June 2009

And on Saturday, Pence rests. Injuries mounting. And Boooooone eyes September comeback.

Manager Cecil Cooper decided to rest a “scuffling” Hunter Pence on Saturday, hoping the break would get the right fielder back on track. Pence was hitless in his last 11 at-bats and was 0-for-4 in the opener at Chase Field on Friday. Darin Erstad received the start in Pence’s place.

The remaining lineup changes on Saturday were made due to injury. Jeff Keppinger has a tight back and was deemed unavailable for at least one game, while Geoff Blum’s hamstring injury reappeared during Friday’s game, forcing an early exit which will likely lead to multiple games missed in the near future.

If the hamstring doesn’t feel better in the next couple of days, Blum said he’s not opposed to going on the disabled list. He’d rather spend two full weeks making sure the injury is gone for good rather than play a week, miss a week, play a week, etc. That determination will be made sooner than later, I suspect.

(Update: two more injury issues popped up during Saturday’s game — right shoulder fatigue for Chris Sampson and a left leg cramp for Carlos Lee. Lee is day to day, and Coop said Sampson’s isn’t an injury as much as his arm is simply tired. He has been somewhat overused and Coop compared it to Doug Brocail’s situation in the first half last year. Look for Sampson’s work load to ease up a bit).

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Jose Valverde forgot about the early start time on Saturday, so he arrived to the clubhouse a tad later than the other players. Cooper waited for him before making the roster move official, just to make sure Valverde was indeed ready to come off the disabled list.

Valverde walked into Coop’s office and said, “I’m fine.” Cooper said, “Jog in place.” Valverde ran around Cooper’s office (it took about two seconds, considering the office is small and it was filled at the time with several reporters and broadcasters). Upon completion of that drill, Cooper informed his closer he was officially back in the “GP.” GP stands for “general population.”

(Update, 10:55 p.m. CT: Valverde recorded one out in the eighth. Hawkins closed out game in the ninth).

Wesley Wright was sent back to Round Rock to make room for Valverde. That didn’t come as a huge surprise, considering the Astros are still committed to giving Wright a bigger workload that might eventually translate into him becoming a starter.

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When he first announced his pending open-heart surgery during Spring Training, Aaron Boooooooooone sounded doubtful that he would play baseball again this year. But a little over two months into the season, Boooooooone has increased his level of optimism. The 36-year-old infielder hasn’t ruled out a September comeback, assuming he stays on scheduled with his workouts and rehabs.

Boone envisions working out regularly with the Astros in July and possibly spending the month of August rehabbing in the Minor Leagues. That would leave open the possibility of playing in September, when rosters expand to 40 and adding him would not necessitate sending someone down.

If the Astros happen to be in a playoff race by then, the presence of an Aaron Boone would be huge. He’s a veteran, he’s had some huge moments in the postseason and he’s a good teammate. Sounds like a feel-good comeback story in the making…

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From the Ask Alyson files:

What should we, fans, make of Jiovanni Mier’s comment about Miguel Tejada? And, what does this first pick mean for Tommy Manzella? I know Mier won’t be ready for the Majors right away, but my understanding is that Manzella is (was?) supposed to be our future shorstop — Renauds

For those who missed it, Mier told reporters the night he was drafted that a scout told him the team was looking to “get rid of Tejada” and they were looking for shortstops.

Everyday beat reporters had little use for the comment, mainly because an 18-year-old kid who is three years from the big leagues, minimum, has nothing to do with Tejada, who is hardly likely to still be around in 2012 when this kid might be knocking on the door. Plus, we don’t know the context of the quote — which scout actually said it, and if that was what he actually said.

Mier never should have said what he said, but give me a break. I’m not counting on Tejada being here next year, let alone in three years. In the talk radio circuit, Mier’s comment was a good way to kill a couple of hours. There’s no doubt that Mier shouldn’t have said what he said, but let’s put it in perspective. The Astros drafted four shortstops in the early rounds and it had nothing to do with Tejada and everything to do with building depth at the up-the-middle positions in the organization.

As for Manzella, he’ll get his shot next Spring Training. I’d like to see him, or someone defensively sound like him, to get the every day job. But again, Manzella and Mier are not intertwined. Good, deep, well-run organizations have many good prospects at every level, not just one or two. Depth is the name of the game.

Photos from first two days in Phoenix:

Broadcasters Jim Deshaies, Dave Raymond and Bill Brown pass the time in the dugout before batting practice.

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Bet you didn’t know Friday was national “Put your hands on your hips” day. Apparently, these three got the memo.

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Roy Oswalt tells local Fox affiliate that his wrist is fine.

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A familiar sight — Hunter Pence smiling and signing autographs.

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Hey, look who’s standing upright! Actually, this was Jose Valverde one day before being activated from the disabled list.

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Aaron Booooooone warming up with the team on Saturday. He says he’s put most of the weight back on that he lost after the heart surgery.

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Here’s a shot of batting practice, from my seat in the press box.

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Oswalt and Brian Moehler have a quiet conversation during BP.

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A shot from the clubhouse: Hunter Pence and Jeff Keppinger, playing chess. Everyone else watched the Mets-Yankees game.

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Alyson Footer is on Facebook and Twitter.

Wright a starter? Team news and notes, and answers to your questions.

Wesley Wright was sent to Triple-A Round Rock a couple of weeks ago mainly because he wasn’t effective enough on the big league level. But his time spent down on the farm wasn’t designed only for him to “work on things” — he was also sent down to get stretched out to be more than a one-batter or one-inning pitcher.

No, the Astros aren’t converting him to a starter — yet. But don’t count it out as an option down the road.

Wright, who was recalled after Thursday’s game when Felipe Paulino went on the DL, appeared in four games for the Express, including one start. He threw 66 pitches in that outing, a remarkable number considering he had started a grand total of seven games during his Minor League career, five of which arrived in his first season in 2003, as a Class A Dodgers farmhand.

The Astros tabbed Wright as a reliever when they plucked him from the Dodgers organization during the Rule 5 draft in 2007, mainly because they had a need for a left-hander in the ‘pen. But there appears to be a need for starting pitching these days, and perhaps Wright might fit the bill, someday. He’s still in the ‘pen, but the fact that the Astros sent him to Round Rock to get stretched out, build up his innings and work on his pitches is intriguing. Stay tuned.

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Bud Norris is another interesting study. During Spring Training, several Astros evaluators said if Norris, the club’s top pitching prospect, can develop the changeup and effectively use it as a quality third pitch, his future is probably as a starter. If it turns out he is more of a two-pitch pitcher, he could be looked at as a future candidate for the back end of the bullpen, possibly as a closer. As of now, his changeup is coming along nicely, and the Astros are still hopeful he can eventually turn into a top-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues.

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The Astros, much like Humpty Dumpty, are slowly putting themselves together again. Jose Valverde is back after a two-game rehab stint with Double-A Corpus Christi. He needed a grand total of six pitches — all strikes — to get through one inning of work Thursday night. He’ll be activated before Saturday’s game.

Kazuo Matsui started Thursday’s Corpus game at second base and was hitless in four at-bats but drove in one run. On Friday, he was 1-for-4 and played eight innings. He’ll play Saturday with the Hooks, will be off Sunday and is scheduled to rejoin the Astros for Tuesday’s game in Arlington.

Valverde has been out since April 27 with a strained right calf, while Matsui has been sidelined since May 26 with a strained left hamstring.

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Roy Oswalt says his wrist feels fine and he’s ready to face the Diamondbacks on Saturday. He was pushed back a day because of what he suspects was a touch of tendinitis.

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Geoff Geary accepted his Minor League assignment and will report to Round Rock Saturday. He had two choices: accept the assignment and continue to be paid, or reject it, become a free agent and not be paid the balance of his contract. He’d have to bank on another club willing to sign him and pay him the approximately $1.05 million he’s still owed by the Astros.

In other words, he’s reporting to Round Rock Saturday.

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Thanks for your emails and questions…just as a reminder, you can email your inquiries to askalyson@astros.com. I’ll try to either post answers here or answer you personally. You can also catch my updates on Twitter. My screen name is alysonfooter.

Question:

Recently Jason Castro was moved up to AA Corpus Christi, and rightfully so judging by the numbers he was putting up. How soon will the Astros be moving up some of their other top prospects? To name a few, Jonathan Gaston and J.B. Shuck have both been excellent at Class A Lancaster, and practically the entire starting rotation at Class A Lexington (Seaton, Lyles, Dydalewicz, Bono and Greenwalt) has been doing wonderfully. The Astros have to be happy about some of the things going on in their two A-ball clubs. What can we expect to see from these teams in the near future, and is Castro still on track to possibly get a
look in Spring Training for the 2010 starting job? — Brian S.

Shuck and Gaston are both off to really good starts, and both jumped over low A ball and went straight to High A Lancaster this year after starting their pro careers last year in Rookie Ball. Through Thursday, Shuck, an outfielder, was hitting .323 with 11 doubles, four triples and 17 RBIs over 56 games. Gaston, also an outfielder, has hit an eye-popping 15 home runs over 60 games. He has a .291 average, 16 doubles, eight triples and 42 RBIs.

If they continue at this pace, they’ll get serious consideration for Double-A. Whether comes in the near future or the latter part of season remains to be determined. But it appears the Astros front office is as impressed with these kids as you are.

The rotation at Lexington is getting quite a bit of attention inside baseball circles, but the Astros are not going to rush them through the system. Three of the starting five — Seaton, Lyles, Dydalewicz — were just drafted last year, and the other two — Bono and Greenwalt — are in their first year at Lexington. We’ve heard over and over that the true pitching talent is in the lower levels of the farm system and I think we’re seeing that first-hand now.

The likelihood is that all five stay in Lexington for the season, to build up innings. Promotions aren’t out of the question but there are no plans right now.

As for Castro, tabbing him as the starting catcher out of Spring Training next year might be a stretch. He’ll be given the chance to compete for the job but I’m inclined to believe they might be looking for another stop-gap — a la Pudge Rodriguez — to give Castro more time to develop. I would not be surprised if Castro was called up at some point during the season, and he’s moving up the ladder at a nice pace, but I suspect the Astros will want to give him something close to a full season at Triple-A before they’ll think about making him the front-line starting catcher.

Free tickets for kids all summer. Yes, I said free.

The Astros are offering a unique opportunity that will surely make going to ballgames this summer more affordable for families. In conjunction with Minute Maid, the Astros introduced “Kids Free All Summer,” where kids 14 and under will receive a free ticket, with the
purchase of one full price adult ticket.

Up to two children can get in free with each purchased adult ticket. The offer is available in the  Mezzanine level, View Deck 1 level, and View Deck 2 level. The two sections total over 10,000 seats, and this ticket offer will be based on availability.

The special runs begins when the team returns from its upcoming three-city road trip. The next homestand starts June 23, and the “Kids Free All Summer” offer runs through Aug. 23.

“The Houston Astros are proud to partner with Minute Maid to bring our fans this exciting new ticket offer,” club owner Drayton McLane stated. “With the current economic climate, we felt it was important to create an opportunity for more families to bring their kids to Astros games this summer.”

The pricing for the full price adult tickets are as follows: Mezzanine – $20; View Deck 1 – $15;
View Deck 2 – $12.

Tickets for the “Kids Free All Summer” promotion will be available for purchase starting Friday, June 12th at 9 a.m. at the Astros Box Office or online at astros.com.

The “Kids Free All Summer” promotion is one of many affordable options that the Astros are offering fans this season. The “Price Matters” package presented by H-E-B, which is for 10 select dates, offers fans the opportunity to purchase a ticket, hot dog, potato chips and a soda for just $10. The “All You Can Eat Thursdays” promotion includes a ticket and all you can eat for just $20 for all Thursday Astros games.

The Astros also offer a $4 Kids Meal at every game. Additionally, for several years, Outfield Deck seats have been available for just $1 for kids and $7 for adults. With this option, a family of four can attend an Astros game for just $16.

Alyson Footer is on Facebook and Twitter 

Geary activated from DL. And outrighted to Round Rock.

Surprising news out of Astros camp today…the club activated right-hander Geoff Geary from the disabled list and outrighted him to Triple-A Round Rock. He cleared waivers. He could opt for free agency if he does not want the assignment.

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And the Astros expect swift negotiations with their first four picks. Ed Wade and Bobby Heck keep owner Drayton McLane apprised of everything they’re doing, including giving McLane insight as to how long they think it’ll take them to sign their top picks. There appears to be heightened optimism that the picks will sign soon.

Here is a quick shot of Wade and McLane having a quick conversation before Day 2 of the Draft got underway, just after 11 a.m. CT:

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Draft day No. 1 is in the books. Welcome, Jiovanni Mier.

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I was always curious as to what happens the moment a team solidifies its first
pick. The excitement erupted not when the Astros made their pick, but rather,
when the team before them picked, because then they knows for sure they got
their man.

As soon as the Blue Jays selected Stephen Jenkins, the Astros
rejoiced, and immediately, Assistant GM in charge of Scouting Bobby Heck (below) made the call to scout John Kosciak, who was in
New Jersey with Craig Biggio representing the Astros at the MLB Network
studio.

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At that point, the tension in the room pretty much evaporated.
It wasn’t necessarily uncomfortable earlier, but until the Astros’ turn arrived,
they sat with bated breath as the first 20 selections were made. I counted three
separate times where the staff appeared visibly
relieved when a team
announced its selection.

The club picked Jiovanni Mier, a shortstop from
Bonita High School in Laverne, Calif. Once it was made official by Commissioner
Bud Selig on the MLB Network, the room broke out in applause, followed by a
hearty round of hugs and handshakes among front office staffers, cross-checkers
and scouts,. As you can see, it was a happy room:

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Then it was time to address the media. First up, Heck:

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Then, Wade:

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Upon returning to the Draft room, Heck called Mier, who had graduated from high school that night, and said,

“Enjoy the night, but you better keep your phone charged, buddy.”

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Here’s what Baseball America said about Mier:

He is a
rare prep shortstop who projects to remain at that position in pro ball. He has
above-average speed and a powerful arm that grades out to well-above average. He
occasioanlly pitches for his high school squad, and scouts have gunned his
fastball in the 91-93 mph range.

He has an athletic and projectable
6-foot-2, 170-pound frame. Mier has decent hands, though his actions need to be
smoother, which should come wth experience. He has been inconsistent with the
bat, struggling last summer during showcases but looking sensational last fall
at the World Wood Bat Champsionship and the Southern California scout ball
all-star game.

Brian McTaggart has the full story here

And
here is a roundup of the rest of the day’s activities:

Houston selected
four high school players during day one, marking the first time since 1986 that
the club selected four straight high school players with its first four picks in
the draft.

Right-hander Tanner Bushue is the first right-handed pitcher
taken by the Astros in the second round since the club selected Sergio Perez at
number 67 overall in 2006.

Craig Biggio announced the club’s selection of Bushue:

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Outfielder Telvin Nash was the 100th
selection overall; other notable outfielders selected with the 100th overall
pick include Ron Gant (1983) and Shane Mack (1981). Both Gant and Mack were
selected as infielders, but played exclusively as outfielders in the Major
Leagues.

The Astros were the only club with a supplemental third round
draft choice and selected third baseman Jonathan Meyer.

Alyson Footer is on Facebook and Twitter.

Blogging from Draft room.

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We’re about 35 minutes away from the start of the 2009 Draft…I’m all set up in the corner of the room, waiting for the action to begin. Actually, we — and by we, I mean anyone waiting to find out who the Astros pick first — are probably around two hours away from any real excitement, considering the Astros have the 21st selection this year and there is a five-minute wait in between each one in the first round.

Check back early and often, as I’ll be posting updates and pictures on this blog, as well as updating my Twitter page at @alysonfooter.

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Photos from the first hour:

Not sure how many owners attend the Draft, but Drayton McLane likes to be in the middle of the action.

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The group watches the intro show on MLB Network.

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GM Ed Wade and Asst. GM/Scouting Director Bobby Heck.

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Miggy, Alberto, Draft, Sunshine Kids and other newsy notes.

Cecil Cooper chuckled as he recounted his conversation with Miguel Tejada, during which he informed the shortstop he was going to be off Friday.

Apparently, Cooper pulled Tejada into his office after Thursday’s game and said, “I’m giving you the game off tomorrow.” Tejada looked to his left, looked to his right, and wearing a surprised expression said, “Me?”

“I said, ‘You, I’m talking to you,’” Cooper laughed. “Then he said, ‘OK, OK.’”

Tejada hates days off — hates them. In his estimation, the scheduled off days — every team gets three or four a month — provide more than enough time to recharge the batteries. That’s not the way most managers see it, however, especially when talking about a player at or
near the 35-year-old mark. Tejada just celebrated that birthday less than two weeks ago.

Speaking of the big 3-5, two more Astros hit that milestone this week — Darin Erstad (Thursday) and Russ Ortiz (Friday).

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The Astros hosted a workout on the field at Minute Maid Park for players they have their eye on as potential draftees. Forty-eight players — a combination of pitchers and hitters — from all parts of the country traveled to Houston on their own dime to strut their stuff in front of Astros front office execs and the scouts who have pursued them.

“It was outstanding, in terms of the quality and quantity of players,” general manager Ed Wade said. “The scouts did a tremendous job putting the whole thing together.

“There was never any down time. It started at 9 in the morning and went to 2:30 There was not a minute lost. The body of work that our scouts have put in will be the determining factor as to who we take, but this is a chance for us to see these kids in our environment, give
them a chance to soak in what the Major League experience is like. We think it’s a win-win, but from a standpoint of what took place today, I thought it was a perfect day.”

The list of participants included players from the high school, junior college and college levels, and they traveled from all over: by my count, there were 17 states represented, and one country — Puerto Rico — from which three players traveled for this workout. The states
included California (11), Florida (6), South Carolina (2), Georgia (3), Massachusetts (1), Alabama (2), New York (1), Missouri (1), Texas (7), Illinois (1), West Virginia (1), Louisiana (1), Oklahoma (1), Indiana (1), Pennsylvania (1), Arizona (2) and North Carolina (2).

By school level, there were 24 high school players, 17 college and five junior college. 

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News and notes:
* Assistant athletic trainer Rex Jones was dropping a few things off in the dugout when he suddenly heard his name being yelled by several players from deep in the outfield. Turns out, right-handed reliever Alberto Arias was struck in the head by a thrown ball and had crumpled to the ground — conscious, but in obvious pain. Much of the team stood over Arias and watched as Jones tended to him, and after about five minutes or so, Arias got up on his own volition and was soon carted off to the clubhouse.

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Arias was experiencing mild concussion-like symptoms and later had a CT Scan taken on his head, just as a precautionary measure. The scan came back normal and he was back with the team by game time. Obviously, he was deemed unavailable to pitch in the opener with the Pirates.

I ran into Arias on my way back from the clubhouse after the game and he said the ball hit him on the right side of his forehead. “It was really scary. I didn’t see the ball until it hit me. It just came right at me and hit right here (points to forehead). But I’ll be fine, I feel better now.”

* Jose Valverde was in high spirits after throwing a 25-pitch simulated inning on Friday, facing teammates Jason Michaels and Matt Kata. He’ll throw another one Sunday and then will likely head out on a rehab assignment.

* Geoff Geary is not going to start a rehab assignment with the Double-A Hooks on Saturday as previously announced. Instead, he’ll continue a throwing program in Houston. He’s thrown two simulated games and a bullpen session so far.

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From the camera:

This is a pretty typical pregame scene — Cooper meets with the media every day, and when the team is at home, he usually conducts the pregame session in the dugout. On the road, when there’s only a few of us there, it’s a more casual setting in his office.

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Jason Michaels talks shop with Sean Berry and other teammates that I can’t decipher from this angle. 

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Jose Valverde discusses his simulated inning. He also took PFP (pitchers fielding practice). He appears to be on track to head out on a rehab assignment in the not so distant future.

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The Sunshine Kids were special guests of the Astros on Friday. As I’m sure most are aware, the Astros have been closely tied to the Sunshine Kids — a support group for kids with cancer and their families — for more than two decades, thanks in large part to Craig Biggio. Here we have players signing autographs in a side room, near the clubhouse. I am including shots of Puma and Sampson but I want to make sure it’s understood most of the team stopped by after batting practice.

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Alyson Footer is on Facebook and Twitter 

Hey, look who I ran into.

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You never know who you’re going to bump into when you stop by clubhouse manager Dennis Liborio’s office, the unofficial center of the Houston baseball universe. Not only do players go there for bats, balls, haircuts (yes, haircuts. Every couple of weeks, I believe on Sundays, a hairdresser comes in, sets up shop in the back room and trims a little off the sides for whoever needs it) and other equipment needs, it’s simply a place where people stop by to chat with Dennis, who has been with the Astros for about 30 years and pretty much knows everyone in baseball.

When the Phillies are in town, you’ll find Larry Andersen in Dennis’s office before batting practice. When it’s an ESPN game, Joe Morgan usually pops in. Both President Bushes have spent time in Dennis’s office, as have a slew of former Astros who have stayed in the biz, either as broadcasters, or coaches, or front office staffers — such as Charley Kerfeld of the reigning World Champ Phillies.

Most park it in the big blue comfy seat located in the center of the room, but on Wednesday, an old friend made a beeline for Dennis’s chair, as he did for the majority of his 20-year career. Craig Biggio isn’t a frequent guest in the Astros’ clubhouse these days, but when he does stop by — as he did this time, with his 16-year-old son, Conor — he knows how to make himself right at home.

Soon after Biggio arrived, Astros owner Drayton McLane strolled in and the two chatted for a while, talking mostly about the draft and the sky-high signing bonuses that are awarded to the top-shelf picks. Both men, as you can imagine, think that part of the game is getting a tad out of hand.

“What did you sign for?” McLane asked Biggio, the Astros first-rounder in 1987.

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“One-hundred thousand,” Biggio said proudly.

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“Too much!” McLane responded with a laugh.

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In baseball circles these days, much of the conversation is focused on the upcoming draft, which begins next Tuesday [June 9] at 5 p.m. CT. Biggio will represent the Astros, who have the 21st pick overall. All 30 teams are sending a notable representative to make their first selections, which will be broadcast live from the MLB Network Studio in Secaucus, N.J.

The group includes several Hall of Famers, including Al Kaline (Detroit), Bill Mazeroski (Pittsburgh) and Billy Williams (Cubs). Many former superstars will be there as well, including Seattle’s Jay Buhner, Cleveland’s Ellis Burks, Cincinnati’s Eric Davis and the Yankees’ Tino Martinez.

“That’s a pretty impressive group,” Biggio said. “This is great for the game.”

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The Astros, like all teams, are currently knee-deep in pre-draft meetings to prepare for the big day — or should I say, three days — next week. I’m going to sit in on some of these meetings to get a taste of everything that goes into getting ready for Draft day, and I’ll also be blogging and Twittering from inside the draft room next Tuesday and probably Wednesday. I’ve never been on the inside before and I’m looking forward to watching the process unfold. And, of
course, I’m looking forward to sharing that insider view with you.

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If you didn’t get a chance to watch the video chat session Brian McTaggart and I conducted Wednesday afternoon, you can find it on the third panel on the Astros web site. It will also be posted in the video section of my “Footnotes” blog, which you can find here.

Right now, we’re running the Spring Training reports in that section but our goal is to replace
those with more current videos in the near future. First up will be today’s chat session.

McTaggart and I answered approximately 25 questions during the 45-minute chat. A wide variety of topics were addressed, including rumors surrounding a couple of the more popular players. The recent Roy-Oswalt-to-White-Sox speculation was front and center, and Brian and I did our best to address, and squelch, any notion that the two teams were in talks regarding the star right-hander.

General manager Ed Wade has a policy to never discuss trade rumors with media, either to conform or deny. It’s a sound practice, considering discussing players under contract with other teams is against Major League Baseball rules. But Wade, as well as White Sox GM Kenny Williams, set aside this policy because they felt this was a special case. Both sides confirmed there have been no talks at all, about any players, including Oswalt.

The reports began to surface after a high-level White Sox executive was spotted at several Astros games during Houston’s recent road swing through Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and the assumption, seemingly unconfirmed, was that the executive was scouting Oswalt.

Perhaps the White Sox/Jake Peavy trade that was apparently completed and then called off fueled the rumors that they were now targeting another front-line starter. That part I don’t know. I do know that every team has advance scouts in every ballpark this time of year. It’s standard practice.

The story gained more steam when Oswalt was quoted as saying he would invoke his no-trade rights if the Astros and White Sox did complete a deal.

The Astros made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that they are not talking to the White Sox and they’re not shopping Oswalt. Confirmation from the White Sox side should be enough to put this one to bed.

I’m fairly certain Mark Teixeira’s Yankees aren’t going to be pursuing Lance Berkman anytime soon, either.

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Trade rumors are part of baseball, and in general, they’re a part of why this game is fun for the fans. In today’s 24-7 news cycle fueled by the Internet, there is never a shortage of rumors, innuendos and speculation. Most of it is harmless. Every once in a while, however, it can be flat incorrect, and sometimes, cruel.

I read a recent report on SI.com that stated quite bluntly that the problem in Houston was not manager Cecil Cooper, but rather GM Ed Wade, who, according to the report, is meddling and negative and “puts everyone in a defensive mode,” including Cooper.

It goes on to say that Shawn Chacon’s actions last year involving “pushing Wade down last year” were “cheered” by other players. I read that and thought, if this is true, and I missed it, then I really had no business covering the Astros for as long as I did. So I made my way around the clubhouse to poll the players who were on the team last year. I told them about the report and the reaction was unanimously one of surprise.

“If anything, we understand (Wade is) somewhat hamstrung by the payroll,” one player said. “But we’ve always been impressed with the job he’s done, especially after he went out and got Randy Wolf last year when everyone else had counted us out of the race.”

And I can assure you, no one was cheering Chacon when he “pushed Wade down,” wh
ich is sort of like saying Yao Ming is “slightly” taller than Tiny Tim. The act was violent, it was beyond inappropriate, and not a single player was anything but disgusted that it happened.

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From the homepage:

Miguel Tejada wants to remain an Astro

Jose Valverde continues to make progress

Surprising news out of Atlanta: Braves release Tom Glavine

And Wade says he’s not interested:

Alyson Footer is on Facebook and Twitter 

Pence in the Mag, Brocail, Whataburger, and other good stuff.

For the last two weeks, Hunter Pence has been tied at the hip with ESPN the Magazine as it prepares its annual “Athletes Issue,” due to hit the stands the week of June 22.

The issue is dedicated to sports, of course, but strictly from the players’ point of view. The magazine gave Pence a hand-held video camera to document certain aspects of road trips, in addition to ESPN The Magazine reporters following him around from time to time. There was a large focus of Pence off the field, sort of showing a day in the life of a ballplayer. What are their interests? How do they spend their spare time?

Apparently, Pence has recently taken up playing chess. And in his spare time, he’s been drinking coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. One of his favorite activities on the road is finding top-notch breakfast establishments, so I’m assuming we’ll find out about the tastiest joints in the league after reading this issue.

Some of the focus is on baseball as well. Photographers have been shadowing Pence everywhere for the last couple of days, snapping dozens — maybe hundreds — of shots on the field during batting practice, in the cages and in the clubhouse. So, I thought I’d take pictures of Pence getting his picture taken.

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The television broadcasting crew will be altered slightly on Wednesday and Thursday. Lead play-by-play announcer Bill Brown will be away from the team to tend to family issues, and in his place, radio announcer Dave Raymond will be in the booth with Jim Deshaies on Wednesday, while Brett Dolan will sub for Brownie on Thursday.

(Left, Deshaies, right, Raymond)

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Player appearance alert:
How’s this for a whacky crew? Doug Brocail and Junction Jack, along with the Astros Street team, will appear together at the Whataburger restaurant located

at 3040 Silverlake Village Drive in Pearland on Wednesday. The autograph session will be the first of four Astros player appearances at local restaurants — the others are June 24, July 7 and Aug. 4.
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Here’s a new ticket promotion at the ballpark the might pique your interest. It’s called Hunter’s Lodge, and it involves, you guessed it, Hunter Pence. For $30, you get a full view of Pence from your seat near right field (in section 133 or 134), an original green Hunter Pence t-shirt — with a new design introduced each month — and an automatic entry into a monthly drawing for an Astros gift pack featuring a Pence autographed baseball.

You can read more about it here.

The promotion began Monday and will be available every home game throughout the season.

I had to see for myself so I sat for an inning in the Hunter’s Lodge seats, and of course, while I was down there, I snapped a couple of pictures:

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And finally, some randoms from BP today:

Geoff Blum, happy to be back in the lineup. He’s been ready to play since the Pittsburgh series last weekend, ,so he was anxious to get back in there after missing so much time with a hamstring issue. 

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Pudge Rodriguez in the cage.

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Carlos Lee and friends.

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Yes, Puma, taking pictures is now my full-time job.

And he can barely contain his excitement:
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Seriously, though…great to see the team back in town, and really, really great to see hitting coach Sean Berry, who’s back from a three-week hiatus after having a cancerous kidney removed. He looks great and says he’s feeling good. Obviously, his team — more specifically, the hitters — were happy to see him. Here he is with Geoff Blum:
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And with Puma:
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And Coop:
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Jose Valverde has rejoined the team, even though he’s just now taking the very small steps toward returning to the mound. Here he is hanging behind the cage with the coaches:

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And last but most definitely not least, here is my somewhat frazzled friend Brian McTaggart…it’s his first day on the job as the new Astros beat writer for MLB.com. I taught him everything I know…but don’t hold it against him. Next to him is the Rockies MLB.com beat writer, Thomas Harding.

(Next time you email Tags, ask him about the Astros chances to get Ben Sheets and trade for Jake Peavy. He likes that.)

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Bits and pieces from postgame interviews…
Roy Oswalt:
“Hopefully, this homestand, we can get something going.”

On his early-season struggles::
“No matter how long you play this game, you’re going to run into a skid when you’re not playing well. Even some Hall of Famers have hit some skids along the way. You’re only human — a lot of people go through different things. It’s how you work out of it.”

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As Carlos Lee exited the clubhouse, he high-fived Sean Berry and said, “I missed you man. I haven’t done anything in two weeks.” Perhaps not so coincidentally, Lee logged his first RBI in more than two weeks on the very day Berry returned after a three-week absence.

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If you didn’t see the foul-ball incident involving Michael Bourn in the seventh inning, don’t look for it in the highlights. (It’s one of those injuries that make men cringe.) Anyway, Cooper was asked about it after the game, and he paused briefly, chuckled a bit and said, “I don’t want to talk about that one. We’ll just move on.”

Alyson Footer is on Facebook and Twitter 
 

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