Monday roundup: Melancon, Figueroa, Wallace’s April, Pence’s streak.

Interesting insight from Brad Mills before the game regarding the closing situation: Mark Melancon still has the inside track on the closer’s job, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t available during earlier innings, too.

If Melancon enters a game in the seventh or eighth inning, don’t perceive it as a demotion. It’s actually the opposite — if Mills determines a situation prior to the ninth is more crucial that what might come up in the ninth, he could turn to Melancon, arguably the Astros best pitcher in a bullpen full of struggling relievers.

Mills, before Monday’s game, said, “Melancon is my closer tonight.” But instead of assigning defined roles to stand over a long period of time, Mills appears to be leaning toward letting the situations dictate who pitches when. That’s what happens when so many — really, everyone but Melancon and Jeff Fulchino — are struggling, all at the same time.

Ideally, pitchers would be earmarked for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. But the Astros simply need to figure out a way to win games. And if a “save” opportunity presents itself in the seventh, don’t be surprised to see Melancon, who has thrown a total of 24 pitches spanning his last three outings — 21 of which were strikes — trotting in from the ‘pen.

Meanwhile, the Astros made a pitching move after Monday’s loss, designating Nelson Figueroa for assignment and calling up left-hander Sergio Escalona from Triple-A Oklahoma City. The 26-year-old Escalona made 13 relief appearances for the RedHawks, posting a 1-0 record, a 3.38 ERA and three saves.

Figueroa has had very little success this year, first as a starter and then out of the ‘pen after Aneury Rodriguez took his spot in the rotation. But this isn’t all on Figueroa by any means. With nearly the entire pitching staff struggling, several different moves could have been considered. The bottom line is the bullpen needs a fresh arm, and it’s probably good to get another lefty up here.


Cool stat of the day: Brett Wallace’s .388 average in April ranked third-highest in franchise history for that month. The top two? Derek Bell, who batted .398 in April of 1998, and Reds first base coach Billy Hatcher, who hit .391 in April of 1987.


Notes from the game:
Hunter Pence extended his hitting streak to 13 games by going 2-for-4. During the streak, Pence is hitting .352 with two homers and 11 RBIs. His first inning triple also extended his home hitting streak to 10 games. The triple was Pence’s 19th at Minute Maid Park, one shy of Lance Berkman’s ballpark record of 20.

Michael Bourn picked up two hits off of left-handed pitchers. He entered the game hitting .156 against lefties.

Over their last 17 plate appearances, Astros pinch-hitters have gone 6-for-14 (.429) with three walks.


Finally, photos from batting practice Monday:

Clint Barmes, Hunter Pence

Carlos Lee, Michael Bourn

Infielders taking turns fielding grounders

Barmes, Angel Sanchez


As much as I liked Sanchez at SS, Clint Barmes is AWESOME!

Sad to see Figueroa take the hit for a struggling pitching staff-doubt there is a friendlier & more grateful pitcher in the league. Hopefully he can help another team, if he chooses to become a free agent.

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