May 2011

Astros lineup 5/13 vs. Mets. TBD on roof. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT

Offday roundup: notes, observations, bobbleheads and photos.

It’s pouring here today. In most cities, a downpour on an offday would be viewed as good timing. But in Houston, we have a roof, making when it rains and how long it rains irrelevant. Instead of good timing, I’m guessing some of the players are grumbling about their golf games getting washed out.

Nonetheless, offday or not, there’s always something going on. Here are a few notes and tidbits to whet your whistle while we wait for the Mets to arrive to town…

Transactions
As expected, Jason Michaels will be activated from the disabled list prior to Friday’s game. Additionally, Joe Inglett cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Oklahoma City. Nelson Figueroa, who was designated for assignment earlier in the week, also cleared waivers. Both can elect free agency but nothing has been announced yet on that front.

Michaels played five games for Oklahoma City during his rehab stint, logging six hits in 20 at-bats (.300) with two doubles and two RBIs.

Game notes
The Astros PR department passed along these interesting tidbits following the Astros’ 4-3 walk-off win over the Reds on Wednesday:

Hunter Pence has six career walk-off hits, but his double in the ninth inning Wednesday was his first walk-off in almost exactly a year. His last one was May 9, 2010.

Pence’s 15-game hitting streak is the longest active streak in the National League and the longest by an Astro since the 2009 season, when Miguel Tejada posted a 21-game streak to end the season.

In Wandy Rodriguez’s last five starts, he has posted a 2-1 record and a 2.50 ERA, allowing 10 earned runs over 36 innings. He has also not lost a decision in his last five home starts when pitching against the Reds, posting a 3-0 record and a 2.18 ERA in those games.

Giveaways
On Friday, the Astros will hand out pink tote bags to the first 10,000 fans, courtesy of The Methodist Cancer Center. The game will be followed by pink-themed Friday Night Fireworks, presented by Marathon Oil Corporation.

On Saturday, AT&T is sponsoring this Chris Johnson pink bat bobblehead giveaway to the first 10,000 fans:

CJ’s bobblehead is the second of a six-bobblehead set to be distributed throughout the 2011 season. Michael Bourn’s Gold Glove bobble was handed out during the first homestand of the season, followed by the Hunter Pence Play Green collectible. Here’s a preview of the remaining four. I definitely am most looking forward to the Brownie and JD bobblehead on June 11, but there’s something especially hilarious about the Brett Myers bobblehead, considering how, well, life-like it is. Agree? Disagree? Discuss.

June 11: JD, Brownie


July 3: Brett Myers


Sept. 3: Carlos Lee

Golf tournament
On April 25, the Astros and Tommy Bahama hosted a golf tournament, with proceeds going to Montgomery County Special Olympics. Here are some images from the event:

Jeff Bagwell

Mark Melancon

Bud Norris

Dave Raymond, Larry Dierker

Bill Brown

And finally, let’s talk food. The Astros and ARAMARK introduced plenty of new concessions on Opening Day, that wasn’t the end of it. New and delicious items are an ongoing process at the ballpark this year, to be rolled out gradually throughout the season.

The two newest items on the docket give a unique twist to the standard hot dogs and nachos fare. Without further ado, we introduce you to…

Cactus League nachos:
Chorizo Sausage, Pinto Beans, Tomatillo Salsa, Shredded Pepper Jack Cheese and Sour Cream

(The plan is to introduce a new nacho dish every month, with the most popular making a reappearance in September.)

Bolognese Dog:
Diced Tomatoes, Garlic, Onions, Shredded Parmesan Cheese, Beef Bolognese Sauce


(More hot dog dishes will be offered monthly, including a “Bleu Dog” and a “Georgia Dog.” Stay tuned!)

Astros lineup 5/11 vs. Reds. Roof closed. First pitch 1:05 p.m. CT

Astros lineup 5/10 vs. Reds. Roof closed. First pitch 7:05 CT.

Free food at Minute Maid Park today and tomorrow. (Yes, really. Just get here early)

About a month ago, we took a food tour of Minute Maid Park to sample all of the new dishes offered in 2011. Two of the items we sampled — and loved — are now available, free to the public, today (Tuesday) and tomorrow (Wednesday).

Fans attending these two games are invited to try complimentary (i.e. FREE) sandwich samples at the All-Star Carvery located behind section 156.

The Astros and ARAMARK — the team’s exclusive food and beverage partner — encourage fans to arrive early and bring their appetites. For the first hour after the gates open (5:30-6:30 p.m.), and Wednesday afternoon (11:30-12:30), fans will be treated to complimentary samples of two signature sandwich finalists from the Carvery.

The two sandwiches are:

1. Hill Country Pork Hoagie: Slow Roasted Pulled Pork with Garlic, Red Pepper & Herbs, Spicy Chipotle Aioli, Sweet Vinegar Slaw on a Sourdough Hoagie with a side of Kettle Chips and a pickle spear.

Hill Country Pork hoagie

2. Texas Tom Turkey Sandwich: Roasted Turkey Breast, Pepper Jack Cheese, Spicy Chipotle Aioli, Lettuce, Corn Salsa on a Jalapeno-Cheddar Kaiser with a side of Kettle Chips and a pickle.

Texas Tom turkey sandwich

The sandwiches are vying for a permanent spot on the Minute Maid Park menu. Fans can vote for their favorite sandwich during the sampling, or by visiting astros.com/sandwich. The winner will be announced after the All-Star break.

Dig in!

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Is your son or daughter an Astros Buddy? If not, there’s still time to sign up for this very affordably-priced kids fan club. For just $15, you’ll receive $80 worth of great stuff: A coupon good for four FREE View Deck I tickets (a $64 value) on Astros Buddies game dates, a Michael Bourn Soft-Sided Lunch Bag, an Astros Buddies Club collectible cap, a members-only autograph party, a Buddies Behind-the-Scenes day, a Buddies Coupon Book, a Buddies newsletter and more.

Check out the full details here. The Astros are also taking membership orders in person at the Community Clubhouse, located behind the escalators at section 107 this weekend.

The sooner you sign up, the more bang you’ll get for your buck. And the kids always have a great time (guaranteed).

Chris Johnson signed autographs at the Astros Buddies autograph session last year.

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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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Finally, photos from batting practice Monday:

Clint Barmes, Hunter Pence

Carlos Lee, Michael Bourn

Infielders taking turns fielding grounders

Barmes, Angel Sanchez

Astros lineup 5/9 vs. Reds. Roof closed. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT

Beginning Monday, you’ll see a lot of Pink in the Park.

In honor of Mother’s Day and Major League Baseball’s ongoing efforts to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer support, the Astros will once again paint the town pink.

Maybe not the entire town, but certainly, their neck of the woods. Minute Maid Park will be pink, pink, pink, beginning with the homestand opener with the Reds on Monday.

Pink ribbons will be on display throughout the ballpark, and the Astros star on the wall behind home plate will also be pink. Everything the team gives away will also involve the color pink, beginning with pink tote bags to the first 10,000 fans, courtesy of The Methodist Cancer Center on Friday, May 13, and pink themed Friday Night Fireworks presented by Marathon Oil Corporation after the game.

Also on May 13, the Astros will host their signature event, the Pink on the Park Brunch and Bazaar, which will raise funds for the Methodist Cancer Center.

The brunch and bazaar will be attended by members of the Astros team and their wives and will be hosted by Honorary Chairs Elizabeth McLane and Pam Gardner, Astros President of Business Operations.

Michael Bourn and his mom, Carrie, at last year's Pink in the Park event.

The bazaar opens for shopping at 11 a.m. and will remain open until 2 p.m. A portion of the proceeds from sales at the bazaar will also benefit The Methodist Cancer Center.  The brunch begins at 12:30 p.m.

The Pink In the Park brunch program features Denise Hazen, author of “Treat Her Like a Princess: How to Help Your Girlfriend with Breast Cancer.” Hazen, a stage three breast cancer survivor, wrote the book based on her own experience to help caregivers guide their friends through the process of breast cancer treatment. Throughout her treatment, she allowed a CNN crew to film her for the documentary Taming the Beast. As she faced seventeen rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and six weeks of daily radiation, Hazen sent a clear message to other women: not only is it possible to endure breast cancer treatment, but you can emerge on the other side even stronger than before.

The brunch and bazaar, produced in conjunction with In Any Event, Niki Smith and Ellie Francisco of francisco & co., will feature numerous local boutiques and unique fashion designers including A Little Eye Candy Jewelry, Itsby Bitsy Boutique, Silpada Designs, Talbot Cooley and Tres Chic.  Denise Hazen will also conduct a book signing at the bazaar. To participate as a vendor in the bazaar, contact Niki Smith at 713-202-6935.

Tickets to the Pink In The Park Brunch and Bazaar are available by calling the Astros In Action Foundation at 713-259-8979 or by visiting astros.com/community. Individual tickets are available for $150 and bazaar shopping only tickets are available for $50. Sponsorship packages ranging from $2,500 to $20,000 are also available.

Further supporting breast cancer awareness and research, the Astros In Action Foundation will host the second annual Pink In The Park Ladies “TEE Time” Golf Outing.  This “women-only” affair will be a shotgun start tournament held at Redstone Golf Club, Member Course on Monday, May 16. Tee time is 8:30 a.m. followed by a luncheon and awards at 1:00 p.m.  An individual golf entry is $250 and “TEE Time” sponsorships are available.  For more information about the Pink In The Park Ladies “TEE Time” Golf Outing, to register or to participate as a sponsor visit astros.com/community or contact the Astros In Action Foundation at 713-259-8979.

On Saturday, May 14, AT&T is sponsoring a Chris Johnson pink bat bobblehead giveaway to the first 10,000 fans.  The Astros are also hosting the second annual Wine and Cheese Event presented by H-E-B from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. A Wine and Cheese game ticket includes access to the event in the Union Station lobby for wine sampling, two glasses of wine, light hors d’oeurves, a wine class with representatives from Constellation Wines and a special gift.

Fans will be invited to bid on unique items at a silent auction to raise funds for breast cancer research. Fans age 21 and older can take advantage of this special ticket offer at astros.com/wine.  Other ticket discounts for games during Pink In The Park week are available at astros.com/pink.

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Major League Baseball and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest breast cancer organization, recently announced the winners of the 2011 Honorary Bat Girl Contest, a campaign to recognize baseball fans that have been affected by breast cancer and demonstrated a commitment to fighting the disease. The winner of the Honorary Bat Girl Contest for the Houston Astros is Linda Anderson.

Anderson, first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, endured a double mastectomy, six rounds of chemotherapy and reconstructive surgery. A five-year survivor, the cancer returned in 2010 and she is determined to again beat the disease.  Anderson will be a special guest of the Astros at the team’s Pink In The Park Brunch and Bazaar on May 13, will watch batting practice from the field that evening, she will be recognized in a pre-game ceremony and will throw
out a ceremonial pitch.

“Linda is an inspiration.  Not only has she faced this battle once, but she is doing it again and what is most impressive is that she has endured these struggles with a great attitude, positive approach and unwavering determination. We look forward to honoring her on May 13,” said Shawn Bertani Astros director, community affairs.

The Honorary Bat Girl program was introduced in 2009 to raise additional awareness and support for the annual Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer initiative celebrated on Mother’s Day. In three years, nearly 4,000 testimonials have been submitted and more than six million fan votes have been cast. Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer is a partnership between MLB, its licensed partners and Susan G. Komen for the Cure to raise awareness about the breast cancer cause,
while also raising funds to support breast cancer research.

Linda Anderson is one of the thirty winners, one for each MLB Club. She was among more than 1,500 entrants that were selected by more than a half-million fan votes on http://www.HonoraryBatGirl.com, a Web site powered by MLB.com, and a panel of celebrity judges.  The panel included Mrs. Billye Aaron, breast cancer survivor, Komen Global Ambassador for breast cancer and wife of Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron; Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker, breast cancer survivor and Founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure; Gabrielle Union, actress, co-survivor and supporter of the cause; Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox All-Star Pitcher and lymphoma survivor; Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim All-Star Pitcher whose mother is a breast cancer survivor; Jim Thome, Five-time All-Star and Minnesota Twins Designated Hitter whose mother passed away from lung cancer; Suzyn Waldman, New York Yankees radio broadcaster and breast cancer survivor; and Mitch Williams, MLB Network analyst whose late mother had breast cancer.

Astros lineup 5/5 at Cincinnati. First pitch 11:35 a.m. CT

Note: Brandon Lyon is flying back to Houston today to be examined by team doctors. He is experiencing weakness in his right shoulder.

**Second update: Brad Mills says they’re “giving the ninth inning” to Mark Melancon for now.

Road trip roundup: Wallace, Martinez and rainy days in the ‘nati

The chatter in the manager’s office before the opener in Cincinnati on Tuesday was largely focused on Brett Wallace. Manager Brad Mills was asked a couple of pointed questions, including whether inserting the young first baseman in the cleanup spot was putting too much pressure on him and if his lack of power — he had just one home run entering the game — was alarming to any degree.

The first part was easy. Wallace is early in his career but is mature beyond his years, and looking at the kind of numbers he put up in college and all the way through the Minor Leagues, it’s safe to assume he probably spent quite a bit of time in the cleanup spot in the past.

So no, there was no hesitation on Mills’ part to challenge Wallace by moving him up one spot in the order, in Carlos Lee’s absence.

As for the low home run total, Mills explained it this way: “The first thing to come is hitting the ball the other way. Then the home runs usually follow after that. There’s no reason to think it won’t happen that way with Brett.”

Later that night, Wallace extended his hitting streak to 11 games with two hits in five at-bats — and he knocked his second home run of the year.
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It’s rare when a game is postponed hours before it is scheduled to start. Normally, the teams will wait, and wait, and wait — hours, sometimes — before finally, mercifully, calling it.

The Reds wisely looked at the radar Monday and saw there was no end to the steady rain that had soaked the city for most of the season. By 3:45 p.m. the Astros knew they had a night off, with the game rescheduled for Thursday, a mutual offday for both teams.

For most of the people involved — the players, manager, coaching staff, reporters, broadcasters — that information was met with a nod and a shrug. The focus changes from the now-cancelled game to what’s for dinner. Given the exhausting pace of a baseball season, let’s face it, there are worse things than a sudden, previously unscheduled night off.

So it’s a pretty stress-free situation — unless, that is, you’re the traveling secretary. When a game is rescheduled for an offday, several elements of a typical road trip need to be tended to. A new flight — and a new flight crew — need to be booked; the food for the flight needs to be reordered, the buses that take the teams to the airport in one city and from the airport to the hotel in the next, as well as the equipment trucks, need to be rescheduled.

Perhaps most importantly, hotels have to be rebooked in one city and cancelled in the next. The Astros had to add an extra night in the Cincinnati hotel while breaking the news to the Pittsburgh hotel that they’re losing a night of revenue due to the extra day they’ll have to spend in the prior city.

The Cincinnati hotel situation was not an issue this time, because thankfully, the Reds are also leaving town after this series. But if the Reds were in the middle of a homestand and not at the end of one, and another team was scheduled to be in town over the weekend, that could have created a bit of an issue, because most likely, there would not have been enough rooms to accommodate both teams during the one-day overlap.

For Astros traveling secretary Barry Waters, the rainout and subsequent rescheduling was a seamless process, mainly because he looked at the radar before the team left for Cincinnati and saw then that he better put the “Plan B” wheels in motion.

“I had looked at the forecast and done some leg work at the end of last week,” he said. “I called everybody. I told them there was a possibility (a rainout) was going to happen.”

Water said he looked at the schedule and saw both teams were off on Thursday and pretty much guessed what the outcome would be. After about “a half-dozen” phone calls when the game was officially called, everyone — the airline, hotel, buses, trucks — were on board.

“It was good because you just basically take everything and move it back 24 hours,” Waters said. “We had a few days of leeway to get this done.”
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When the team’s media relations director handed out the release on Tuesday detailing the Astros’ Minor League players of the month, I quickly scanned the Corpus Christi section and looked for J.D. Martinez, who sizzled for the Hooks in April.

But Martinez was not named the Hooks offensive player of the month. That honor went to shortstop Wladimir Sutil, who separated himself from the pack with a .418 batting average and a .480 on base percentage. Sutil was also named the club’s defensive player of the month after making just two errors in 100 total chances while turning 17 double plays.

It speaks well for a team when player of the month honors could, without argument, go to a couple of candidates. Over 22 games, Martinez batted .341 (29-for-85) with 12 doubles, two home runs and 23 RBIs. That means Martinez, whom the Astros are grooming to someday take over in left field, drove in approximately one run per game.

Other players of the month:
Triple-A Oklahoma City: RHP Jordan Lyles, IF Koby Clemens, C Carlos Corporan.
Double-A Corpus Christi: RHP Arcenio Leon.
Class A Lancaster: RHP Kirk Clark, IF Jose Altuve, IF Jonathan Myers.
Class A Lexington: RHP Tanner Bushue, C Chris Wallace, IF Jio Mier.

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A couple of notables from Wednesday’s game:

*Aneury Rodriguez‘ five shutout innings were the most by an Astro making his first Major League start since Bud Norris went seven scoreless innings in his first start on Aug. 2, 2009 at St. Louis, a 2-0 Astros win.

*Astros starters have posted a 2.57 ERA in the last eight games, including Wednesday (49 IP, 14 ER).

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