On Puma, Kaz and Kepp.
The only hope the Astros had on Sunday regarding Lance Berkman was that their star first baseman make it through his final rehab game at Round Rock without his knee giving him problems, such as the swelling that has caused at least two setbacks in the past. Offensive results, while mildly significant, were nowhere near the most important element to this game.
Puma ended up making everyone happy. The fans at Round Rock were treated to two doubles and a home run, and the Astros received the very good news that Puma moved around at full speed, performed at a peak level and experienced no new issues.
Assuming he’s still feeling the same in the next 36 hours, Berkman will be activated from the disabled list in time to play Tuesday when the Astros open a nine-game homestand. A corresponding roster move will likely be made sometime Tuesday morning or afternoon.
Second base conundrum
When Brad Mills granted playing time to Jeff Keppinger during the first few games of the season, his intention was to simply give a few at-bats to a bench player, one who happens to hit left-handers very well (the Astros faced several lefties during their first two series).
But Keppinger’s bat caught fire, regardless of who he was facing, and that made it difficult — impossible, really — to take him out of the lineup. Given the Astros’ 0-8 start to the season, there was no way to justifiably sit the one hitter who didn’t go into a complete tailspin as soon as the exhibition season came to a close.
Twelve games into the season, Keppinger is giving Mills no reason to bench him. His early success is good for the team but bad for Kazuo Matsui, who appears to be in the process of losing his status as a starting second baseman.
(Several of you have asked if Matsui can be sent to the Minor Leagues when Puma comes off the DL. The answer is no — a player with more than five years in the big leagues cannot be sent down without the player consenting first. Players never would consent, so it’s a moot point.)
During his pregame session with the media, Mills declined to anoint either Matsui or Keppinger as he regular season baseman long-term — yet. He did, however, call Matsui into his office in St. Louis to talk to him about the situation, so I think, reading between lines, we can expect to see a lot more of Keppinger in the immediate future.
It’s the right thing to do for the sake of the team and when you’re 3-9, it would make no sense to play the lesser player just because he was signed as a starter and the other was, upon trading for him, viewed as a bench guy. Ed Wade gave Mills complete autonomy with decisions surrounding Matsui — meaning, Mills will do what’s best for the on-field health of the team without worrying about how much one player is being paid over the other.
Asked if Matsui was working into a utility role, Mills said this: “I don’t want to label it that way yet. We’re still just a dozen games into the season. Let’s wait and see how everything plays out. I’m congnizant to get (Matsui) out there and get him on a roll. It’s tough, but it’s tough to not get the other guy (Keppinger) out there.
“Coming out of Spring Training, I was trying to get Keppinger at-bats in first week of the season. He did so well, the other at-bats were kind of silent. As we kept him in there, he continued to play really well.”
From the Astros’ clubhouse following their comeback win over the Cubs Sunday:
“This is the way to go into the off day and be rewarded for it. It was a big win. It was nice that these guys can see they can win these.”
On Brian Moehler pitching an inning after a long layoff:
“It was good to get him an inning. It just shows you the pro that he is. He stays ready every day and we were able to get him an inning and it ended up being a big inning for us.”
Jason Michaels, who led off the 10th with a double and scored the winning run:
“The Cubs, the Cardinals…these guys are ‘supposed to’ win the division. These games are always going to be good. You take two of three, enjoy it and go back to work Tuesday.”
Pictures from the final day in Chicago:
Everyone, including Michael Bourn and Tim Byrdak, is loose during batting practice.
Bud Norris, Brian Moehler.
Lee, Pence, Bourn
Myers and Pence have a quiet conversation in the dugout before BP.
Scoreboard at Wrigley…the flags indicated the wind was blowing in. The final score did as well.