Saturday, March 7, 2009

I wonder what Ed Wade is watching

So I'm watching this Puerto Rico/Panama game. Pudge is 4x4 and looking to go
5x5, which is more hits than the Astros catchers have all Spring. Think maybe
Easy Eddie is paying attention?

Astros in WBC

For Team Canada:
Chris Barnwell went 0-for-4 with a strikeout against the US

For Team USA:
LaHawk got the win vs Canada as he threw one inning, walking one - 6 of his 12 pitches were for strikes.

For Team Dominicana:
Third baseman (that's right) Miguel Tejada went 1-for-4 with a solo home run and left seven men on base as The Netherlands defeated the Dominican 3-2.

For Team Panama:
Carlos Lee is currently playing and is 0-for-3 in the 6th inning vs Puerto Rico.

And continuing this wonderful Spring...

Hey, at least a cherry blossom tree has...uh, blossomed outside. That's about the only thing about Spring going right for Astros fans. The Astros lost - again - this time to the Cardinals, 5-1.

The Astros got more hits than errors today, though. So that's nice. But only four of them. One a pinch hit from John Gall, the others from Berkman, Erstad and Bogusevic. Chris Johnson drew the lone walk for the Astros.

Geoff Geary had the only perfect outing, with a strikeout in 1 IP.
Hampton went three innings and gave up two earned runs on three hits.
Russ Ortiz had his worst outing this spring, with three earned runs on three walks and four hits. Of the 15 batters he faced, seven reached base.
Byrdak threw 1.1IP and walked a batter, while Valverde threw one inning and walked two batters. Neither of them scored, and his ERA lowered to 6.00.

Bring out the meat wagon

Jason Michaels strained his hamstring and Edwin Maysonet sprained his ankle as the Angel of Death passed over the Astros camp (or at least passed over Florida and cast a weary glance towards Kissimmee.)

Says Maysonet:
"It's not that bad," Maysonet said. "It's sore and it hurts when I throw and hit."

Oh, that's it, then?

Reggie Abercrombie's torrid spring about to get a lot more boring

Injury news: Reggie Abercrombie has a broken toe, after fouling a ball off his foot in his last at-bat last night, and will be out for at least a week.

Brutal. Abercrombie was the only one doing anything with the bat - hitting .563 with three doubles and a triple. And to have that come to a halt during your last at-bat in a 13-0 Spring Training loss? That stinks.

Coop's getting pissed! Part Two...

A closed door meeting in Spring Training? That's pretty intense.

"I just want to start ripping some people," he said. "You get a little frustrated how we're playing even though it's spring training. I didn't sleep too good, and that's one of the rare times for me. We're going to try to address it today and move forward."

It's not about golf and Disney World for Cooper and the Astros:
"It's about how you play, how you go about your business," he said. "If you lose, you lose, and that's OK. It's how you do it. Body language, the effort, those kinds of things. That's what bothers you more than anything else.

"It shouldn't be happening in spring training. I shouldn't have this frustration level in spring training. You should be having fun, you should be loose and have energy and enjoy what you're doing. You have a chance to play on a major league team and it's a blessing."

Let me tell you what: This makes me happy. This kind of intensity, this kind of accountability? I love it. There wasn't any name naming, but apparently the lolly-gagging has been team-wide.

A little video, for your viewing pleasure

McTaggart spends some time talking about the defensive prowess of one Yordany Ramirez, and references a catch made in Portland. But he doesn't give you the link. I, dear friends, have righted this wrong:

Says McTaggart:
Ramirez has made one terrific catch this spring, diving for a ball last week against the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla. He’s rated by Baseball America as having the best outfield arm among Astros prospects and was tabbed as the best defensive outfielder in the Padres’ system in 2007.

And what does Easy Eddie think about letting Ramirez throw himself around like a rag doll?
“I would rather see him maybe dive for a ball or two he had no business diving for because there’s going to be eight other balls he catches that most guys don’t. Running on his arm is a mistake. He’s still only 24 years old, and he’s got a lot of corners to turn offensively, but he’s got time to do it.”

So that means he's headed to Round Rock, then. Probably with Reggie Abercrombie.

At what point do you start to worry?

If you look at the multimedia galleries in the Chronicle's Astros page you'll read the following:

Astros shut out by Braves
Astros take on Yankees
Astros blown out by Mets
Astros lose to Pirates
Astros fall to Nationals
15 years of outfield change

Yeah. Last night was bad. Whooped 13-0. Out hit 11-2. Four errors.

Nieve: 2IP, 4H, 5ER, 2BB
Norris: 1.1IP, 4H, 5ER, 4BB
Wright: .2IP, 2H, 3R (0ER), 2BB
Fulchino: 2IP, 1H, 1BB
Graves: 1IP, 1K
Gervacio: 1IP, 1K

Abercrombie and Smith get the only two hits. Newhan, Smith, Abercrombie and Wright committed the errors. That's eight walks, compared to 3 strikeouts. And there's only so many times you can say "At least it's spring training" before you get that nervous pit in your stomach. Says Coop: Let's hope it's spring training and it all gets kicked out of here."

Friday, March 6, 2009

Another good Astros blog

I've been compiling a list of Astros blogs of which I approve. Maybe I'll look at other teams' blogs that don't make me boil with rage and hate and fury, but for now everyone should spend some time at:

TJ's blog and
Astros Home Plate

Playing catch up

-Doug Brocail's groin feels better and he made his first appearance of the spring today vs Panama.

-Chris Sampson threw 40 pitches off the mound today and reported feeling no pain...

“I felt good and am on schedule,” he said. “It’s another step. (Manager Cecil Cooper) said he’ll put me back in the general population with all the other guys, which is very exciting. Hopefully I’ll be game ready as soon as possible.”

-Lou Palmisano was sent home with flu-like symptoms...

“I kind of tentatively pushed him back to maybe Saturday to see if he’s OK, and if he is, he’ll start maybe Saturday’s game,”

This is getting kind of funny

There's a little song and dance going on: the Royals designate a player for assignment, the Astros pick him up.

Such is the case as the Astros signed LHP Neal Musser to a minor-league contract today. He has already passed his physical and thrown a bullpen session with the Astros.

Neal is a 28-year old lefty from Otterbein, Indiana and was a 2nd-round pick by the Mets in 1999. In 10 minor-league seasons, Musser has started 150 of 226 games, and is 57-54 with a 3.78 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP. 688 strikeouts to 351 walks. I imagine he's headed to Round Rock.

I'm tired, so I'll let Tags report this one

The Astros beat Panama 7-5 today.

Moehler didn't do so well, but Jason Michaels had three RBI and a homer. Clay Hensley also threw two scoreless innings.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

In Old Astros News...

Former Astros Moises Alou is likely to retire. The question I immediately asked was: Wait, Moises Alou hadn't retired yet?

Alou was a six-time All-Star.
Two-time Silver Slugger.
Finished in the top five in MVP voting twice.
332 homers and 1287 RBI.
2134 hits.
Never struck out more than 87 times in a season.

And with a line like .303/.369/.516, it's not out of the realm of possibility - though none of the Hall of Fame standards formulas place him in the Hall of Fame - should he get consideration?

Would you put him in the Hall of Fame? If he were to be elected, which logo would he wear? Of his 17 seasons, he spent 5+ with Montreal, 3 with Houston, 3 with the C**s, 2 with the Giants, 2 with the Mets, 1 with Florida, and two games with Pittsburgh (which I'm sure felt like an eternity. Though it was 1990, so it probably wasn't too bad.)

So how's this catching thing going?

Looking at some Spring Training statistics, which are meaningless until I want them to have meaning, I was curious: Who is making a name for themselves out of our plethora of catchers?

So far...(BA/OBP/SLG)

Quintero: 0x9, 1K. .000/.000/.000
Palmisano: 0x5. .000/.000/.000
Towles: 1x6, 1BB, 2Ks. .167/.167/.286
Santangelo: 0x1, 1BB. .000/.500/.000
Castro: 1x3, 1K. .333/.333/.333

Maybe I shouldn't have been so curious...

No chance of having four outfielders, then?

It would be interesting, in the vein of LaRussa and Yost batting the pitcher 8th: Remove your 2B and place a rover, if you will, in shallow center-field. A speedy guy, like Bourn or Abercrombie, to cover shallow outfield and provide help for Carlos Lee and allow Bourn to cover more deep outfield at Minute Maid Park. Of course you wouldn't do this with a man on first base (which would complicate things as far as the lineup goes), to preserve the double play, but it's still an interesting idea.

The whole reason behind this thought lay in the fact that there are some good outfielders in the Astros' organization, and not much of a chance for them to play. In an AP article in the Brownsville Herald, we learn just how tough it is - and will be - for a prospect to find a place to play. Regard:

1. Carlos Lee is owed too much money for too long - and is still productive.
2. Michael Bourn was obtained for too much - and this is a make-or-break season.
3. Hunter Pence just needs to be in the lineup. He's a reminder of brighter minor league days.

And that doesn't include Darin Erstad and Jason Michaels, who have guaranteed major-league contracts.

So what of Brian Bogusevic? What of Reggie Abercrombie?

"There's a lot of guys that can play," Cooper said. "It's crowded. We've got two vets that are going to be hard to supplant but I can't say that we won't. I'll have some decisions to make when it gets down closer. You kind of know which way you're going. You've got veterans, Erstad and Michaels, that are proven major league hitters, so they have the edge over the other guys because of that but these kids are all making strong cases. We're going to see Bogusevic as much as we can and the same goes for Reggie."

Of the current five - Michaels is probably the most expendable. But why hamper the development of Bogusevic, who needs everyday ABs, to sit him on the bench five days a week? It's not a bad problem to have. It would be nice if the Astros had too many pitchers (but that's not the case).

Again, this is a situation that will - most likely - resolve itself in the next four weeks, but then might not.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Bucs Dugout thinks the Astros will win six more games than the Pirates. So, 10-152.

In continuing keeping track of the 2009 predictions, the Bucs Dugout made their own:

-A mid-payroll team needs to churn out cheap talent to complement its core but, due mostly to inattention to drafting and Latin America, the Astros have failed to do that. As a result, they're relying on any number of cheap veterans, and even given the team's financial and personnel constraints, many of those veterans are poorly chosen.

-But the 2008 Astros also beat their Pythagorean record by nine games, and the 2009 team looks worse than last year's. I have to call them like I see them. Again, I predict they'll finish fifth, ahead of the Pirates.

5. Houston Astros 71-91

8 minutes of heaven

If I throw a ball for eight minutes, can I start next week? Because that's what's gonna happen for Wandy.

Wandy threw for 8 minutes today, after throwing for 6 minutes yesterday and could start next week - provided a bullpen session goes well...

Perhaps Cooper thought he would find Palmisano in tears?

To this point, he's looked real good," manager Cecil Cooper said of Lou Palmisano. "He doesn't seem like he's overwhelmed."

"My strength is calling a game, handling pitchers," Palmisano said. "I think the more you catch, you get used to calling a game. Right now, I'm starting from scratch. You've got to learn your guys. I'm trying to get to know the majority of them here, and that will make it easier."

Anthony DiComo - continuing with the happiness - also points out that Quintero is, by no means, assured of C1.

Jose Capellan is impressive and is "stating a case."

It's one of those sports cliches that makes absolutely no sense, but Jose Capellan is "stating a case" to make the Astros opening day roster. As if someone would come to Spring Training with the hope of sliding under the radar long enough to be back on the couch playing "Front Office Manager" all season long.

"A non-roster invitee with only a slight chance to make the team, Jose Capellan nonetheless impressed, firing three shutout innings against a strong Venezuelan lineup. Capellan walked one, allowed one hit and struck out none."

It's a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Tomorrow Carlos Lee will play the Astros with none of the glee, fanfare, or delight shown from the media that Derek Jeter received when he faced the Yankees.

Capellan strong, Paulino not so much

It's a game currently in progress, but in this intermediate time where I haven't started my new job yet, I might be taking a nap later, so what are you gonna do?

NRI Jose Capellan threw three innings and gave up a single and a walk against a strong Venezuelan lineup. Then Felipe Paulino came in and in two innings gave up five hits and two earned runs. An RBI triple from Kaz scored Manzella and Bogusevic also got a run-scoring single, as well. And that's it for the Astros offense through 6 innings.

Gil de la Vara has been pitching, allowing one hit in two innings.

Breaking down...Jose Valverde

Astros closer Jose Valverde regressed a bit in 2008, but still led the League in saves. His ERA, however, went from 2.66 in 2007 (with Arizona) to 3.38 last season. He also set career highs in home runs and hits allowed (10 and 62, respectively). So what happened? Let's look:

Valverde's K/9 ratio has dropped in each of the last three seasons (12.59, 10.91 and 10.38 from 2006-2008), but so did his BB/9. So this would indicate, to me, that batters are making more contact if his ERA is rising.

He's getting more batters to swing outside of the strike zone (33%, the highest of his career) and according to FanGraphs, batters are taking more cuts off his pitches in almost every single category.

What was it, specifically, about 2008? Valverde appeared in 74 games, a career high, in 72 innings, also a career high. In those:

-He got 4+ outs in five of those appearances
-He was perfect in 26 appearances
-He did not give up a homer from July 21 through the end of the season
-He walked batters in 20 appearances. 12 straight walk-less appearances from 8/27-9/25.
-He gave up hits in 40 appearances (in each of his first eight, as well).
-Converted 15 straight saves from August 9 to September 10
-He gave up runs in 14 appearances. 2+ runs in seven of them.

Of those 10 home runs:
(1) April 4 at Chicago. Mark DeRosa, batter #6, 0 on, 1 out. Previous batter popped out.
(2) April 15 at Philadelphia. Chris Snelling, pinch-hitter, 0 on, 0 out.
(3) April 15 at Philadelphia. Pat Burrell, batter #5, 1 on, 1 out. Previous batter struck out.
(4) April 17 at Philadalphia. Chris Coste, batter #7, 1 on, 2 out. The previous batter doubled.
(5) June 12 vs Milwaukee. Gabe Kapler, pinch-hitter, 0 on, 0 out.
(6) June 20 at Tampa Bay. Dioner Navarro, batter #8, 0 on, 1 out. Previous batter flied out to right.
(7) June 24 vs Texas. Ramon Vasquez, batter #8, 1 on, 1 out. Previous batter walked.
(8) June 28 vs Boston. Mike Lowell, batter #5, 0 on, 1 out. Previous batter struck out.
(9) July 21 vs Pittsburgh. Jason Bay, batter #4, 0 on, 1 out. Previous batter flied out to left.
(10) July 21 vs Pittsburgh. Adam Laroche, batter #6, 1 on, 1 out. Previous batter singled.

5 homers away, 5 at home.
1 HR to B4, 2 HR to B5, 2 HR to B6, 1 HR to B7, 2 HR to B8, 2 HR to PH.
5 HR with the bases empty, 5 HR with 1 on. No HR with 2 or 3 on.
2 leadoff homers, 5 homers where the previous batter was out, 3 homers in which the previous batter got on base.

With one day of rest, Valverde's ERA shot up to 7.40 with three blown saves in 19 opportunities - and eight home runs.
On consecutive days, Valverde's ERA was 0.83 with a .190 BAA and a 22:9 K:BB ratio.

April, June and July were terrible (ERA 5.00+). Though, to be fair, Valverde gave up runs in one appearance in July. There just happened to be six runs in 1/3 of an inning. August and September? ERA under 1.00 and 1.20 in May.

The Biz of Baseball's Astros Organizational Report

It's a fantastic read, and despite its being published in August 2008, is still very much relevant.

The Biz of Baseball - one of the best baseball sites out there - broke down the Astros organization from a business standpoint. You really should read the whole thing, but here are some nuggets:

Since the purchase of the team in 1993, the Astros rank second in the National League and fifth in the Majors in winning percentage (.534) over 15 seasons from 1993-2007. Since 1998, the Astros have attained an astonishing amount of success, which can compete with the run of the Yankees and the Braves. Since 1998, they have made the post-season in six of those, with Wild Card berths in 2004, and 2005, along with Division Titles in 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2001. Along with all those accolades McLane’s highlight, was 2001 as the Astros were the Organization of the Year by four separate media outlets; TOPPS, SportsTicker, Baseball America and Baseball Weekly.

-From 2002-2008, the value of the Astros (from Forbes) has grown from $337 to $463 million. Want to know what impact two deep playoff runs has on a team's value? Starting 2004, the Astros were worth $320 million. Following 2005 they were worth $416 million.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

At least one SP has his crap together

And that SP is none other than your friend and mine, Roy Oswalt.

Team USA beat the Yankees, 6-5, as Roy threw 3.1 IPs with 4 hits, 1 ER and 1 BB. 50 pitches - 32 strikes (a 64% strike rate, for those of you who like your math done for you).

USA manager Davey Johnson is holding Roy to 70 pitches in his first start this weekend, which he hopes to make it through five innings.

Tim Dierkes thinks Carlos Lee will be a train-wreck, as well.

So Tim Dierkes, of MLBTR, wrote a column on the 45 worst contracts in baseball.

Says Dierkes:
Signed in November of 2006. This backloaded deal pays Lee $18.5MM per year over the last four years. We've yet to see the worst of it.

Fortunately for the Astros, they only have one contract here. The Brewers, Cubs and Reds have two contracts. The Pirates don't have any. The Giants lead all clubs with four (Zito, Renteria, Roberts and Rowand).

Chat Wrap Wrap with Ricky Bennett

Astros Assistant GM held a live chat with the Chronicle this morning, talking about the Astros' youngsters. Here are some highlights:

-It's not likely Jason Castro will join the Astros this season, but 2010 is more likely.
-The Astros are impressed with Drew Sutton, Chris Johnson, Brian Bogusevic and Bud Norris so far this spring.
-Bogusevic is more likely to start the season in the minors to get consistent at-bats.
-Maysonet, Manzella, Smith, Kata and Newhan are basically competing for the 25th spot on the roster.
-Chris Johnson, defensively, is "major-league ready."
-Manzella's main problem right now is hitting the ball in the air, and then the ball not going farther than the fence. Tommy needs to be more consistent with his knowledge of the strike zone and his ability to make consistent contact.
-The Astros will let the Spring play out before deciding on Towles or Palmisano as Quintero's backup.
-Sergio Perez and Felipe Paulino project to be starters.

Backe is the opener to Tampa Bay's can of Whoop...

As McTaggart said, Backe really hurt his chances of making the Opening Day roster.

So let's see: Backe gave up a leadoff double, then retired six of the next seven batters - which is nice. Then the 3rd inning came along and this happened...

Reid Brignac hit a home run, Jason Bartlett singled, Carl Crawford walked, Ben Zobrist walked. Backe also committed an error and was pulled for Gervacio, who then walked in three runs, and then Polin Trinidad walked a guy - so that's seven straight walks. Throw in three two-run hits by Trinidad, and what you have is a 12-2 loss. Jeff Fulchino did strike out Pat Burrell to end the inning, though. Bud Norris threw two hitless, scoreless innings, and feels no shame.

The Astros collected eight hits today: 2 from Abercrombie, and 1 from Bourn (who also stole two bases), Maysonet, Michaels, Newhan, Johnson and Gall. RBIs from Abercrombie and Maysonet.

So what you have in the race for SP5 is the following so far:
Brandon Backe: 4IP, 4H, 4R, 4ER, 3BB, 4K
Russ Ortiz: 5IP, 2H, 1R, 1ER, 1BB, 6K
Fernando Nieve: 2IP, 3H, 0R, 0ER, 2BB, 1K
Felipe Paulino: 2IP, 2H, 1R, 1ER, 1BB, 0K

Obviously there's a lot of spring baseball to be played, but right now Ortiz has to have the edge. Backe sees the pooch, and is starting to think that the pooch looks attractive.

Is Jeff Bagwell the voice of reason in the Astros' organization?

There is not an Astros logo in the Hall of Fame. Not the Museum - that's a separate part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum - but in the Plaque Gallery, there are no Astros logos. Joe Morgan is a red. Nolan Ryan is a Ranger. Phil Niekro is a Brave.

And you know this really chaps Run-DMcs groceries. So while I fully believe Biggio is a first-ballot HOFer (2012), Bagwell is on the line. But this isn't a debate about the Hall of Fame - what we're talking about is Drayton's willingness to listen to the conscience of his teams. Jeff Bagwell, as a special assistant, is on Easy Eddie's side as how to go about rebuilding the Astros:

"We're not going to be a team that's going to be able to go out and sign CC Sabathia or give $85 million to [A.J.] Burnett. We have to do it from within, and then we'll be back in the playoffs."

Alyson Footer points out that we are currently in the longest playoff drought since 1987-1996, which is pretty incredible for an organization. What did the 1997-2005 teams have in common? Stability and youth with a few key veteran leaders.

The Astros got away from that - partially due to necessity - last off-season. But Easy Eddie has a proven track record of putting the pieces together that make a World Champion - he just needs the time to do it.

Drayton got away from the reality that you don't buy championships. You can't load up on free agents, or your payroll will get out of control (see: 2008-2012). Free agency is how you put the final piece together. Build from within and fans have an identity with those players - hence the increase in ticket sales. Sure, there was a curious interest in Carlos Lee, but I don't think anyone is overly thrilled with the prospect of having him in left field for the next four years. Because when someone like Brian Bogusevic comes from nowhere and looks like he could get the job done (provided Michael Bourn turns into the player Easy Eddie traded for), there's nowhere to put him.

So when Easy Eddie says, "As long as I'm here, we'll forever be a club that's looking to build within its system," I hope that he has a chance to see it through, because that's how I want my team to be run. Let's all hope Drayton gives him the chance, because right now Ed Wade is cleaning up a mess.

Did you know?

So far, in Spring Training...

Reggie Abercrombie is tied for 2nd in the Majors with six hits?
And tied for 2nd with two doubles?
Chris Johnson is tied for 4th with 5 RBI?
Michael Bourn is tied for 3rd with 2 SB?
Miguel Tejada leads all Astros with a 1.143 SLG?
Jason Smith has the 2nd highest BA in the Majors with .571?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Bud Selig must have been in attendance

So the Astros tied the Yankees, because they were out of pitching (didn't they just spend $Gazillion on that?), 5-5. Hampton got rocked, kind of, but don't feel bad. He gave up four runs in two innings, but was supposed to pitch three innings.

What's important to note, though, is this:
"I've done it before," Hampton said. "The most important thing is I felt good out there. The results aren't what I wanted, but for the most part I was able to use both sides of the plate and throw my pitches and my body felt good as well."

Honestly. This doesn't matter. The important thing is that he didn't hit Derek Jeter in the head with his detached arm. As long as Hampton can pitch, he will. If he's not hurt, everything's fine. Will he be 1999 Mike Hampton? Probably not. But will he be better than Woody Williams or Jason Jennings? Yes. So while the numbers don't count, let's let the numbers not count and just enjoy that the Astros might get away with one here in Hampton.

Russ Ortiz pitched well - 3 IP, 1 H, 1 ER (homer to Angel Berroa)
Valverde (2K), Wesley Wright and Chad Paronto (1K) threw scoreless innings

On the offensive side:
Jason Smith and Reggie Abercrombie went 2-for-2 (Smith also added an SB)
Matt Kata went deep and Chris Johnson had a two-RBI single
Palmisano and Quintero each went 0-for-2

Other notes:

Hunter Pence signed a contract for $439,000 for 2009.
Yordany Ramirez is nursing a sore hamstring.

LaHawk to pitch in WBC

McTaggart is reporting LaTroy Hawkins will depart today to join Team USA's camp for the WBC.

"My wife said, 'You always wanted to pitch in the Olympics or compete in the Olympics, whether it’s speed-walking or something,'” Hawkins said. “She said, ‘This is as close as you could get,’ and I said, ‘You’ve got a point.’”

Ooooh, Coop's getting pissed!

So the wind was blowing around quite a bit which, even JJO said the three-run homer Hensley gave up was "wind-aided." However, Coop ain't having it:

“They did pretty good on the other side, so I don’t know about that,” he said. “I just know I’m kind of getting a little tired of seeing it. We have to have some good games thrown in there somewhere.”

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Clay Hensley did not help his chances

Though, to be fair, the Astros didn't help him much, either. Clay Hensley gave up eight runs (four earned) on five hits and a walk in 2/3 of an inning. Though errors by Tejada, Abercrombie and Sutton did Hensley and Lumsden (who gave up three runs - two earned) in a little bit. Walking six batters didn't help. Only Gil de la Vara had a perfect outing in 1 IP as the Mets beat the Astros 13-1.

Nieve (who has no options - see? it's just funny now), allowed five baserunners in 2 IP.

Wandy will take an extra few days off

McTaggart is reporting that Wandy will miss two starts because of that rib cage injury, and pitching coach Dewey Robinson is working with him to alter some of his mechanics:

"There's a lot of torque going into Wandy's upper half and it's natural," Robinson said this afternoon from Port St. Lucie, Fla. "That's how pitchers throw. I kind of saw this last year when he was coming back from one of his injuries.

"Wandy uses his lower half to drive off the mound, but if we keep him a little taller and over the ball it shortens up his side and hopefully takes some of the stress off."

Chris Johnson has some character in there

Which would make it a lot harder to swallow if he took a tire iron to Geoff Blum's knee. But this article, from the Orlando Sentinel details some things about Chris Johnson you may not have known:

"But what impressed (Stetson coach Pete) Dunn most was how Johnson handled disappointment after a rough first year at Stetson. Johnson was academically ineligible as a freshman, and his absence on the baseball diamond allowed another freshman, future New York Yankees draftee Braedyn Pruitt, to take over at third base.

Johnson could have transferred to a community college, which would have allowed him to play immediately and be eligible for the next draft. Instead, Johnson stayed at Stetson and played in the outfield and at first base.

"That showed a lot of character on his part and on his family's part," Dunn said. "He worked his fanny off to regain his eligibility for his sophomore year."

Johnson also has the 2nd-highest career BA in Stetson history (.379)

How the Astros swing it

So I was looking at how the Astros' approach compares to that of the rest of the Majors this morning (typical Sunday activity, right?). Thanks to Fangraphs, we can take a look at 2008.

The percentage of pitches outside of the strike zone at which the Astros swing: 28.0% - tied for 28th in the Majors. That's poor plate discipline. The Rays led the Majors with 22.6%. Only the Mariners and Angels swung (swinged? swang?) at more pitches outside of the strike zone.

The percentage of pitches outside of the strike zone at which the Astros swing, and make contact: 59.7% - 10th in the Majors. Of that 28%, the Astros make contact with almost 60% of pitches outside of the strike zone.

The percentage of pitches inside the strike zone at which the Astros swing: 67.5% - 27th in the Majors. Only the Royals, Cardinals and White Sox took the strikes the pitchers gave them. This is debatable on whether or not the Astros are 27th, or 4th.

The percentage of pitches inside the strike zone at which the Astros swing, and make contact: 88.3% - 14th in the Majors.

Overall percentage of pitches at which the Astros swing: 48.2% - 29th. Only the Royals cut at more pitches.

Overall percentage of pitches at which the Astros swing, and make contact: 80.2% - 18th in the Majors.

The percentage of plate appearances in which the first pitch was a strike: 60.0% - 27th in the Majors. Only the Rockies, Giants and Royals had an 0-1 count in more plate appearances than the Astros. Meaning 16 out of 27 batters started out behind in the count.

So the Astros are a free swinging team, obviously. But with a .263 team average, it doesn't translate to hits. There's another useful statistic called BABIP - or the batting average of balls put in play. The Astros' BABIP is .299 - 20th in the Majors, 10th in the NL, and 3rd in the NL Central. Will it turn around this year? Will the law of averages catch up? Just Michael Bourn acting like a Major Leaguer will help...

Tags' feature on Bud Norris

Bud Norris is emerging as the Astros' top pitching prospect.

Norris, 23, has a slider and a fastball with some command issues and is now working on a changeup:
"I was working on it a lot in Arizona, but if I have a three-pitch arsenal out of the pen that’s a great thing. As a starter, you get in a routine and have a feel for your pitches a little bit more, but as a reliever it’s more of an adrenaline rush. The changeup needs more work, but it’s still early.”

McTaggart projects Norris to open the season at Round Rock:
Norris could wind up as an end-of-the-game reliever because of his hard stuff, but the plan is to keep him in the rotation in the minors so he can work more innings and refine his pitches.

Sampson to be game-ready in a couple of weeks

Chris Sampson's elbow is holding up okay, it's just other parts of the body that go with pitching have to get in shape.

That's how I am, too. My elbow is fine, I'm just about 30 pounds away from getting into game shape. He'll take a couple of days off, and then work in batting practice. Target date for return is March 13.