So long, Brandon Backe.
Brandon Backe refused the Astros’ Minor League assignment, and now, the club in the process of giving him his unconditional release.
The decision to designate Backe for assignment a few days ago signaled the likely end of his tenure with the Astros, but today’s news obviously makes it official, and permanent.
I hope Backe finds another team, and I hope he does well. Even though he didn’t pan out in the last year or so, this Galveston kid was always a fan favorite, and he’ll forever be remembered for his tenacity when the pressure was on.
One image sticks in my mind more than any other. It was the last game of the season in 2004, and I was standing in the hallway in the clubhsouse that connects the locker room, the lunch room and the training room. As Brad Ausmus walked by, Phil Garner stopped him and said, “Clemens is sick. He can’t go. Backe’s pitching.” Ausmus’ face fell, just for a fleeting moment; then he nodded and walked away.
Pitching coach Jim Hickey then sat down next to Backe and quietly gave him the news. This was an hour before gametime, and the Astros’ postseason hopes were riding on this one game. Backe looked at Hickey and didn’t say a word. He just took a deep breath, nodded, and got ready to pitch.
Backe pitched his heart out, allowing three runs over five innings, and the Astros won the Wild Card. That performance was eclipsed only by his Game 5 start in the NLCS, when he went nose-to-nose with Woody Williams, allowing one hit over eight innings, in a game the Astros won on Jeff Kent’s ninth-inning home run.
Here are a couple of details regarding how unconditional releases work:
* The process to obtain unconditional waivers for the purpose of giving a player his release takes three days.
* If Backe clears waivers, he becomes an unrestricted free agent and will collect his full 2009 salary, whether he signs with another club or not. If Backe does sign with another club, that team is required to pay him the Major League minimum salary (prorated).
Read Brian McTaggart’s story here.
The decision to stick with six pitchers until the All-Star break makes sense for the Astros, especially if you think about it in terms of contract status.
The six pitchers are Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, Felipe Paulino and Brian Moehler. All are pitching well. Obviously, Oswalt and Rodriguez are your mainstays who aren’t in danger of losing their status as top of the rotation guys. The next tier are Hampton and Moehler, who have not worked out of the bullpen this year. They’re also veterans signed to guaranteed contracts, which eliminates the possibility of moving them without losing them. Russ Ortiz, who has worked out of ‘pen and rotation, is in the same boat.
So who’s movable? Felipe Paulino. But why would you send him down? He’s under 30, he’s loaded with potential and he was very, very good his last outing.
So really, the Astros don’t have many options. I suppose they could release Hampton if he’s not good in his next outing or two, but then what if someone else starts struggling? You’re taking away depth in a rotation that doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room.
Also, the Astros are considering using a starting pitcher to finish the suspended game, which would then put Roy and Wandy back on their regular schedule. That alone justifies utilizing a six-man rotation.
From the Ask Alyson files:
I’m a bit confused how the continued game with the Nationals on July 9 will work. Will there be some kind of limit to the number of innings, or will they just play until there is a conclusion? If so, will the second game (the one originally scheduled for that date with the Astros as the home team) just start whenever the continued game ends, be it 7 p.m. or midnight (heaven forbid)? Will they be selling tickets to the continued game, and will they be broadcasting it as usual on FS-Houston? — Brian S.
Excellent questions. To review, the Astros and Nationals May 5 game was suspended in the 11th inning, and it will be played to its conclusion on July 9 at Minute Maid Park. The score was tied, 10-10, with the Nats batting in the bottom of the frame. Josh Willingham was at the plate with a runner on first and one out. The Nationals will be the home team.
There will be no limit to the number of innings played — they’ll play until someone wins. The second game will start no earlier than 7:05 p.m. CT but if the suspended game goes long, there will be a 30-minute break between games. If it ends quickly, the second game will start at its regular time.
A ticket to the regularly-scheduled game gets you into the suspended game. Both games will be broadcast on FS Houston and 740-AM KTRH.
From around the cage at batting practice Monday afternoon:
Hitting coach Sean Berry talks, well, hitting, with Hunter Pence.
Mike Hampton and Roy Oswalt.
Kaz Matsui stretches before he hits.
Hunter Pence laughs as he tells Ed Wade about his hair-cutting experience from that morning. Apparently, Pence wanted to trim the RallyHawk, but the first place he went to, the door was locked and the worker inside shook her head and said, “we’re closed.”
Wesley Wright and Brian Moehler have a pre-batting practice chat.