April 2011

Astros lineup at Brewers, 4/22. First pitch 7:10 p.m. CT.

Notes, numbers and nuggets before a weekend series in Milwaukee

* Since starting the season with a dreadful 1-7 record, the Astros are 6-5 over their last 11 games, raising the team batting average by nearly 40 points while shaving nearly three runs off the pitching staff’s ERA:

Record    Avg.   R    ERA   SO
April 10-21   6-5          .278       52   3.40    83
April 1-9        1-7           .239       28   6.42    41

* Several current Astros played for the Brewers at one point in their careers, including Jason Bourgeois (2009), Nelson Figueroa (2002), Bill Hall (2002-09), Joe Inglett (2010), Carlos Lee (2005-06) and bullpen coach Jamie Quirk (1977).

* Jeff Keppinger, who had left foot surgery last offseason and has been rehabbing in Kissimmee, Fla., will play in an extended Spring game today. He will DH only.

* It’s c-c-c-cold in Milwaukee. Temps are not expected to exceed 50 degrees at any point this weekend, and currently, it’s about 42 degrees. Fortunately, Miller Park has a) heat and b) a roof.  It also has the mid-game sausage race, the second-best mascot race in baseball (behind only the sprinting presidents in Washington, D.C.)

*On the Minor League front, several farmhands have had strong starts to the season. Through Thursday’s games…

Triple-A Oklahoma City:
SS Tommy Manzella — .320 (16-for-50); three doubles, one triple, one home run, nine RBIs.
OF J.B. Shuck — .340 (16-for-47), two doubles, one RBI.

On the injury front, 2b Jose Vallejo has been placed on the disabled list (left shoulder), retroactive to April 21. Prior to the injury, he was hitting .292 (7-for-24).

Double-A Corpus Christi: 
OF Jon Gaston — .304 (14-for-46), four doubles
J.D. Martinez .347 (17-for-49). Seven doubles, two home runs, 19 RBIs.
IF Wladimir Sutil – .397 (23-for-58), four doubles, 2 RBIs
RHP David Carpeneter — 1.35 ERA over seven relief appearances: (1 ER/6.2 IP), three BB, seven Ks.

Class A Lancaster:
OF Jay Austin –.369 (24-for-65), four doubles, 2 home runs, 11 RBIs
1b Kody Hinze — .309 (17-for-55), three doubles, six home runs, 15 RBIs
SS Henry Villar — .309 (17-for-55), three doubles, one triple, one home run, 13 RBIs

Class A Lexington:
OF Adam Bailey — .333 (17-for-51), one double, five home runs, 10 RBIs
3B Mike Kvasnicka — .313 (15-for-48), three doubles, two triples
C Chris Wallace — .358 (19-for-53), five doubles, six home runs, 19 RBIs
RHP Tanner Bushue — 3-0, 1.80 ERA (4ER/20IP), four walks, nine strikeouts

Postgame notes after a 9-1 loss to the Mets

*The Astros won the series, two games to one, marking their first series win this season.

*Infielder Clint Barmes has been cleared by Dr. Tom Mehlhoff for all baseball activities. He will fly to Milwaukee with the team before beginning a rehab assignment with Triple-A Oklahoma City on Sunday at Round Rock. Barmes is scheduled to get three at-bats on Sunday, four on Monday and four-plus on Tuesday.

The original plan was to x-ray Barmes’ hand again on Friday, the four-week mark since the fracture occurred. Team doctors decided that step was unnecessary and that Barmes is ready for a rehab assignment.

* J.A. Happ allowed six runs over 4 2/3 inning in a losing effort against the Mets and pointed to poor execution with runners on base as the main problem. “It might seem like I’m far away, but I’m this close to figuring it out,” Happ said, holding his thumb and index finger an inch apart. “I’m not finishing my pitches. I didn’t execute with guys on.”

Mills: “He was pretty efficient early and then they started working the counts and he got his pitch count up.”

Mills, on if he can take solace in the Astros winning the series: “We try to separate all of the games. There are still things we’d like to have done better, better at-bats and put more runs on the board. We’re very happy with a series win, no doubt. But we like to separate the games.”

*Pitching matchups for Milwaukee series:

Friday: Figueroa (0-2, 7.31) vs. Gallardo (1-1, 4.62)
Saturday: Myers (1-0, 2.39) vs. Marcum (2-1, 1.90)
Sunday: Rodriguez (1-2, 5.48) vs. Wolf (2-2, 3.18)

All three games will be televised on FS Houston.

Pregame notes and a few images from batting practice at Citi Field

Should the Astros win tonight to complete the three-game sweep, it’ll be their first three-game sweep over the Mets in New York since the 1993 club did near the beginning for the 1993 season. The Astros last swept the Mets in Houston in 2008 (Aug. 1-3).

Win or lose tonight, the Astros have already secured the series win. Their last series win occurred last season from Sept. 17-19 when they took two of three from the Reds.

Bill Hall was walking better today but will likely be sidelined for a couple of games after spraining his ankle during Wednesday’s game. Hall ran into the wall next to the Mets dugout while running down a foul ball, hit the railing with his midriff and did a half-flip over the wall. He said he had the wind knocked out of him and is glad there wasn’t any damage to his rib cage.

Clint Barmes took batting practice in the cage Thursday and could take some swings on the field during BP this weekend in Milwaukee.

The catcher position was a big concern as the team ended Spring Training, but so far, the two backstops have stepped up in the big way. Heading into Thursday’s game, Humberto Quintero and J.R. Towles have combined to hit .317 (19-for-60) with four doubles, a home run, four RBIs and seven walks in 18 games. The tandem ranks four among MLB teams in combined catchers’ batting average, behind the Padres (.362), Braves (.348) and D-backs (.339).

Other notables:

Since joining the Astros in 2008, Michael Bourn has posted the highest stolen base percentage in franchise history (82.7). …Mark Melancon has stranded all seven of his inherited runners this season and all 14 inherited runners since joining the club last season. …Carlos Lee owns the fifth-highest career batting average against the Mets of all active players (.340).

And finally, images from batting practice at Citi Field:

Barmes, Sanchez, Lee

Downs, Wallace, Pence

Ed Wade, Hunter Pence

Michael Bourn signs autographs...

...followed by Jason Michaels.

Carlos Lee, happy to be here.

Astros lineup 4/21 at Mets. First pitch 6:10 CT.

Astros lineup 4/20 at Mets. First pitch: 6:10 p.m. CT

Tuesday roundup: injury updates, Barmes schedule and images from Dog Day at the ballpark.

We begin today with three injury updates:

Alberto Arias, pitching in Extended Spring, had what they’re categorizing as a setback — meaning, the soreness in his shoulder isn’t going away, so they’re sending him back to Houston to be looked at by team physician David Lintner. Arias will fly to Houston Wednesday for a Thursday appointment.

Jeff Keppinger, who has also been in Extended since Spring Training ended, will appear in a game on Friday as the designated hitter. Keppinger, who missed chunks of last season with a toe issue, had left foot surgery during the offseason.

Clint Barmes, who fractured his left hand toward the end of Spring Training, is the closest of the three to returning to the field. The shortstop hit soft tosses on Tuesday with no pain, and he could leave on a rehab assignment while the Astros are in Milwaukee this weekend.

Friday will be the four-week mark since Barmes broke his hand during a spring game against the Yankees. That day appears to be decision day: If the fracture looks like it’s completely healed by then, they’ll move toward working out a rehab schedule.

Barmes will likely need a minimum of 10 to 12 Minor League at-bats, and possibly more, depending on how he responds.

______________

The Astros will have decisions to make, obviously, when it’s time for Barmes and Keppinger to come off the DL. Barmes’ role on the team, to me, is much more defined than Keppinger’s, even though neither has appeared in a regular season game yet this year.

The Astros traded for Barmes with the mindset that he will be their everyday shortstop, and I believe that’s exactly how he’ll be slotted in when he’s ready to join the team. Angel Sanchez has played well in Barmes’ absence and his offense has  been a bright spot through the team’s disappointing start. But Barmes is the stronger defender of the two, has better range and is faster. Those qualities probably give him an edge.

Plus, it’s highly unusual for a player to lose his starting job because of an injury and I do not foresee Barmes being the exception to that rule.

As for Keppinger, his role, and his return date, are still to be determined. Keep in mind that the Astros signed Bill Hall before Keppinger’s injury, not because of it. The Astros were looking for more offensive production up the middle after receiving virtually no power from Tommy Manzella and Keppinger last year. They replaced them with Barmes and Hall. Should Hall continue to struggle offensively, that might mean more playing time for Keppinger. These are
questions that are impossible to answer now, considering Keppinger is still a ways away from returning and Hall could go on a tear at any point. Stay tuned.

______________

From the photo archives: Dog Day at Minute Maid Park always creates a delightful spectacle, and last Sunday was no exception. The pregame Pooch Parade drew more than 600 dogs and their owners, and truly, you have to experience one of these to really understand how hilarious it is. Not just because of the volume of dogs that are on the field at once, but also because of the funny outfits their owners dress them in for the occasion.

Astros fans weren’t the only participants this time — a few players joined in, too. Mark Melancon, Chris Johnson and Brett Wallace had their dogs to the park for the celebration as well:

Chris Johnson and his dog Harley, and Mark Melancon and his dog, Louie

...and Brett Wallace and his dog, Dexter.

Dazed and confused: CJ and Wallace looking at the scoreboard shot of the parade, trying to spot their dogs. (Wallace's girlfriend brought the dogs to the parade)

Astros lineup 4/19 at Mets. First pitch 6:10 p.m. CT. Roof open (ha ha)

Off day notes: Social media night pics, Minor League update and what they’re saying on Twitter

Thanks to everyone who participated in our first Social Media night of the 2011 season, another rousing success thanks to your participation and a cameo appearance by one Hunter Pence.

By the end of the Twitter trivia portion of the program, we had given away 12 signed Pence baseballs and three signed Michael Bourn bobbleheads. Eight of the baseballs were handed out by Pence during his 15-minute patio appearance, and we continued the trivia contest following his departure to give away the remaining seven prizes.

A combination of a festive Budweiser Patio, a tasty chicken sandwich, Blue Bell ice cream and picture-perfect weather (once the sun moved behind the ballpark) made it impossible — in my humble opinion — not to enjoy a Social Media night. But throw in an Astros win and you can chalk this up to one fun event.

Obviously, we can’t guarantee wins on Social Media nights, but I think it’s worth mentioning that dating back to last year, the Astros are now 3-0 when we hold these events. When’s the next one, you ask? Saturday, May 28, and our guest will be third baseman Chris Johnson.

Tickets are $45 and include a game ticket on the Bud Patio, dinner, dessert, a t-shirt, player appearance and a pretty good chance to win something during Twitter trivia. We’ll put the May 28 tickets on sale in early May. Meanwhile, here are the dates for the remaining Social Media nights in 2011:

Saturday, June 25
Saturday, July 16
Saturday, Aug. 20
Saturday, Sept. 24

Images from the party Saturday night:

During Twitter Trivia, I asked the questions, and the first correct answer to be tweeted back to me won the prize.

Most fans used their smart phones to tweet, but we have full wireless capabilities in the patio and welcome iPads and laptops as well.

The winners:

______________

Meanwhile, two Astros farmhands for Class A Lexington had a grand old time on Sunday, feasting on Asheville pitching in a record-setting road win.

Outfielder Telvin Nash and catcher Chris Wallace each hit three home runs and went 5-for-6 in a landslide 18-9 victory. Wallace had a club record nine RBIs, one shy of the South Atlantic League record of 10. Nash finished the game with four RBIs. Both players recorded 15 total bases, also one shy of the SAL record of 16.

Through Sunday’s game, Nash is hitting .412 with four home runs and eight RBIs over four games played, while Wallace is hitting .444 with five home runs and 17 RBIs over 10 games.

The 20-year-old Nash was a third-round Draft pick in 2009, while Wallace, 22, was a 16th-rounder in 2010.

More news from the farm:

J.D. Martinez turned more heads in one Spring Training than all three Kardashians at a year’s worth of red carpet events, and it appears the outfielder has transferred that performance to the regular season. Martinez, the Astros’ Minor League player of the year in 2010, is hitting .368 in 10 games for Double-A Corpus Christi with two home runs, 16 RBIs, a .422 on-base percentage and a .658 slugging percentage.

(In layman’s terms, that means he’s really pretty good.)

Remember J.B. Shuck? He’s the left-handed hitting outfielder who during Spring Training impressed the higher-ups with several timely hits and more than a few highlight-reel defensive plays. He played so well that he ended up being one of the last players cut at the end of the spring season.

Shuck, now playing for Triple-A Oklahoma City, is hitting .353 over the first 10 games of the season.

Other notables:

Outfielder Brian Bogusevic is hitting .324 with one home run and six RBIs for Oklahoma City. First baseman Koby Clemens is hitting .346 in eight games with two home runs and nine RBIs. Shortstop Tommy Manzella is hitting .314 with a home run and eight RBIs.

In Corpus Christi, shortstop Wladimir Sutil leads the Texas League in hits (20) and is second in batting with a .455 average. Infielder Jimmy Paredes has seven stolen bases, T.J. Steele has six and Sutil has five.

In Lexington, 20-year-old Jio Mier is hitting .343 over 10 games with a .477 on-base percentage. Third baseman Mike Kvasnicka, 22, is hitting .353 in nine games with seven RBIs. right-hander Tanner Bushue, 19, is 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA in his first two starts.
______________

While the Astros were traveling to New York, our own Milo Hamilton spent the offday Monday in College Station, where he was honored by the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation. Hamilton and Curt Smith, noted sports author and columnist, were the guests of honor at the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center.
______________

From the Twitter feed:

@HunterPence9

“On the bus, the team has decided Myers needs his own HBO reality show. We need to make this happen, he’s out of control 24/7.”

@BudNorris20

“Packing for NYC and Milwaukee. Team is gunna have a good road trip with some wins. Starts with Wandy on Tuesday.”

@CJAstros23

“Headed to New York! Looking to get a series win!”

Mac and cheese and toasty buns…a culinary tour of Minute Maid Park.

Every time I take a culinary tour at Minute Maid Park, I’m told to take small bites, pace myself and not to fill up on any one item, given the volume of food I’ll be tasting.

And every time, I fail to follow directions. Twice I’ve sampled my way through the concession stands on the main concourse, and twice I didn’t do a very good job of knowing when it was time to tear myself away from the tasty treats.

Oh well. It was worth the extra pound or two for one glorious hour of stuffing my face with mac and cheese, baked potatoes, steak fajitas, fries, milkshakes…and that was just the warm-up. I took notes, videos and pictures along the way, and hopefully, this will serve as a guide for you the next time you’re at Minute Maid Park.

Bon appetit! (And be sure to watch the video, posted here)

_____________

Our tour began at section 106, where Big League Macaroni Co. offers four fantastic variations of the traditionally crowd-pleasing mac and cheese. With a desire to offer a few dishes of the “comfort food” variety, ARAMARK and the Astros, inspired by the Just Mac restaurant that opened in the Heights last year, figured this concept would be a hit at the ballpark.

The four choices are Taco Mac and Cheese, Chili Mac and Cheese, Chicken Enchilada Mac and Cheese and Rustic Tomato Mac and Cheese. For the kids, they offer Souvenir Kids Mac and Cheese served in a collector’s Astros mini batting helmet.

I never thought of taco meat and mac and cheese as a tasty combination. I was pleasantly surprised to find out these two go together about as well as peanut butter and jelly. Two thumbs up.
Our next stop was Spuds Crossing. It’s not new to Minute Maid Park, but this particular concession stand — serving only loaded baked potatoes — was inserted into the main concourse fare after a swell of demand from fans last season. In fact, it was voted the second-best national concessions item by the Ultimate Road Trip book. Everything is made to order, so whether you’re into chopped beef on your potato, or if you’re a vegan, you’ll find something to your liking here.

As you can see, we went all out for this stop. Yum.


The next few stops of this culinary vacation were to concession stands created by celebrity chef Bryan Caswell. Thanks to that partnership, fans can enjoy items from some of Caswell’s famous area restaurants, including Little Bigs and his newest baby, El Real.

First up: Little Bigs beef sliders with caramelized onions, and pulled pork sliders topped with creamy cole slaw. The bread is baked on site every morning, guaranteeing fresh buns with each slider.

(When I was a kid and we grilled out hamburgers and hot dogs, my dad, like clockwork, would stick his head in the door and say, “You want your buns warmed?” We’d laugh hysterically and then give the obvious answer, a resounding yes. I was reminded of this when I stopped at Little Bigs. I  mean, really, what’s better than a fresh, toasted bun?)

Overeating is no fun if you can't share it with a friend. So I brought along PR maven Sally Gunter, who is enjoying the pork slider here.

When the Astros have an offday at home, I usually spend my time off indulging in steak fajitas and a margarita at my favorite Mexican restaurant. Now, thanks to the addition of El Real to Minute Maid Park, I don’t have to wait for that elusive night off to stuff myself silly. I just have to head to section 132, where they grill up the steaks and chicken, dab it with some garlic butter, carve it up on the board and serve it fresh and made to order.

The chips are fried in coconut oil, giving them a unique flavor, and the salsa — oh boy. Hot, hot, hot. If you’re from Texas, it’s perfect. If you’re from, say, Ohio, it’ll make your eyes water and your nose run. But still, delish.


If sandwiches are more your speed, head to the All-Star Carvery behind section 156. The menu has the normal staple items — sliced beef brisket and carved turkey — but there are two new sandwiches as well: the Hill County Pork Hoagie and the Texas Tom Turkey Sandwich.

The hoagie has slow roasted pulled pork with garlic, red pepper, herbs, spicy chipotle aioli and sweet vinegar slaw on a sourdough bun. The turkey sandwich features roasted turkey breast, pepper jack cheese, spicy chipotle aioli, lettuce and corn salsa on a jalapeno-cheddar Kaiser.

Fans can vote for their favorite sandwich online or at section 155. The one that gets the most votes will stay on the menu for the rest of the season. The other one gets the boot — maybe send it to the Minor Leagues and let the Corpus Christi Hooks have a stab at it?

Texas Tom Turkey

After the sandwich-tasting, but before the grand finale, we filled up on some decadent chocolate milkshakes from Prince’s Hamburgers.

That didn’t deter us from diving into a couple of new Caswell-inspired dishes new to the FiveSeven Grille this year:

The grilled snapper…the Shroom slider…and…wait for it…the “Dude Milkshake” — one very thick, and potent, White Russian. (I came close to finishing this one off. Don’t tell Drayton.)


See you next time!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 248 other followers