May 2009

Geary hurt?

Geoff Geary gave up five runs in two-thirds of an inning on Wednesday, and later, manager Cecil Cooper expressed concern that there may be something wrong with the reliever, health-wise.

“I’m not real sure what’s going on there,” Cooper said. “We’ve got to check him out. He’s been battling some bicep tendinitis a little bit. Maybe that’s why he’s having the problems he’s been having. He is not the same guy he was a year ago.”

Cooper was vague as to what steps the club will take to investigate the problem, but an examination by team doctors could be in his future.

“We don’t know yet,” Cooper said. “We’re trying to make those decisions now. As soon as we know, we’ll tell you. We’ve got to make sure we figure it out and find out what’s going on.” 

Wanted: pitching coach?

Since Lance Berkman came forward with his desire to become the head coach at the University of Texas after he retires, he’s been besieged by current and former teammates hoping to become his fugure pitching coach. OK, maybe besieged is a little bit of an exaggeration, but it’s worth noting that Chris Sampson, Doug Brocail and Scott Linebrink — remember him?– have submitted their verbal resumes to the Puma.

Linebrink sent Berkman a text message declaring his candidacy: “If you end up getting that job, I’d love to be your pitching coach.”

Sampson is already planning for his two sons — C.J., class of 2025, and his not-yet-born son [to be named later], due in August, to play for Puma.

“They’ll both play for Lance, and me,” Sampson said. “I want to be his pitcing coach. I’m going to take some on-line [college] classes so I can get my degree.”

LaTroy Hawkins wants in, too, as the bullpen coach. Colleges don’t necessarily have bullpen coaches, but Puma’s pretty sure he can change that.

__________

My spies tell me right-handed pitcher Jordan Lyles, the 38th overall pick in the ’08 draft, is the real deal. Watching from the stands in Lexington, they sent this observation: “Filthy. Nine Ks through 5. Excellent poise and command. This kid is going to be very good.”

Unfortunately for Lyles, the pitcher on the other side of the diamond was better. Charleston’s Hector Noesi threw seven no-hit innings and the Legends were one-hit, losing 3-1.

__________

There are various ways to pass the time in the hours leading up to batting practice on the road. On Wednesday, some players watched the Giants-Nationals game, others played chess, while still others played Connect Four. The competition during Connect Four games can get pretty heated, but that’s standard for professional athletes. They could turn a random act of brushing their teeth into some sort of contest. It’s how they’re wired.

From batting practice in Denver:

Puma, stretching.

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Carlos Lee

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Humberto Quintero and Pudge Rodriguez

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Miguel Tejada.

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Geoff Blum.

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Puma

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Tejada.

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Berry out of the hospital, texting Hunter.

Sean Berry was still lying in his hospital bed Sunday morning when he texted a friendly reminder to his prized pupil to be patient at the plate.

Naturally, Berry was happy to see Hunter Pence draw two walks during the Astros’ 12-5 win over the Padres. He was even happier Monday, when he was released from the hospital and was cleared to head to his California home with his wife, Linda, and children Tanner and Madeline.

Berry plans to fly west on Thursday. He hopes to be back with the team in about two weeks — “maybe a little less, maybe a little more,” he said.

The
43-year-old Berry was diagnosed with having a tumor on his right kidney
after feeling discomfort that he mistook for kidney stones during the
last road trip. The tumor was discovered last Wednesday, and he had
surgery to removed the kidney two days later.

For now, Berry is cancer-free, but he realizes he’s in for a new way of life from here on out. He’ll be checked every three months for any other complications that may arise. He’s in great spirits and is anxious to return to the team — after enjoying some time with a family that I’m sure has had one heck of a tough week.

Break out the RallyHawks.

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Hunter Pence and Geoff Blum walked into the clubhouse on Friday sporting these RallyHawks, with two intentions: to show their support for the Rockets [who sport their own version of the RallyHawk, called the VonHawk], and to spark a rally of sorts on
their own scuffling team.

Now comes the hard part — getting their teammates on board. Wesley Wright, who wears his hair very short, said he’d try to grow it out a little this week and then revisit the opportunity. Blum surmised Tim Byrdak would be the toughest to convince to obtain the Rally Hawk. Logistically, it just might not be possible.

“The guy’s already follically challenged,” Blum said.

Byrdak, whose head of hair won’t be mistaken for that of, say, Tom Selleck’s during his Magnum P.I. days, didn’t sound enthused about the notion of cutting even a little off the sides.

“I’ve got two brothers that are bald,” Byrdak said. “I’m trying to hold onto my hair as long as I can.”

Lance Berkman might be a hard sell as well.

“If you look like a goon, is it worth it?” he asked. Then, acknowledging his .184 batting average, added, “At this point, I don’t need to be drawing any undue attention to myself.”

Tough day. Good to see Boooooone. Get well soon, Sean.

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It was somewhat ironic that Aaron Boone happened to be visiting the Astros on Wednesday, the same day the Astros made another one of those serious announcements about the health of someone in uniform that had nothing to do with hamstring strains or shoulder tendinitis.

A little over six weeks ago, Boone, age 36, told the world he was having open-heart surgery. Today, 43-year-old hitting coach Sean Berry let us know he has a tumor on his kidney that is likely cancerous, and will have to be removed soon.

If there is a silver lining to Sean’s condition, it’s that this cancer is extremely treatable and should be 100 percent gone once the tumor is removed. He might even be able to do it laproscopically, which would require just a short recovery time.

“You always hear this is the one you want to get,” Berry said. “After they cut it out, I should be 100 percent fine. No chemo, no radiation.”

You can read here about Dave Clark’s inadvertent contribution that caused Berry to detect the tumor early.

Here’s hoping Sean gets through this quickly. He’s a great guy, a great coach and a great friend to many. Not to mention one of the original Killer B’s.

As usual, Puma summed it up nicely:

“It’s almost surreal,” Berkman said. “It’s just weird because a week ago, that never even enters your mind. Then we knew he wasn’t feeling well in Atlanta. He said it was kidney stones. I’ve heard of people having those before. It’s farily common and very painful. When I came in today we saw a meeting at 4:15, and the furthest thing from my mind was anything like that.

“I thought maybe they were going to chew us out or something, whatever. Then I knew immediately it was something not good. Then you get a sick feeling in your stomach. You just can hardly believe it.

“We’re encouraged by the report. Not that cancer’s ever not a big deal, but if you’re going to have cancer it sounds like this is a better situation than most. They can operate on it and it doesn’t sound like he has to have chemo, so that’s good news.”

_____________

Meanwhile, it was nice to see Booooooone. I heard he was showing off his scar to his teammates so I thought it couldn’t hurt to ask him to show it off to the media. I didn’t think he’d go for it, but boy was I wrong:

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Dave Clark organized a fun session of batting practice with the coaches while the team was in Atlanta. Little did he know how important that session would be to Berry in the end.

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Not only is Sean Berry the best hitting coach Hunter Pence has ever had, according to Pence himself, but he’s also a mentor. Pence took this one hard. 

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Wandy pulled too early?

I realize hindsight is 20-20 and it all ended well, but I can’t help but be bothered that Cecil Cooper didn’t leave Wandy Rodriguez in for one more inning on Sunday in Atlanta.

Rodriguez has been the Astros best pitcher this year — by a landslide. He either has truly turned a corner and is finally living up to expectations — at the age of 30 — or, he’s just on a really, really hot streak that could end at anytime. Whatever the case may be, had Cooper sent him out for a sixth inning — and there was no reason not to, considering Wandy had only thrown 86 pitches and had logged more than 100 in two of his last three starts — it would have sent a strong signal to his left-hander: I trust you, I believe in you, and even though you haven’t been at your best today, I need one more inning from you and I know you’ll come through.

Instead, Coop yanked him after five, turned to a taxed bullpen that was without the services of Chris Sampson and Tim Byrdak, and ended up with the win. But at what cost?

_________________

Look for Doug Brocail to officially go on the disabled list today. Coop played it conservatively yesterday for reasons I can’t figure out, saying they’ll just have to wait and see how Doug feels today. See how he feels? The man needed a cart to exit the field yesterday. We know how he feels. He feels like he can’t walk.

Brian Moehler will be activated from the disabled list in time to start today in Washington, so it would seem logical that the Astros would simply DL Brocail to make room for Moehler on the 25-man roster. That’s the short-term solution, but the bullpen is hurting and needs help. The Moehler-Brocail transaction might not be their last. We’ll see.

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Oswalt starts Tuesday.

Oswalt starts Tuesday, Moehler bumped up to Monday, Ortiz available out of ‘pen Sunday, which is smart, considering they ran through the relief staff today. Sampson has a bruise on his ankle. He’s in pain but he sounds optimistic that it won’t be long before he’s OK. Nothing broken. 

Oswalt threw 17 pitches. When should he pitch next?

Let’s call Saturday’s start a bullpen session for our resident ace, who was out after one inning and 17 pitches because of a one-hour, 37-minute rain delay.

There is no reason why Oswalt can’t pitch as early as Monday. Russ Ortiz is scheduled to start that game. Brian Moehler is scheduled for Tuesday. Who should Oswalt bump?

Break out the razor.

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Doug Brocail likes that mountain-man goatee look, so I was surprised to see him shiny and clean-shaven when I walked into the clubhouse Friday afternoon. It’s funny — remove the facial hair and throw some glasses on him, and he goes from the intimidating somewhat crazy [but loveable] reliever you don’t want to mess with [I call him Chet, from Weird Science] to
something more along the lines of an accountant.

Turns out, shaving was borne from superstition.

“I had too many walks in [the goatee],” he said.

Felipe Paulino was sent to the ‘pen today, but he received high marks from just about everyone who he needed to impress during his brief time in the rotation. Cecil Cooper and pitching coach Dewey Robinson told him he belongs at this level. And Assistant GM Dave Gottfried noted a new maturity in Paulino that helped the right-hander get through some pretty dicey game situations.

Apparently, Paulino is learning how to pitch, which is a heck of a lot different from simply rearing back and throwing.

It should be noted they said the same thing about Jose Capellan during Spring Training, but he’s been completely and utterly ineffective since the Triple-A season started. Here’s hoping Paulino truly has figured it out. He has way more upside than Capellan, so I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Odds and ends, news and notes:
* Brandon Backe will make his second rehab start on Saturday in Frisco. Don’t expect him to return to the Astros’ rotation anytime soon, however — he’s in for at least four rehab outings total, if not five. Backe can stay on the rehab circuit for no more than 30 days, so he’s got some time. And seeing he missed pretty much all of Spring Training, it’s not unreasonable
to assume he’ll need the whole month to get ready for real game action.

* I tried to toss Brian Moehler a cookie when I asked him if the high winds in Midland contributed to his first two innings for Double-A Corpus the other day, when he yielded eight runs in the first two innings. He didn’t bite, however.

“Well, I didn’t give up any home runs,” he said with a laugh.

After he started mixing in his changeup with two outs in the second, things got better. He retired 11 in a row, and that’s enough to convince me he’s ready to return.

* Astros owner Drayton McLane will be honored on Saturday during a ceremony at Michigan State University, his grad school alma mater. The school will dedicate their ballpark McLane Baseball Stadium, after McLane donated $4 million to go toward the new facility.

McLane and his wife, Elizabeth, and his son, Drayton III and his wife, Amy, and their two children will attend the ceremony.

*To the fan I met at the airport yesterday: Matsui gets his sushi fix at Kubo’s on University Blvd. in West U.

Alyson Footer is on Facebook and Twitter 

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