March 2009

Rotation shaping up. Puma still day-to-day.

Looks like we have the order of the starting five, barring injury, major meltdown or unforeseen disaster:

Roy Oswalt

Wandy Rodriguez

Brian Moehler

Mike Hampton

Russ Ortiz


This is based on the order of the rotation as we head to Opening Day. I do not know if the Astros will pitch Ortiz on his scheduled day or if they’ll wait until the first time they actually need their fifth starter, which is April 15.

All we know now is Oswalt will pitch every five days no matter what, with the remaining four falling in line around him. Off days may simply mean the other four will get an extra day of rest between starts. We’ll see.

Lance Berkman isn’t in the lineup Tuesday and since the Astros won’t be using the DH on Wednesday either, it’s more likely we won’t see Puma’s name in the batting order again until Thursday, when the team plays the Double-A Hooks in Corpus Christi. However, Cooper may insert Berkman into a game in the next couple of days just to get him an at-bat or two.


Bob Boooooone offers up good news.

I don’t know about you, but I sure do feel better about Aaron Boone’s recent health scare after seeing this expression on his dad’s face:


It’s not that I didn’t believe the Astros when they put out a release Thursday that said Aaron Boone’s heart surgery was a success. But it’s always good to hear it from a family member, and according to Bob Boone (who, as Assistant GM for the Nationals, was at batting practice before the Astros-Nats game Saturday morning), Aaron is out of ICU and resting comfortably.

You can read about it here:

Bob also said he tried to check out the incision on Aaron’s chest, but the younger Boone wasn’t giving any sneak peeks.

“He clutched a pillow the whole time,” Bob said.


Wandy Rodriguez threw six innings in a Triple-A game against Washington Saturday, allowing three hits and no runs while striking out six. Pudge Rodriguez caught that game, going 2-for-4 with a double, an RBI and one walk. He also stole a base. Geoff Blum played in a Double-A game and went 0-for-4.

Today’s assortment of pictures are from batting practice Saturday morning on a windy, warm day at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla.:

Radio announcer Dave Raymond interviews hitting coach Sean Berry for the pregame show.


Darin Erstad and Jason Michaels, waiting for batting practice to start.



Chris Johnson, future third baseman. Don’t forget about this guy — even if he doesn’t make the team out of Spring Training, we’ll be hearing from him soon.


Kazuo Matsui takes batting practice.


A look at Quintero hitting, from behind the cage.


Miguel Tejada, warming up from his knees (not sure why).


Oswalt returns.

Roy Oswalt finished up his 97-pitch outing against the Phillies on Friday and said, “I feel like I started the season backward.”

That’s understandable, considering less than a week ago he was pitching in a playoff atmosphere and now, he’s back in the laid-back atmosphere that is the Grapefruit League.

Don’t fret about Oswalt giving up three runs to the Phillies; his goal was to come close to 100 pitches, which he achieved. He also felt better as the outing continued.

“I felt strong early — too strong, actually,” he said. “I couldn’t get the ball down, I kept throwing up in the zone.  I felt better late in the game, in the fourth and fifth and six innings. I started getting  a little edge knocked off.”

After pitching in the World Baseball Classic, Oswalt struggled to switch gears so quickly.

“It was a little different atmosphere out there,” he said. “You go from having to win every time out to trying to work on some stuff to get ready for the season.”

Oswalt threw two bullpen sessions between his last start for Team USA and his start Friday. He’ll have one more outing before Opening Day, and I’m pretty confident he’ll be ready to go on Opening Day April 6.

Norris, Towles cut.

The Astros made two roster moves Friday morning, sending right-hander Bud Norris and catcher J.R. Towles to Minor League camp.

Norris will join the Round Rock rotation, but he will be the first pitcher considered if a need arises in either the rotation or the bullpen in Houston.

Towles was edged out when the club signed Pudge Rodriguez, which moved Humberto Quintero to a backup role.

More on this later.


Surgery complete, and a success.

Aaron Boone underwent open heart surgery Thursday at the Stanford University Medical Center, and early indications are that the procedure was successful.

“I spoke to Aaron’s father Bob and he indicated that things went well,” Astros General Manager Ed Wade said in a statement released by the Astros. “Certainly our prayers are with Aaron and the entire Boone family in hopes of a full recovery.”

Dr. D. Craig Miller was scheduled to perform the surgery, which was to include the replacement of an aortic valve. In medical terms, the procedure that Boone was scheduled to undergo is called bicuspid aortic valve aneurysm surgery, which included an aortic valve replacement.

The 36-year-old Boone revealed last week that he has had the heart condition since he was in college and categorized the surgery as “not an emergency situation.”

Boone said he would like to play baseball again but was not sure he would. It is highly unlikely he will play again this year. Boone described the recovery time for the surgery to be “several months.”

Still waiting.

Havent heard anything yet on Aaron Boones surgery…should be getting something soon.

Update: Tejada sentenced, Boone in surgery.

Miguel Tejada was sentenced to one year of probation and 100 hours of community service, in addition to a $5,000 fine, for lying to Congress about performancing-enhancing drugs.

Aaron Boone went into surgery at approximately 11:30 am ET and results from the heart procedure are expected to be conveyed to the Astros by 2:30 ET.

When I know, you’ll know.

Good luck, Booooone.



Before we get to the baseball stuff I’d like to take a moment to wish Aaron Booooone the best of luck tomorrow. He’s having the heart procedure that he told us about last week, and I’m sure we can all agree that we want nothing but the best for him and his family.

Be well, Aaron.


Back to business. The Astros have an offday Thursday, and manager Cecil Cooper has made it clear he doesn’t want anyone doing anything baseball-related. Days off are few and far between in baseball, and seeing this is the last one of the spring,

Cooper wants his players rested and relaxed when the team returns to work Friday.

“Tomorrow is the last offday, period,” Cooper said. “This is the last time they’ll have to rejuvenate.”

That said, Miguel Tejada is the one exception — he has a busy day ahead of him, seeing that he’ll be flying to Washington, D.C. to receive his sentence for lying to congressional staffers about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.

Tejada pleaded guilty to that charge prior to his arrival to Spring Training, and from everything that has been reported since then, the shortstop is likely going to receive probation, and no jail time.


Russ Ortiz has a touch of the flu, and apparently, he’s not the only one. Darin Erstad showed up to the Astros’ clubhouse Wednesday morning feeling ill, and he was immediately sent home.

That’s one of the worst things about Spring Training — when one gets sick, it seems like everyone does. It’s risky to spend so much time in such close quarters, whether it’s the locker room, training room, weight room or even the eating area where players are served breakfast and lunch. I remember a few years back, early in the season, when it seemed like everyone was sick, all at once. I recall Lance Berkman walking around the clubhouse wearing surgical gloves and a mask to protect himself from the germs.

(Does that surprise you? I mean, who else would do that?)


Here and there: Humberto Quintero was scheduled to catch six or seven innings at a Minor League game Wednesday, in order to make up for some of the playing time he’ll miss with the arrival of Pudge Rodriguez. …Roy Oswalt threw a side session at his junior college in Mississippi and is slated to start Friday against the Phillies. …Brandon Backe threw eight minutes on flat ground Tuesday, the first time he’s been cleared to do anything since straining a side muscle several weeks ago.

LaTroy returns bearing gifts…sort of.

Brian Moehler has had no lingering effects from the line drive that crashed into his shoulder the other day, and he fully expects to make his next start. Other than a slight bruise, it appears Moehler got lucky with this one, especially since it was originally headed for his jaw. He’ll throw a side on Friday and will pitch Sunday.


Cecil Cooper doesn’t know how the starting rotation will line up after Roy Oswalt — or, I should say, if he does know, he’s not telling us.

But the news that Wandy Rodriguez will start Saturday, one day early, suggests he could get the ball for the second game against the Cubs on April 7.

“Roy Oswalt is pitching April 6 and this is not big news,” Cooper said. “After that, we’re trying to figure it out. We have an idea, but I ain’t saying.”


Asked if Brian Bogusevic could be a backup option if Michael Bourn struggles, Cooper offered up two other options instead.

“We have two guys who we’re counting on to play the corners and some center field and come off the bench — [Darin] Erstad and [Jason] Michaels. And we’ll have to look there before we go in another direction.”


LaTroy Hawkins watched with amusement as Reggie Abercrombie and Brandon Backe tore into the bag full of World Baseball Classic goodies he brought back from his country-wide excursion with Team U.S.A. The two looked like five-year-olds on Christmas as they tried on hats of all sizes and logos, from USA to Korea to Japan and the Dominican Republic.

“How do I look?” asked one. “This one’s cool,” said the other.

“I don’t know why they’re so excited,” Hawkins quipped. “I’m giving all this stuff to my kids.”


Haven’t had a lot of time to take pictures…here are a few from this week’s presidential visit:

President Bush spent most of his clubhouse signing autographs. Here we have Tim Byrdak on the left, Chris Sampson on the right.



Russ Ortiz wasn’t sure what all the commotion was about as he emerged from the training room, until he got a closer look. 


And here’s a couple of Biggio, during his visit to Kissimmee last weekend:





Wandy, Pudge, Doublemint Twins and more old pictures.

From a lazy Sunday at the ballpark:

Wandy Rodriguez’s next start was pushed back a day, and now the left-hander is tentatively expected to throw on Tuesday.

Rodriguez hurt the tip of the index finger on his left hand after being hit with a comebacker during his start against the Mets last Thursday.

“I was able to keep pitching in the game after it hit me,” said Rodriguez, who gave up five runs (one earned) on three hits and two walks over two innings Thursday. “It just hurts a lot and feels like it’s going to bleed when I throw my curveball. I even tried to [poke] it with a needle (Saturday night) to get the blood out of there, but the blood is still on the tip.”

Because he digs that index finger into the ball when he he throws his curveball, he cannot pitch through this injury, as he discovered during a recent bullpen session.

“I tried to throw my curveball in the bullpen without putting the pressure on the finger, but I didn’t even reach it to the plate,” he said. “It bounced way before it got there.”

The Astros won’t need their fifth starter until halfway through April, which makes it possible that Russ Ortiz, assuming the job goes to him, would make one start in the Minor Leagues before joining the Major League club.


The way things are going, I wouldn’t be at all shocked if Wandy was not ready to start the season, which would allow for both Ortiz and Jose Capellan to make this team. Based on spring performances, I don’t think that would be such a bad thing, do you?


Pudge Rodriguez probably will not play Monday, but manager Cecil Cooper expects him to catch Wandy on Tuesday and play again Wednesday, when the Astros travel to Jupiter.

Brian Moehler, on throwing to Pudge for the first time: “He did a good job. I enjoiyed the way he set up back there, he mixed pitches up well. We seemed to be on the right page. It’s a learning experience for him as well as us. I thought he did a great job.

“He brings leadership and he brings playoff experience, two great qualities to have.”


From the “Did you know” vault:
Did you know Jason Michaels’ wife, Pamela, and her twin sister, Karen were Doublemint Twins as a teenagers? They were featured in a couple of commercials of the famous chewing gum brand, which launched its long-running Doublemint Twins ad campaign back in the 1950s.

According to Jason, Pamela can sing and play piano, “while I have absolutely no ability to do either.”


And here we have the final installment of our trip down memory lane. I hope you’ve enjoyed the pictures, as much as I enjoyed posting them.

Former New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani threw out the first pitch before the Astros-Yankees game last year. Here he is walking off the field with Mark Loretta, who caught the pitch.


Nope, no pressure here: imagine trying to throw a strike while Nolan Ryan is standing three feet from you with that look on his face. That’s what Jason Hirsh got a taste of a few years ago at the Astros’ Elite Camp.


I was down on the field for the pregame hooplah before Biggio’s final game in 2007, and I took a bunch of pictures. This is FSN’s Patti Smith, holding Chris Sampson’s son, C.J., as she did the intro for her show. Sampson is off to the left, maybe making sure Patti didn’t drop the baby. Just kidding.


Opening Day, 2002: The Astros invited fan favorite Bill Spiers to throw out the first pitch. Spiers, one of the all-time good guys in baseball, retired in ’01 when his back problems went from uncomfortable to unbearable. Here he is with his wife, Laura, and daughter, Ashley.


Another shot of the Astros’ clincher in 2001. That’s Ricky Stone on the left, Scott Linebrink on the right.


And Ocavio Dotel and Jose Cruz, same night…


An O’Brien shot of the moment the Astros clinched the Wild Card in 2004.


You never know who you’re going to run into at batting practice when the Yankees are in the World Series. I took this mainly because of Paul O’Neill, my all-time favorite Cincinnati Red. That he posed with Billy Crystal, Robin Williams and Don Mattingly was just a bonus.


One of the best parts of this job over the years was having behind-the-scenes access to some of the off-the-field stuff. This was taken before a ZZ Top concert a few offseasons ago. The band invited the Sunshine Kids and Craig and Patty Biggio to a pre-concert party and provided tickets to the show.


This was taken on one of the annual caravan trips to Temple, at least seven years ago, if not more. I don’t remember a lot about it, except that we were at a high school, and Lance got a hold of a football.


Took this last week during batting practice. You see how much the winless streak was taking a toll on the Puma.


I snapped this in Dennis’s office, a couple of hours before Biggio was to play in his final game. He spent most of the weekend signing baseballs.


This cracks me up — good ol’ Jimy Williams. Jeff Kent had just been ejected from the game, and Jimy let the umpires know how he felt about the situation by covering home plate with dirt. Good stuff.


Jeff Kent, at an autograph session during the Astros’ caravan in 2003.


An O’Brien shot, taken after Kent hit a walkoff homer in one of his first games as an Astro.


Took these at batting practice last week. Carlos Lee broke into dance, claiming it was aerobics. Carol King’s “I Felt the Earth Move Under my Feet” popped into my head.


A bunch of local sports stars were inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2005, including Bagwell, Biggio and Mary Lou Retton. Here we have Mary Lou [seated next to Biggio] signing autographs for a few aspiring gymnasts.


I took this one just a couple of months ago, during the Astros’ caravan trip through Austin and San Antonio. The group participated in a tree-planting exercise at the Capitol in Austin, and here we have Mike Hampton, ever the comedian, grabbing onto Milo Hamilton to make sure he didn’t topple over [he didn’t]. Bagwell is there on the left, laughing at Hampton, as is Mark Saccomanno.


Hunter Pence and Chris Sampson, having some fun on a caravan trip.


The Albert Pujols-Brandon Backe dust up at Minute Maid Park last year happened so fast that I didn’t have time to get a good shot of it. This was the best I could do — you can see part of Backe’s head behind Cooper. And of course, that big guy in the middle is an unhappy Pujols. Oswalt is to Backe’s right.


And we end where we started, with the Killer B’s…Biggio and Bagwell at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. That’s Berkman’s old college coach, Rice’s Wayne Graham, standing to Bagwell’s left.