August 2010

Astros lineup at Marlins 8/22. First pitch 12:10 CT.

Learning on the job requires hard work from players and patience from us.

The Astros took on a dramatic new look after they peppered the field with rookies following the trade deadline, and when they started winning a few games as the calendar flipped to August, the Astros — though not contenders — became interesting to watch again.

But young players require patience, and as you can see, waiting out the growing pains can be a frustrating and arduous process.

Rookies are fast, enthusiastic and full of energy. They also can, at times, look lost at the plate, confused on the basepaths and overmatched at their positions defensively. It’s tough to watch, sure. But it’s part of the process. One great game might be followed by two bad ones. The remainder of this season is about learning on the job, and some of the blunders and mental errors that so frustrate the average fan will serve as great teaching tools for manager Brad Mills and his coaching staff.

Mills was a little more agitated than normal after the Astros dropped the opener in Florida on Friday. The final score — 9-0 — suggests this game was a blowout, but for six innings, it wasn’t, and Mills saw many key plays that, had they been properly executed, could have resulted in a much different outcome.

Instead, all the Astros mounted was a pile of missed opportunities, and Mills spent a portion of the pregame period on Saturday talking with various players about how things could have been done differently.

For example: Jason Castro was on second with one out in the sixth inning, and it was J.A. Happ’s job to bunt him over. The only problem was Happ’s bunt rolled toward first base, and Castro was out on a 3-5 fielder’s choice. The bunt should have been toward third.

In the second inning, Brett Wallace’s task was to simply make contact, which would advance Chris Johnson, who had doubled with one out in the inning. Instead, Wallace struck out.

Mills doesn’t use these teaching opportunities to point fingers. This isn’t about calling someone out or needlessly embarrassing a player. But if there are missed chances — missing the cutoff man, throwing to the wrong base, etc. — that are preventing the Astros from getting over that proverbial hump, it’s Mills’ job to address it, talk about it, and plan for a different outcome next time.

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Here and there:

Brian Moehler, in his second attempt to return to the field after a lengthy groin injury, is scheduled to fly to Houston on Sunday and throw a bullpen session on Monday. If that goes well, he will begin a rehab assignment with Round Rock on Tuesday. He’ll have a 60-pitch limit in that start.He’ll then rejoin the Astros in Philadelphia on Thursday and throw another bullpen session in anticipation of a start for the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks on Sunday in San Antonio.

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Congratulations to Mills and his wife, Ronda, who celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary on Saturday. We were wondering how Mills, who went into coaching and managing almost as soon as his playing career ended and has been working in baseball for more than 30 years, could have possibly found time to get married in the middle of a season. Most baseball weddings occur in November.

Turns out, Mills got married before the baseball career started — he and Ronda wed right before his senior year of college at the University of Arizona.

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Life can be pretty routine for those running the home and visiting clubhouses at big league ballparks, but the Marlins’ visiting clubhouse staff has found a way to keep things interesting as teams roll in and out of Sun Life Stadium throughout the season.

Hanging on the wall near the entrance are five pictures of the visiting team — “action” shots they take the first day the team is in town, which are then hung up the next day.

I found some of the Astros’ shots mildly amusing, like this one of Wandy Rodriguez and Anderson Hernandez (I guess it was a good thing Wandy wasn’t pitching this game).

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If you’re familiar with Rex Jones, the mustachioed half of the intrepid Astros’ athletic training staff, then you’ll probably like this extreme close up:

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Postgame notes from the Astros’ 6-3 loss to the Marlins Saturday night;

Johnson is hitting .319 in August and .361 against right-handed pitching this month.

Rodriguez tied his season high with 10 strikeouts. It was his sixth career 10-plus strikeout game.

Astros starting pitchers have posted a 2.54 ERA over the last 12 games.

The loss was the Astros 11th in their last 12 games played at the Marlins’ ballpark. They haven’t won a series here since May 9-11 in 2005.   

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And finally, we end with some candid images taken during the few afternoon hours it didn’t rain:

Geoff Blum, pointing out that former pop princess Tiffany indeed performed “I Think We’re Alone Now” (which was playing when this picture was taken) at a mall in the 1980s.  

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Michael Bourn in the cage.

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Carlos Lee grooving to aforementioned Tiffany tune.

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Blum, Mills, Bagwell

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Coach Bagwell.

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Castro, Wallace warm up.

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Astros lineup 8/20 at Marlins. First pitch 6:10 CT.

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Astros lineup 8/19 vs. Mets.

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Astros lineup 8/18 vs. Mets. First pitch: 7:05 p.m. CT.

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Keep an eye on Wilton Lopez.

Matt Lindstrom is going to be on a hiatus from closing games for the Astros for the time being, and although we do not yet know how temporary or permanent that break will be, keep an eye on an interesting closer candidate: Wilton Lopez.

Lopez was called on to finish off Tuesday’s win over the Mets. He was given that opportunity mainly because Brandon Lyon has been pitching a lot lately and needs some rest, but these are the types of situations that pop up and give a young pitcher a chance to show he can handle the job.

Lopez is an interesting study. He’s only 27 yet has been in professional baseball since 2002, when the Yankees signed him as a non-drafted free agent from his native Nicaragua. Ed Wade picked Lopez up off of waivers from San Diego in April of 2009 and he spent the entire season with Double-A Corpus Christi, until late August, when the Astros called him up to the big leagues.

This year, Lopez has slowly emerged as one of the Astros’ most reliable relievers and continues to respond favorably when put in more challenging situations. One of the most important stats for a reliever is how many times he comes to a game with runners on base and allows those runners to score. Lopez has inherited 26 runners this year, and has stranded 25 of them. That shows that not only is he pitching well, but he can answer the bell in stressful situations, and seeing he’s being used in the later innings, he clearly can handle performing when the game’s on the line.

Is he closer material? That’s to be determined. But he’s growing on manager Brad Mills, who has gushed about how much Lopez embraces the tough situations. He simply likes to be right in the middle of the action, and there’s no more drama-filled situation than the ninth inning when his team is ahead by three or fewer runs. Keep an eye on this right-hander. He just may turn into something pretty special.

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Postgame notes after a 4-3 Astros win:

Houston starters have not allowed more than two runs in each of their last seven games, posting a 2-0 record and 1.79 ERA over that span. The club is 4-3 in those games.

Hunter Pence connected for his 17th and 18th homers of the season and has now reached base safely in 22 straight games, a career long streak. The run started on July 23 and since that date, Pence has hit .383 with five homers and 22 RBIs and a .404 on-base percentage.

Michael Bourn started against Johan Santana and went 2-for-4. In his career, Bourn has hit Santana well, going 4-for-8 against the southpaw.

Angel Sanchez extended his hitting streak to five games, during which he’s hitting .318. Sanchez has now hit safely in 13 of his last 15 games.

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Thanks to everyone who signed up for our first Social Media night, scheduled for Aug. 31. We sold out of the event but judging from the favorable response, we’ll surely be having more of these in the future. Look for multiple Social Media nights in 2011.

Participants (and non-participants, if you wish) are invited to vote on what we serve for dinner on Aug. 31. The choices are listed below but you MUST vote over Twitter. So tweet me your vote, and we’ll reveal the winner soon.

Choice 1: MONSTER CHICKEN NACHOS: Crispy Sherriff Blaylock Tortilla Chips, Grilled Chicken, Charro Beans, Premium Queso, Pico De Gallo, Salsa Rojo and Fresh Sliced Jalapenos.

Choice 2: TEXAS SIRLOIN BURGER
Grilled Fresh Ground Sirloin Burger on a Bakery Fresh Onion Roll topped with Pancetta, Mushrooms, Beer Battered Onion Ring, Cheddar Cheese, Tangy Bar-B-Que Sauce, Blonde Bar-B-Que Sauce, Lettuce and Tomato with Bacon & Blue Cheese Potato Salad.

Choice 3: SMOKEHOUSE BALLPARK BBQ SANDWICH
Pulled Smoked BBQ Pork served on a Pretzel Roll, Pepper-Jack Cheese, Sweet Pickle Chips and Beer Battered Onion Rings served with Country Cabbage Slaw.

Dinner will be capped off with Blue Bell Half Pints and Fresh Baked Chocolate Chunk Cookies. Yum!

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Astros lineup 8/17 vs. Mets.

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Robert Earl Keen is coming Houston. More specifically — to Minute Maid Park.

Country music legend Robert Earl Keen will be live in concert at Minute Maid Park on Saturday, Sept. 18, following the Astros’ game with the Reds. The concert will be free for anyone who buys a game ticket, and general admission seating for the show will be located on the third base side, facing the Astros’ dugout.

To order tickets, click here. The game with the Reds begins at 6:05 p.m. CT, and the concert will begin shortly after the game’s conclusion.

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Dog Days

The Astros are bringing back their popular pooch promotion for a second time this year, hosting Dog Days on Sunday, Sept. 19. You’re invited to bring your dog to the ballpark, where you can walk him/her around the warning track during the Pooch Parade.

There are two ticket offers for this event. The $40 package includes Bullpen Box seats for you and your canine, with access into the Barking Room only section of Conoco Alley, the Dog Zone located in KBR Plaza and the Pooch Parade.

For $20, you’ll have access to the “Barking Room Only” area in Conoco Alley, the Dog Zone in KBR Plaza and the Pooch Parade.

For more information, please click here.

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Faith and Family Night:

The Astros and Third Coast Sports have teamed up to bring the second Faith and Family Night of the 2010 season on Sunday, Sept. 19, which will include a postgame concert by MercyMe. Your game ticket will also serve as your concert ticket, at which time the seats will be general admission. The concert will take place on the first base side, behind the Astros’ dugout.

For tickets, click here and follow these instructions:

1. Click on the Buy Tickets Now button.
2. On the order page, select the quantity of tickets to purchase next to the Promotions and Special Offers
3. Enter the Password: Mercy in the box to the right stating “You Must Enter Password To Receive Discount”
4. Select the level to purchase tickets on
5. Click on the Look For Tickets button

For groups of 20 or more, please contact Brent Broussard at 713-259-8316 or broussard@astros.com.

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Buddies Club

On Friday, the Astros hosted their annual Coca-Cola Astros Buddies Kids Club summer members-only autograph party. The kids were also invited to visit the Astros’ dugout, play a variety of games and interact with the Astros mascots, face painters, balloon artists and magicians.

Players on hand for autographs were Matt Lindstrom, Brandon Lyon, Bud Norris, Jason Castro, Pedro Feliz, Chris Johnson, Angel Sanchez and Jason Bourgeois.

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Castro

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Lindstrom

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Norris

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Lyon

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Johnson

The Coca-Cola Astros Buddies Kids Club is the team’s fan club for kids 14 and under. One of the many membership benefits is an invitation to the team’s end of the summer members-only Autograph party. In addition to autographs, members will enjoy visits to the Astros dugout, playing a variety of games, and interacting with the Astros mascots, face painters, balloon artists and magicians.

The Coca-Cola Astros Buddies Kids Club is for the team’s youngest fans – kids 14 and under. For an annual membership fee of only $15 members receive numerous benefits:

Four free Astros tickets for pre-selected Buddies game dates ($60 value)
Hunter Pence mini-bobblehead
Astros Buddies Kids Club collectible baseball cap
Members-only autograph party at Minute Maid Park
Monthly drawings for Astros prize packs that include a Hunter Pence autographed baseball
Opportunity to participate in Astros Buddies Behind-The-Scenes Day
Two newsletters
Membership card that includes a 15 percent discount in the Team Store on Buddies game days
Front of the line privileges for Run The Bases
Favorite player photo card
Astros sticker

To join the Buddies Club, click here.

Black Ties and Baseball Caps: another Astros Wives Gala in the books.

The 21st Houston Astros Wives Gala Thursday night at Minute Maid Park was again a rousing success, raising thousands of dollars for the Houston Area Women’s Center. The tradition began with Patty Biggio and Nancy Caminiti co-chairing the very first gala in 1990, and since then, the HAWC — an organization that provides shelter and protection for battered women and children — has raised, without exaggeration, millions.

Kudos to the Astros players and coaches who provided a nearly 100 percent attendance record for one of the most important off-the-field events the Astros hold every year. Co-chaired by Morgan Keppinger and Heather Byrdak, the gala was a lively place as players mixed and mingled with patrons while some fantastic items flew off the proverbial shelves during the silent and live auctions.

Enjoy the images…

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Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio.

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Geoff Blum and Jason Michaels…

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…and their better halves, Kory Blum and Pamela Michaels.

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Jason Bourgeois and his date, Nyisha.

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Gustavo Chacin and his wife.

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Chris Johnson and his date, Blakely.

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Drayton McLane and Brad Mills.

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Jeff and Kerry Fulchino.

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The Keppingers and Byrdaks.

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Matt Lindstrom, Craig Biggio.

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Brandon and Sara Lyon.

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Gari and Bobby Meacham

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Ronda and Brad Mills.

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Morgan Keppinger.

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Hunter Pence.

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Michelle and Humberto Quintero.

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Michael Bourn jersey up for bid in the silent auction.

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Wives group photo, part one.

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Wives group photo, part two.

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Random thoughts after an Astros win.

A close game became a laugher Monday night thanks to a collective defensive meltdown on the part of the Braves, who threw the ball around long enough for Chris Johnson to get that rare inside the park single, also known as a good old fashioned “Little League home run.” But even without that gift inning, there were several positives from this game that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Since his callup, Brett Wallace has sat out a couple of games when the Astros were facing lefties, but manager Brad Mills assured him he was not going to make this a platoon situation. He was true to his word in the opener with the Braves, and Wallace answered with two hits — both off left-handed pitchers.

If a lefty hitter is going to have success at the big league level, he’s going to have to be able to maintain a respectable average against left-handed pitchers. It’s just how it is, and there’s no real way around it. There are often growing pains, as we’ve seen with Michael Bourn, but in my humble opinion, the best way to get a hitter acclimated to hitting lefties is to simply play him. In a season such as this one, where the team is not headed to the playoffs and the club is looking at a slew of young hitters in an effort to figure out what it has for ’11, there’s no better time to play against the percentages and play these lefties against left-handed pitchers. The Astros are without a doubt attempting to win every game they play this year, but with playoff implications not on the line, I say, throw the kids out there and play them, regardless of the numbers.

I’ve heard from a lot of you wondering if there’s cause for concern regarding Jason Castro. I apply the same line of thinking: this is the perfect time to keep playing him, no matter what, and give him all the time he needs to figure things out. In the past, young players barely scraping the .200 mark found themselves shipped off to the Minor Leagues after a short sampling, because there was much, much more on the line. Morgan Ensberg and Adam Everett come to mind. They were the starting third baseman and shortstop on Opening Day in 2002, but they both were sent out pretty early to work on their offense. Back then, the team was considered a contender, and there wasn’t much time to wait for them to figure things out. These days, there’s time.

I like the youth on this club and I think a lot of these guys have a future in the big leagues. But there are always growing pains involved, and Castro was rushed to the big leagues after less than a half-season at Triple-A. So let’s give this time, let it play out, have him continue to work with hitting coach Jeff Bagwell and see where we are at the end of the season.

That brings me to the next topic: Bagwell. I will be the first to admit that as much as I respect his knowledge and admire his keen ability to work with young players (we received a taste of this during the Elite Camps from a few years ago. He has no airs about him, blended in well and really was able to communicate with the young hitters), I didn’t think adding him to the coaching staff was going to make that much of a difference. I’m still hesitant to give him all of the credit for what’s been going on here lately, but I do believe he’s made a difference. As a player, Bagwell was probably one of the smartest hitters and baserunners in the game. He could see hitting as a science, but he was also so, so good at not letting the mental part of the game wear him down.

If he can pass that along to the kids on the team today, it could reap huge rewards.

Some notes from the Astros’ win over the Braves Monday night:

The Astros have won six consecutive games at Minute Maid Park, dating back to their previous homestand. It’s their longest home winning streak since they won nine straight in August and September of 2008.

Bud Norris has pitched six-plus innings in four consecutive starts.

Hitting third in the lineup, Jeff Keppinger is hitting .480 with two walks, two homers and eight RBIs. The Astros are 5-1 in the six games he’s hit third.

Bourn leads the National League with 36 stolen bases.

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Other stuff:

Matt Lindstrom will meet fans and sign autographs at the Whataburger restaurant located at 7418 S. Sam Houston Parkway West, Houston, TX 77085 from
11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. on Tuesday. The appearance, part of the Whataburger Ultimate “Whatafan” promotion gives fans the chance to register to win the title of Ultimate “Whatafan.” The Ultimate “Whatafan” will win suite tickets, autographed jerseys and caps from the Astros, Round Rock Express and Corpus Christi Hooks, an on-field batting practice visit, the chance to participate in a pre-game ceremony and an opportunity to throw out a ceremonial first pitch.

The Astros Wives 21st Annual Black Ties and Baseball Caps Gala will be held on Thursday (Aug. 12) at Minute Maid Park. Chaired by Morgan Keppinger and Heather Byrdak, the event benefiting the Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC) will be attended by current and former Astros players and will be emceed by Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton.

The signature event, themed “A Night in Paradise” includes a cocktail reception and silent auction at 6 p.m. followed by dinner and a live auction at 7 p.m. The mission of the Houston Area Women’s Center is to help individuals affected by domestic and sexual violence in their efforts to move their lives forward by providing shelter, counseling and advocacy to live lives free from the effects of violence.

Members of the Coca-Cola Astros Buddies Kids Club are invited to attend the end of the summer, members-only autograph party on Friday (Aug. 13). The event is at Minute Maid Park from 1:30 – 3:30 p.m. and scheduled to appear are Lindstrom, Brandon Lyon, Bud Norris, Castro, Pedro Feliz, Johnson, Angel Sanchez and Jason Bourgeois. In addition to the autographs, kids will enjoy free games, magicians, balloon artists, face painting and other entertainment.

The Coca-Cola Astros Buddies Kids Club is for kids 14 and under and membership benefits include Astros tickets, the members-only autograph party, Hunter Pence mini-bobblehead, 2010 Astros Buddies collectible baseball cap and much more for only $15.

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Check out Astros witticisms at PumaOneLiners 

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