup Thursday at designated hitter. … Right-hander Alberto Arias played catch on Thursday and said his shoulder felt fine. He will throw from 90 feet on Friday and take Saturday off as he continues to battle back from inflammation and tries to get into a game for the first time this spring. … Right-hander Sammy Gervacio (shoulder) could begin throwing soon. … Right-hander Bud Norris, who left his start Monday with a mild hamstring strain, said he feels good and will start Sunday against the Braves.

Here are the pictures of the day:

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Above: Manager Brad Mills watches cut-offs and rundowns on Thursday.

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Above: Matt Downs reaches for a ball being thrown from the outfield.

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Above: Wilton Lopez concentrates while trying to make a play during rag ball drills.


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Above: Michael Bourn and bullpen coach Jamie Quirk give each other a fist bump during BP. They were probably agreeing on how great UH is going to be in football this year.

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Above: Bill Hall swings away in batting practice. I’m glad he didn’t foul it back into my face.

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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 7: Wandy comes around

The Astros were held scoreless twice on Saturday, losing split-squad games to the Tigers, 5-0, in Kissimmee and, 1-0, to the Cardinals in Jupiter. Not all was lost, however. The Astros had some great pitching performances in both games, but since I was in Kissimmee that will be the focus of today’s rundown:

What went right: Wandy Rodriguez, coming off a shaky outing in his first Grapefruit League start of the season, rebounded to throw three innings Saturday against the Tigers, allowing three hits and two runs. He didn’t throw a ball until two outs in the third inning when he walked Brandon Inge. His first 16 pitches were strikes, striking out Will Rhymes on three pitches to start the game and whiffing both Andy Dirks and Ben Guez on three pitches in the third.

Astros manager Brad Mills was impressed with how Wilton Lopez mowed through the Tigers in an quick 1-2- inning, and how Douglas Arguello threw a scoreless inning.

Offensively, Hunter Pence went 2-for-3 to increase his spring average to .500, and Koby Clemens had a nice at-bat against Justin Verlander and singled over the shortstop in his first at-bat. Carlos Lee and Jonathan Villar had the other hits.

Shortstop Clint Barmes made a nice defensive play when he snagged a line drive out of the air, and Oswaldo Navarro at third and Michael Bourn in center contributed to the fine defense with some good plays.

J.D. Martinez, the Astros’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2010, made his Grapefruit League debut Saturday and went 0-for-3 at designated hitter against Detroit, but he said the quad strain that kept out of action felt better.

What went wrong: Ross Wolf, who had pitched so well in his previous outing, was roughed up for four hits and two runs in two innings in relief, raising his ERA to 4.50. Second baseman Jimmy Paredes, the second baseman acquired in the Lance Berkman trade, committed two errors in one play, fumbling a ground ball and then throwing it into the dugout.

Michael Bourn went 0-for-3 to fall to .200 and Clint Barmes went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. The Astros struck out 11 times, including Barmes, Pence and Lee in order in the sixth.

What they said: “He was mixing his pitches real well. I thought his curveball was exceptional today, and he was really working his fastball down in the zone.” – Astros manager Brad Mills on Wandy Rodriguez.

What’s next: The New York Yankees make their only visit of the spring to Osceola County Stadium at 12:05 p.m. Sunday. Brett Myers, who’s expected to be the Astros’ Opening Day starter, will make his second start of the spring after throwing two scoreless innings Tuesday against the Braves. Also scheduled to pitch for the Astros: Brandon Lyon, Jeff Fulchino, Fernando Abad, Mark Melancon, Lance Pendleton, Wesley Wright and Aneury Rodriguez.

Injury report: Outfielder J.D. Martinez made his spring debut and went 0-for-3, but he said his strained quad felt fine. … An MRI performed on right-hander Alberto Arias showed now additional structural damage. He has inflammation and will have another week of rest.

Now to the photos:

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Above: Clint Barmes, Bill Hall and Hunter Pence chat before workouts Saturday morning.

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Above: Brad Mills, a very hands-on manager, hits comebackers to the mound during a drill Saturday morning. Notice the long line of pitchers waiting for their turn.

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Above: Manager Brad Mills likes to make the rounds during batting practice and talk to players individually. Here, he spends a few moments with Hunter Pence on Saturday.

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Above: Carlos Lee takes a cut during batting practice Saturday morning.

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Above: Michael Bourn entertains teammates in the outfield during batting practice.

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Above: This is Chan Jong Moon, who signed with the Astros out of Korea as an 18-year-old on September, 2009. He’s a left-handed hitting infielder who hit .215 in 93 games in his professional debut last year in the Gulf Coast League.

Game 1: Finding some good in a blowout

The Astros dropped their Grapefruit League opener, 13-3, to the Atlanta Braves on Monday afternoon in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Here’s a rundown of the day’s events.

What went right: The Astros got off to a good start at the plate, pounding out 14 hits – all singles. Brett Wallace, trying to win the first base job, went 3-for-3, including a pair of hits into left field. Carlos Lee, Tommy Manzella and T.J. Steele also had two hits apiece.

“We’ve all been champing at the bit to get out there and play games, and to finally get out there and play another team it’s definitely exciting,” Wallace said. “I think we were all so ready to go. We faced some good pitchers today and it’s you start to get timing down and see balls coming out of guys’ hands.”

On the mound, Enerio Del Rosario pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits with one strikeout. Lance Pendleton, a Rule 5 pick, tossed a scoreless inning, along with Fernando Rodriguez. Henry Villar drew praise from manager Brad Mills after giving up a leadoff triple in the seventh.

What went wrong: Wandy Rodriguez struggled mightily in his first start of the spring, giving up five hits, three walks and six earned runs in 1 2/3 innings. Rodriguez, who had a 12.10 ERA last spring, needed only six pitches to get out of the first inning, but threw 37 pitches in the second and couldn’t finish the inning.

“You know what, today I tried to work on my location and I got a lot of guys behind in the count,” he said. “That was my mistake today.”

As a team, the Astros gave up 15 hits and walked eight batters. Aneury Rodriguez, who’s also a Rule 5 pick, gave up three hits and two runs in one inning, and Sergio Escalona allowed three hits, two walks and four earned runs in one inning.

“It happened with a couple of guys today, but with Wandy I think he missed on a couple of pitches early in counts with guys in that second inning,” Mills said. “He tried to make adjustments mechanically and left some balls right over the middle of the plate, and they hit them hard.”

What they said: “The good at-bats were really good. We had a couple of guys throw the ball extremely well. Villar threw the ball really well after the leadoff triple. Fernando Rodriguez threw the ball extremely well at the end. We had much better at-bats and 14 hits, and that’s nice to see.” — Astros manager Brad Mills.

What’s next: Brett Myers will start for the Astros on Tuesday in their first game of the spring at Osceola Count Stadium. That will also mark the first time we’ll see second baseman Bill Hall and shortstop Clint Barmes in an Astros uniform in a game.

Injury update: Outfielder J.D. Martinez, the Astros’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2010, will be sidelined until at least Thursday with a sore left quadriceps muscle. … Fellow Minor League outfielder T.J. Steele hyper-extended his elbow diving for a ball in the outfield, but he came back to get two hits. … Michael Bourn was hit on the shin by a pitch and was a bit swollen, but he said he was fine.

Now, onto the pictures. I’m not able to get any game pictures because of my reporting responsibilities, but I’ll continue to bring you pictures from the workouts and pregame stretches/batting practice. And yes, the lighting is poor at the ballpark at times.

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Above: Hunter Pence warms up on the field prior to Monday’s Grapefruit League opener.

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Above: First-base coach Bobby Meacham signs an autograph for an Astros fans, while bullpen catcher Javier Bracamonte looks on.

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Above: Jason Michaels works on his bat in the dugout. He went 0-for-3 on Monday as DH.

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Above: The Astros hit the field for stretch prior to Monday’s game.

Let the games begin, Astros

The Astros will kick off their Grapefruit League campaign at 12 p.m. CT Monday with a game against the Atlanta Braves at Disney World. It’s the first of 37 games for Houston this spring – including six split-squad games – in preparation for the April 1 season opener at Philadelphia.

“You can go through as much drills as you want, but until you’re really putting another team across the field, you’re never really [sure what you’re seeing],” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “We can go through these fundamentals, but they know where we’re going to hit the fungo or know what’s happening. Now the evaluating process ramps up a little bit.”

Here is the Astros’ starting lineup for the game:
CF Michael Bourn
1B Brett Wallace
RF Hunter Pence
LF Carlos Lee
DH Jason Michaels
3B Chris Johnson
C Jason Castro
2B Matt Downs
SS Tommy Manzella

LHP Wandy Rodriguez will start on the mound. Also scheduled to pitch are Henry Villar, Enerio Del Rosario, Fernando Rodriguez, Lance Pendleton, Sergio Escalona and Wesley Wright.

On Sunday, the Astros played an intrasquad game with Koby Clemens going 3-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs to lead Dave Clark’s team to a 5-1 win over Bobby Meacham’s team. J.B. Shuck went 3-for-3 with a triple for Meacham’s squad.

Here are the stats from the game in which each pitcher threw an inning — Clarkie’s Crushers: RHP Jordan Lyles (K); RHP Jose Valdez (H, K); LHP Patrick Urckfitz (H,1R/0ER); RHP Nelson Figueroa (H); RHP Arcenio Leon (H, 2BB); RHP Ross Wolf; OF Brian Bogusevic (2×3, R); OF T.J. Steele (0x4, RBI); IF Anderson Hernandez (1×2); IF Tommy Manzella (1×3, R); C Carlos Corporan (2×3, RBI, R); OF J.D. Martinez (1×2, BB, R); IF Koby Clemens (3×3, HR, 2RBI, R); IF Jose Carlos Thompson (0x1, 2BB); IF Jay Austin (3×3); Meach’s Mashers: LHP Fernando Abad (2H, K); RHP Sergio De Leon (2H, 2R/2ER, BB); RHP David Carpenter (3H, 3R/3ER, BB, K); RHP Casey Fien (H); LHP Douglas Arguello (2H, K); RHP Cesar Carrillo (H, BB, K); C J.R. Towles (0x3); IF Brian Dopirak (0x3); IF Jimmy Paredes (0x2, BB); OF J.B. Shuck (3×3, 3B); OF Drew Locke (0x3, R); C Brian Esposito (0x2, RBI); IF Jiovanni Mier (0x1, BB); OF Jon Gaston (0x3); IF Oswaldo Navarro (0x2).

Defensively, Anderson Hernandez made a terrific diving stop behind third and was able to throw out catcher Brian Esposito, and Tommy Manzella had a nice game at third base. Also, shortstop Jiovanni Mier was able to complete a double play after second baseman Jimmy Paredes fumbled a ground ball. Carlos Corporan threw out a runner at second base trying to steal.

Here is the day in pictures:

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Above: Outfielder Brian Bogusevic warms up in the outfield.

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Above: The Astros practiced relays and cut-offs on Sunday morning, using players from Minor League mini camp as base runners. Third baseman Chris Johnson is taking a throw as prospect Telvin Nash runs the bases.

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Above: Left-hander Gustavo Chacin gets his work done in the bullpen.

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Above: Manager Brad Mills takes notes during Sunday’s intrasquad game.

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Above: Jordan Lyles throws a pitch in the intrasquad game. He threw a scoreless inning.

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Above: Outfielder J.D. Martinez stands in the batter’s box.

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Above: Former first-round pick Jiovanni Mier swings at a pitch.

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Above: J.B. Shuck gets ready to rip one of his three hits in Sunday’s intrasquad game.

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Above: Cesar Carrillo, a former first-round pick of Padres, prepares to fire a pitch Sunday.

Myers, Happ, Wandy highlight third day

The top three pitchers in the Astros’ rotation — Brett Myers, J.A. Happ and Wandy Rodriguez — each threw their second bullpen session Friday. With 30 healthy pitchers in camp, the Astros have split into six pitching groups with five pitchers in each group. Myers is the leader of group one, Happ of group two and Rodriguez of group three.

Groups 1-3 threw off the bullpen mounds for the second time Friday, and groups 4-6 will do the same thing Saturday before everyone takes a day off Sunday, the first day position player reports. So far, camp has been relatively quiet, which is definitely a good thing. Manager Brad Mills likes what he has seen.

“It’s really nice to see those guys throw the ball so well,” Mills said. “It was even smoother than [Thursday]. Any time you have your top three guys in the rotation throwing on the same day and having them throw like they did, that was nice. Plus, Aneury Rodriguez and Sergio Escalona from the left side threw well, too. I don’t want to single them out because other guys threw well, but it was a good day.”

Aneury Rodriguez, a 23-year-old right-hander taken in the Rule 5 Draft, is an imposing figure, to say the least. He 6-feet-4, 200 pounds and has terrific stuff. He was 6-5 with a 3.80 ERA in 27 games (17 starts) at Triple-A Durham last year in the Rays organization and is in the hunt for the fifth spot in the rotation.

The pitchers have yet to face any hitters, but Mills said the evaluations have begun. The manager said he is in constant evaluation mode, beginning with the moment a guy walks in the door and shakes his hand to the way he carries himself among his teammates to his stuff on the mound.

“It’s a whole process,” Mills said. “You want to give the guy the best opportunity he can to perform the best he can.”

Meanwhile, Hunter Pence had his arbitration hearing Friday in Arizona, and the Astros said they should know the outcome Saturday. Pence is seeking $6.9 million, and the club if offering $5.15 million.

And what would a Spring Training blog be without some pictures? Here’s a photo gallery from the third day under the hot sun in Kissimmee:

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Above: Manager Brad Mills really gets into this drill in which he hit rag balls at the pitchers at a rapid pace. Brandon Lyon is the pitcher currently in the line of fire.

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Above: Catcher J.R. Towles after finishing a bullpen workout.

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Above: Pitching coach Brad Arnsberg (standing on the back slope of the mound) gives instruction to a group of pitchers. Oklahoma City pitching coach Burt Hooton listens in.

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Above: Pitcher Jeff Fulchino fields a ball off the mound and prepares to throw to first base. Other pitchers are lined up the background, preparing for the same drill.

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Above: 2009 first-round pick Jiovanni Mier signs some autographs for fans.

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Above: Jiovanni Mier (foreground) plays catch with Clint Barmes.

Rotation stability important to Astros

The Astros rotation certainly isn’t among the deepest in baseball and they don’t have the horses at the top you’d expect to contend in the Cy Young race, but they do have stability. And that could go a long way in determining the club’s chances to compete in the National League Central the next few years.

After announcing they had locked up left-hander Wandy Rodriguez with a three-year, $34-million contract extension on Tuesday, the top four pitchers in the team’s rotation heading into Spring Training are under club control for at least the next two years and possibly longer, depending on vesting options.

“We’re very pleased to get this done,” general manager Ed Wade. “Wandy is one of the top left-handed starters in the game. With pending free agency and its uncertainty, it made all the sense in the world for us. Wandy made it clear he wants to be a part of the Astros. Now, he’ll be here for at least the next three years and hopefully beyond that.”

Here’s a glance at the top four starters in the Astros rotation:

RHP Brett Myers
: 30.
Contract status: Signed through 2012. The contract is guaranteed for the 2011 and 2012 seasons and carries a 2013 club option that could become vested through Myers’ 2012 performance. The two-year guaranteed value, including a buyout on the option year, guarantees Myers $21 million. If the contract carries through 2013, it will guarantee Myers $28 million. The pact also contains additional performance bonus potential that could raise the total value to $29.5 million.
2010 record: 14-8, 3.14 ERA.
Career record: 87-71, 4.20 ERA in nine seasons.
Comment: Myers is coming off a career year that he parlayed into a lucrative contract extension midseason last year. He’s become the leader of the staff following the departure of Roy Oswalt and is a terrific competitor who wants the ball.

LHP Wandy Rodriguez
: 32.
Contract status: Signed through 2013. The Astros on Tuesday agreed to deal with Rodriguez that will pay him a three-year deal with a guaranteed $34 million. He has a 2014 vesting option that would push the total value of the deal to $44.5 million.
2010 record: 11-12, 3.60 ERA.
Career record: 62-64, 4.18 ERA in six seasons.
Comment: Rodriguez, the only remaining member from the 2005 World Series team, pitched like an All-Star in 2009 and in the second half of last year. That’s the pitcher the Astros threw $34 million at on Tuesday, and not the one who struggled mightily in the first half of the 2010 season.

LHP J.A. Happ
: 28.
Contract status: Signed through 2014. Will be arbitration eligible for the first time in 2012. He made $470,000 last year, and his 2012 salary has yet to be determined.
2010 record: 6-4, 3.40 ERA (with Phillies and Astros).
Career record: 19-9, 3.27 ERA in four seasons.
Comment: The Astros were thrilled to get Happ from the Phillies in the Oswalt trade. He’s still relatively young, doesn’t make much money and heretofore has been a dependable Major League pitcher.

RHP Bud Norris
: 25.
Contract status: Signed through 2015. Will be arbitration eligible in 2013 and is scheduled to hit free agency in 2016.
2010 record: 9-10, 4.92 ERA.
Career record: 15-13, 4.82 ERA in 1 1/2 seasons.
Comment: Has the kind of stuff to have a long Major League career. Norris could be poised for a breakout season in 2011.