Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bill Liesse is just...mean

Bill Liesse, of the Peoria Journal-Star, does not think highly of Drayton McLane or Miguel Tejada.

Obviously Drayton showed some hypocrisy with his handling of Miguel Tejada, and Liesse says this:

Hard to remember a quote as 180 degrees off the mark as the following by Astros owner Drayton McLane. The latest, laughable-on-its-face “apology” came from Houston’s Miguel Tejada, who happends to concede he acquired HGH before throwing the stuff away. Why not the implausible “I only did them once” steroid defense that inexplicably got Andy Pettitte off the hook? Because Tejada has to explain cancelled checks, not dirty urine.

McLane’s reaction: “I think we have to trust people. I think if he was guilty of (taking steroids) he would certainly say so.”

But then, this, to close out the column:
In related items, McLane said he thinks Minute Maid Park is a really cool place and that the back half of Houston’s suspect rotation will be manned just fine by his “invisible friends,” Bigfoot and the Easter Bunny.

Classy. So who's Bigfoot? Moehler? Or Backe?

Pirates beat Astros, yet again

I know it's Spring Training, but it still pisses me off.

Berkman, Lee and Tejada went 0x5, and Berkman scored a run on a sac fly as the Pirates beat the Astros 6-5.

Moehler was, for the most part, sharp, giving up a home run in two innings of work:

"Whether you've got a guaranteed job or guaranteed deal or whatever, I still want to go out there and pitch well," he said. "I'm not one of those guys that goes out there and works on stuff in spring training. I'm trying to get guys out."

Other highlights:
John Gall collected two singles and an RBI
Matt Kata had a run-scoring triple
Michael Bourn had a couple of hits, including an RBI triple.

Pitchers seeing action today:
Moehler (2 IP, 2H, 1 ER, 2K)
Paulino (2 IP, 2H, 1 ER, 1 BB)
Valverde (1 IP, 3H, 2 ER, 2K)
Hawkins (1 IP, 0H, 0 ER, 1K)
Byrdak (1 IP, 1H, 2ER, 1BB, 1K)
Fulchino (1 IP, 1H)
Geary (1 IP, 0H)

Bourn, Ramirez and Abercrombie each stole a base. That's two for Bourn on the Spring.

C-Lo update

Astros minor-league signee Chia Jen-Lo apparently hasn't looked great in warm-up games for the WBC.

Says the Taipei Times:
"Recent Houston Astros minor league signing Lo Chia-jen did not look sharp during the team’s warm-up games, struggling to find the strike zone and giving up four runs in only two-thirds of an inning of work. He will need to perform well to give Taiwan a chance during the later innings and will be a key part of the team’s bullpen."

Keep it on Astros County to follow your Astro participants in this, the most meaningless of world sporting competitions...

Days off during the regular season

Cecil Cooper said his plan is to give Matsui a day off every seven or eight days and Tejada a day off every ten or eleven days during the regular season.

Thinking about this, the season is about 180 days long. That means Matsui will play in about 135-140 games this season (barring anal fissures) and Tejada will play in 140-145 games (barring prison time or deportation). So there are 40 games available for the reserve infielder.

Well, that didn't take long

Tags is reporting that Wandy has a strained muscle in his ribcage. It apparently happened during the 2nd inning against the Nationals yesterday, and he will be held out of his next start.

“We’re just going to kind of back him up a little bit to get this squared away so it doesn’t became a major issue,” Cooper said. “He only felt it a little bit (Friday), so we’re going to take the precaution to try to get his squared away.”

Doesn't sound too serious, but if you had asked me to pick which starting pitcher would get hurt first Wandy wouldn't have been it. At least the Astros have what is basically a trained medical opinion in Mike Hampton on staff.

Pete Rose just perked up

Not that you would bet on baseball, but this site has the Astros as the "best big money pick," at 200-1 to win the division.

Brandon Backe and his options

A while back we had a question about Brandon Backe's status regarding the possibility of his being sent to Round Rock. Alyson Footer answered in her mailbag:

"In order to send Backe to Triple-A, he'd have to clear waivers and agree to go. He'd also get paid the full $1.55 million he signed for this winter. So a Minor League assignment probably isn't in his future. If he doesn't make the team because one of the veterans you mentioned pitched well enough to merit a roster spot, the Astros could trade Backe, or they could release him by a certain date late in Spring Training and only be responsible for a portion of his salary."

So that may not happen.

Sounds like Nieve is mentally preparing himself for waivers

Says the out-of-options Fernando (who can hear the drums):

“The most important thing is that I have to demonstrate for them and all the other teams that I can be a pitcher worthy of the big league level,” said Nieve, who will face the New York Mets on Sunday. “My goal is to show that I can pitch at this level. I don’t have options, so I’ll keep working hard to stay here.”

Catch that? Demonstrate for the Astros - and all the other teams. Because should he not make the club out of Spring Training, he goes on waivers, and who wouldn't want a 26-year old pitcher with good stuff? But here's my concern: it's not like the Astros are so stacked at SP that, if he makes a good showing this spring, he couldn't get a decent shot. But what's more valuable to the team? A decent Backe or a promising Nieve?

Tejada changes mind, is actually 27

So Miggs changed his mind and has decided he's 27 years old. Wait, wrong story. He has changed his mind on playing for the D.R. in the upcoming WBC. Apparently Felipe Alou - DR manager - assured Miggs that he wouldn't be playing first and would see time at SS, 3B and DH. Because with Hanley Ramirez and A-Rod, there's plenty of playing time to go around, I imagine.

How does Easy Eddie feel about this?

“Miguel felt compelled from the standpoint of representing his country to play, and I told him we’ll support whatever decision he makes,” Wade said. “We support the World Baseball Classic, and reversing field at this point is no big deal as far as we’re concerned.”

I hate the World Baseball Classic. Actually, that's not true. (You would think that with an editing tool, I might refrain from doing that). I don't mind the World Baseball Classic, but there's no reason not to hold it in November where, should you get hurt, the team that actually pays you money isn't totally housed. Thoughts?

Back in the saddle

Having relocated the County Seat of Astros County to Nashville, I'm ready to get going. Note, however, that I will be starting a new job in March, so the posts may not be as frequent as they have been lately. My former job was more conducive to constantly checking on Our Beloved Team. I did receive a couple of nice notes and emails about people filling in and I'm mulling that over. In the stress of moving (which kills relationships at a 99% success rate - we're the 1%), I didn't even think of that. And I like that idea. So keep your eyes out.

I'm not going to try to catch you up on two days of news and links (unless there are feature pieces off the beaten path), so there will be a recap of statistics, and then we'll pretend that Thursday and Friday never really happened. Sound good? Good. Let's begin...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Be back in a bit

So the wife and I are moving - physically moving - and it could be a day or two before I get up and running. Please don't leave. We all have such a beautiful friendship.

Starting lineup for today's game

Matsui - 2B
Bourn - CF
Pence - RF
Blum - 3B
Michaels - LF
Erstad - DH
Boone - 3B
Smith - SS
Towles - C

No Lee, no Tejada, no Berkman. Interesting that Towles is getting the first look at catcher.

Intrasquad highlights

From JJO's notes:

-Lou Palmisano hit a "monstrous" two-run home run off Clay Hensley

-Drew Sutton went 2-for-3 with a home run in the intrasquad game.

“Drew has a great idea at the plate,” manager Cecil Cooper said. “He has a little pop in his bat and can hit from both sides. We’re kind of trying to find a position for him because we know he can really hit.”

-Yordany Ramirez hit an inside-the-park home run to center off Brad James.

Richard Justice talks predictions

You can read it here, but in an effort to collect all predictions related to the 2009 Astros season, here are Richard Justice's predictions:

• I will not write these boys off early. I did it in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. The Astros start slow and finish fast. That's what they do. Please remind me of this on June 1 when they're eight games below .500.

• Cecil Cooper will do a terrific job. By the end of this season, he'll have the support of fans, reporters, players and his front office. He'll get an extension for 2010 and a nice fat raise. He was a rookie manager when he took over for Phil Garner in 2007 and had some learning to do. He has learned. He's remarkably relaxed and confident this spring. That confidence will play well in the clubhouse. He unveiled his team motto on Tuesday: Our Team. Our Time. Pretty good, huh?

• Russ Ortiz will be the No. 2 starter by mid-season. He's healthy for the first time in years and throwing the ball free and easy. He's a proven winner. His signing is going to be one of the smarter ones Ed Wade has made.

• Mike Hampton will win more games than Randy Wolf.

• Felipe Paulino will throw a 100-mph pitch this season. In the major leagues.

• J.R. Towles is going to be entrenched as the starting catcher by Sept. 1. He may have to start the season in the minor leagues. That's not important. There's no reason he can't succeed. He's a first-rate catcher and on his way to getting his offensive issues figured out.

• The Astros will have one of the National League's three best bullpens. They've got depth, balance, a mixture of youth and experience. And they've got a great closer. They'd better enjoy that great closer. Jose Valverde seems certain to test the free-agent market after the season.

• Hunter Pence is going to keep getting better. He's big, strong and fast. He's also driven to succeed. He will.

• Bud Norris, Brad James, Chris Johnson, Tommy Manzella and Brian Bogusevic will be pushing for spots on the big-league team by the second half of the season.

• Kaz Matsui will spend time on the disabled list, but it won't matter. Drew Sutton will fill in nicely.

• Roy Oswalt will win his first Cy Young Award. Lance Berkman will be the National League MVP.

• Darin Erstad, David Newhan and Jason Michael will again be invaluable off the bench.

• Lou Palmisano will be Ed Wade's latest shrewd move from the Rule V draft, joining Wesley Wright and Shane Victorino on an impressive list.

• Tim Byrdak will be recognized as one of the most amazing stories in all of big league hardball.

• Lance Berkman and I will make a joint appearance on Pardon the Interruption. It will be studied for years for its wit, intelligence, insight and content.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tejada may skip the WBC

JJO is reporting that Miguel Tejada is leaning toward skipping the World Baseball Classic:

"It's always been really important for me to represent my country," he said. "It's something that I've done for a long time. It's something that I've considered a part of my life to represent my country.

"At the same time, I have to realize that this is the last year in my contract and I need to work hard because I want to show all the other teams that there's still a lot left in me. God willing, I want to start the season well to see if Houston wants me to stay here, which would be my desire."

What do you think? Want Miggs to stick around long-term?

Astros on television

From Alyson Footer:

Good news -- a ton of Astros spring games will be on television this year. ESPN will broadcast the Astros-Braves game at Disney next Thursday (Feb. 26) at 12:05 p.m. CT., and FS Houston will broadcast four games: March 20 vs. Cincinnati, March 23 vs. Florida, March 24 vs. the Mets and March 25 at St. Louis. Also, when the Astros return home, the April 4 exhibition game with the Indians will also be on FS Houston.

Here's a question

So let me get this straight: We saw J.R. Towles hit .375 over a month in September 2007 facing Major League opponents in real-game situations, crapped our collective pants, and gave him the C1 in 2008, where he crapped the bed.

But now we're going to crap our pants over Lou Palmisano (and trust me, I hope he's the real deal) because he may dominate in Spring Training? Sound weird to anyone else?

Who are we committed to in 2010?

So this talk of Lance potentially leaving the club (not likely, but still), it got me thinking: Who are the Astros already committed to in the future? Here's your list:

2010 roster commitments ($58.15 million)
Carlos Lee
Lance Berkman
Roy Oswalt
Kaz Matsui
Doug Brocail
Brian Moehler

2011 roster commitments ($49.5 million)
Carlos Lee
Lance Berkman
Roy Oswalt

Chris Johnson has "an extreme outside shot"

That's according to JJO, however.

Johnson has an extreme outside shot of breaking camp with the Astros. If anything happens to Geoff Blum or Aaron Boone, he would be a serious candidate to be called up if he’s performing well at Class AAA Round Rock.

I would agree. If Johnson does well at Round Rock and one of the Old New Killer Bs struggles, gets hurt, or flat out sucks at 3rd, Johnson could get a look.

Monday, February 23, 2009

No. No. Please God, no.

Says Lance Berkman:

"My kids are getting older, and that's a factor," Berkman said. "I can't guarantee that I'm going to hang around indefinitely, but if you were to ask me today, I would say I'm definitely planning to play past this contract."

Remember, Lance is under contract - including the club option - through 2011. But the thought of Roy hanging it up in 2011, and Berkman leaving via free agency? Too terrible to think about.

But this is all reactionary, because Lance has never played a home game outside of Texas (I don't think. Do you know?)

Then this:
"Everybody I've talked to, even guys that are staunch advocates of cutting your career short, they all miss it," Berkman said. "To a man, I've never talked to anybody that retired while they still had something left in the tank and was pleased with the decision. Even if Roy hangs them up for a year, I predict a comeback after a year's absence."

Erstad's face done broke

Darin Erstad, who we reported got hit in the coconut, has a small cheek fracture, and won't miss much time.

Six-inning intrasquad game tomorrow

Pick up baseball, Astros-style.

Each pitcher scheduled to appear in that game will throw one inning. Brian Moehler, Felipe Paulino, Jose Capellan, Bud Norris, Chad Paronto and Polin Trinidad will be on one team, while Wandy Rodriguez, Clay Hensley, Fernando Nieve, Tyler Lumsden, Brad James and Sergio Perez will play for the other.

Other pitchers who can expect to appear in the opener include Geoff Geary, Wesley Wright, Tim Byrdak, Danny Graves and Sammy Gervacio.

Erstad hit in the coconut

Darin Erstad was taken for x-rays after catching (or not catching) a ball in outfield drills today.

"A ball kicked off funny off the grass and caught me in the cheek bone," he said. "I guess it's precautionary more than anything. ... It was just a line drive and I went to catch it. Well, I missed it. "

And Brandon Backe and Edwin Maysonet both lost weight battling a stomach bug. Backe apparently lost 10 pounds over the weekend - and that's a lot o' poopin'.

Ken Rosenthal still won't rule out the Astros marrying Pudge

Says Rosenthal:

The Astros need a catcher after losing potential backup Toby Hall to shoulder surgery, but the team continues to indicate that it cannot afford free agent Ivan Rodriguez unless his price drops significantly. That's a problem: Humberto Quintero probably is more of a backup than a five-day-a-week catcher, J.R. Towles batted .137 last season and Rule 5 pick Lou Palmisano is not the answer.

Maybe so, but unless Pudge comes down to League Minimum, it ain't happening and the Astros will gamble on Quintero and Palmisano paying off.

Jordan Comadena hearts Jimmy Wynn

In a nice little article, we get to meet Jordan Comadena, 23 year old outfielder from Purdue who the Astros signed to a minor league contract in most likely a utility role, and who will probably start 2009 in Lexington.

Comadena played in an alumni game with the Madison Mallards, played well, and was approached by the Toy Cannon himself:

“He got my information and I e-mailed him a bunch of stuff. I didn’t hear from him for a couple of months after that,” Comadena said. “In November, I got an e-mail back from him and it was encouraging. He said the Astros were working on something.”

Eventually, Comadena was contacted by Houston assistant general manager/director of player development Ricky Bennett and offered a minor league contract.

Playing well at Purdue, he was having a career year during his junior season when he broke a bone in his hand.

"My junior year I was really hitting the ball well. But a quarter way through the year, I broke a bone in my hand and had to have surgery,” he said. “I missed over half the year and that scared all the scouts away.

“My senior year I was healthy, but I didn’t have the kind of year I was hoping for. I was pretty confident somebody would take a chance on me. When it didn’t happen, I was very disappointed. But I always tried to stay positive. I felt like something was going to happen.”

The Astros and White Sox are trying to figure out who will get the bill

Toby Hall has decided to have surgery on his torn labrum, JJO says.

So the Astros will void Hall's contract (meaning your depth chart is C1 - Q, C2 - Palmisano, C3 - Towles), but the question arises: Who pays for the surgery? The Astros - who had him under contract when things got so dire in his shoulder that they blew apart from stress (dramatic, I know)? Or the White Sox - who had Hall under contract when he initially hurt his shoulder?

"We're going to need somebody that's going to be able to go out there two, three or maybe four days and catch," Wade said. "And it doesn't fit with what Toby's desires are. He wants to get to the point where he's out catching on a regular basis. After discussing with him, he's going to opt to have the surgery done to repair the labrum.

"He's had this issue. He dislocated this shoulder back in the latter parts of spring training in 2007 with the White Sox and never had it surgically repaired. But the recommendation is at this point that in order for him to continue his career at the level he wants to continue it to go ahead not waste time and get the surgery done."

Pretty brutal, because Hall had a great shot of making the 25-man roster.

Jose Valverde is just happy to be here

Ahh, I love this time of year. Puff pieces and personality profiles of the team. Today, it's the light-hearted side of Jose Valverde - the one who wears a cape in the locker room. And then there's the mean side - the one that James Loney apparently asked if Valverde was crazy. That's my favorite side.

This part, though, is awesome:
Usually, Valverde is the one scaring others. He isn't above using his large frame to intimidate. One of his favorite pranks is to tip toe behind a teammate or unsuspecting journalist or team official to scream in their ears, hardly failing to buckle the victim's knees.

That's just funny.

Manzella and Maysonet plan to put friendship behind them

It's a sweet story, but Tommy Manzella and Edwin Maysonet will cease their friendship and start a series of ill-intentioned pranks in order to get each other sent to minor league camp.

Okay, not really, but the two friends are finding it an interesting position to be in, especially as they duke it out with Matt Kata and Jason Smith for the utility infielder position - though a pure shortstop would be the most beneficial, with the Astros trying to give Miguel Tejada more rest.

“It’s definitely a different feeling this year where I feel like I definitely have a shot to prove a little more and actually get a legitimate look to make the 25-man roster,” Manzella said.

Says Coop:
“They both have made an impression,” Cooper said. “So that’s why it will be important to get them into games here in the spring, and do it a lot, particularly early.

“They’ll get a long, long look because we need to know if we got a guy who can step in and play.