July 2011

Astros lineup 7/31 at Milwaukee. First pitch 1:10 p.m. CT

NOTE: The game will not be televised today. It can be viewed on mlb.tv.

 

J.D. Martinez’s first day on the job was one to remember.

J.D. Martinez wasn’t in the starting lineup on Saturday, but that didn’t prevent him from logging his first big league at- bat — and hit, and RBI — just a few hours after arriving to Miller Park.

Martinez, the latest Astros prospect to get the call to the big leagues, hit for Aneury Rodriguez in the eighth inning and laced a double to the warning track in dead center, scoring Humberto Quintero. Not bad for a 23-year-old outfielder who 24 hours earlier was pulled from the game his Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks were playing in Midland, only to find out he was booked for an early-morning flight to Milwaukee.

Even without the hit, Martinez still would be the best bet to start in left field on Sunday for the series finale between the Brewers and Astros. When pressed about his plans for the slugging outfielder, manager Brad Mills used a similar line as when Jose Altuve was called up: “We’re not bringing him up not to play. We want to see this guy play. We saw how he can swing the bat in Spring Training. All the reports and numbers look good at Double-A.”

Martinez looked a little dazed when he arrived to the clubhouse around 90 minutes before game time on Saturday. This is understandable, given the combination of an early-morning flight and the reality that he went from being a middle-of-the-order Double-A left fielder to a Major Leaguer in the span of 24 hours.

Martinez was blistering the ball during his time with the Hooks, so much that a few of us were shaking our heads, wondering why he wasn’t at least moving up to Triple-A for the final month of the Minor League season. Martinez had no such thoughts, however, and was happy to be honing his skills in Corpus.

“The front office knows what they’re doing,” he said. “They know how to develop a player. If they kept me there and they wanted me to learn, it’s for a reason…I’m always confident in that. I was not in a rush to get up here. I want to be here, absolutely, but I wanted to make sure I’m ready. That’s the most important thing.”

The call to the Majors was the last thing on Martinez’s mind during the Hooks’ game on Friday. He had been on base during an early inning, and when it ended, he waited for someone to bring out his hat and glove (a standard practice between a teammate who is in the dugout when the inning ends and his teammate who’s on the field), but no one did. So Martinez ran to the dugout, where he found athletic trainer Eric Montague holding his equipment.

“I was like, ‘Uh oh,’” Martinez recalled. “Then I had it in my mind, could it be? My heart started going 100 miles an hour. I didn’t know what to think. (Montague) told me to go upstairs to talk to Ed (Wade).

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One of my favorite things about going to Milwaukee is the Sausage Race, which takes place in the sixth inning of every Brewers home game. It’s a long-standing tradition that hasn’t changed much over the years (save for the addition of the Chorizo a few years back) but never fails to make me laugh.

I also laugh at my tendency to be somewhat gullible, like the time I saw the sausage race for the very first time, way back during my first season with the Astros in 1997. I was watching the television broadcast of the Astros-Brewers game, and after the sausage race, they put up a graphic of the Astros’ record in Milwaukee when the Polish sausage won, and the Brat, and the Hot Dog, and on and on. I thought, “No way! They keep records of that stuff?” Obviously, no, they didn’t. But the  way Brownie and J.D. went on and on about it, giving their analysis, speculating why the Astros seemed to step up their game a notch when the Brat crossed the finish line first…well, it just seemed so believable.

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Astros lineup 7/30 at Milwaukee. First pitch 6:10 p.m. CT

J.D. Martinez is due to arrive to Miller Park around 5 p.m.

 

Breaking down Hunter Pence’s last day as an Astro, and previewing J.D. Martinez’s first.

Hunter Pence took a drink from the cooler in the middle of the fifth, picked up his glove and trotted back out to his position in right field, just as he had every game that he played during his Astros career.

But as soon as Pence had arrived to his spot in the outfield, manager Brad Mills walked to home plate to talk to umpire Tim Timmons. Soon, Jason Michaels sprinted out to right field and yelled something to his teammate, and Pence immediately started his trot back to the dugout.

The two shook hands as they passed, and just like that, the rumor mill that has had an excruciating presence in the Astros’ clubhouse for the better part of a week stopped churning — at least, for now.

It was soon to be official: Pence belongs to the Philadelphia Phillies after being traded for four players: first baseman outfielder Jonathan Singleton, right-hander Jarred Cosart, right-hander Josh Zeid and a player to be named later. Pence arrived to the dugout, hugged his teammates goodbye and retreated to the clubhouse. He stuck around until after the game and, wearing street clothes and ready to hit the road, he faced reporters for the last time as a Houston Astro.

“It’s tough to really explain,” he said. “I don’t know if I can. It’s emotional because I love these guys and I don’t feel  like bailing on them. I’m going to miss them. I love them.

“I’m an emotional guy. We’ve gone through a lot together. This has been one of the toughest years — the most adversity I’ve ever been a part of. We’re all in this together. I just want the best for everyone. I think ultimately, that’s what this is going to end up being.

“I think every competitor at the highest level wants to be in a pennant race, wants to win World Series. I’m pretty lucky now that I get to jump on board with one of the best teams and have the opportunity to do that.”

(Watch Pence’s final farewell here)

Most of the feedback I’ve heard from you all tonight has been mostly along the lines of “Why? Why? Why?” (I’m imagining clutched chests, pulled hair and heads banging against walls as well.) This trade can be explained many different ways and spun even more ways. But the facts are really pretty simple, and it comes down to this: The Astros have been losing for the better part of six years. They are in the process of getting younger and less expensive. Hunter Pence is in the process of getting older and more expensive. The Astros are in major rebuild mode. They need to continue to build their farm system and load it with future talent. There was one player on the roster who could bring in the players necessary to springboard that blueprint for the long-term success the Astros dream of: Hunter Pence.

Major League franchises cannot win without, first and foremost, players they scouted, drafted, signed and developed themselves. The second thing they can do is grab the good young players from other organizations, which requires giving up your most talented, most established and — in many cases, such as this one — most popular player.

The Pence situation is incredibly unique. Yes, he is a terrific hitter. And a two-time All-Star. And only 28 years old. But his best asset — the one that made contenders drool and gave the Astros the upper-hand — is that he still has two years of arbitration-eligiblity left. For general managers, that’s baseball gold. Pence is going to cost a fortune in arbitration in each of those two years, yes. But his new team has control his contract — owns him, if you will — through 2013. That was a huge factor, and why the Astros’ asking price was so high (and rightfully so).

By the time the Astros are in a position to win again, Pence will be making free-agent money and would probably be too expensive to keep. Is it fair? No. Was the decision to trade him the right one? Sadly, yes.

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Will the players the Astros got from the Phillies pan out? I have no idea. But they look pretty good from the outset, especially the two centerpieces of the deal — Cosart and Singleton. Cosart, who will report to Double-A Corpus Christi, was the Phillies mid-season No. 1 prospect, according to MLB.com Draft and prospect expert Jonathan Mayo, who ranks the pitcher as No. 37 on the top-50 MLB prospect list.

Here’s what Mayo has to say:

“When healthy, the 2008 Draft pick has electric stuff, with one of the better fastballs in the Minors and a very good curve. He’s lean and projectable and he’s got good command of his stuff, though his changeup, as with many young pitchers, is behind the other offerings. The bigger issue has been staying injury-free. In 2009, it was his back and shoulder. Last year, his season ended at the end of June with a bad elbow. He’s healthy now and has moved up to Clearwater.”

I emailed Mayo for up-to-the-second analysis, and he offered: “He’s come a long way with his changeup and his command is very good. Top of the rotation potential.”

Mayo ranked Singleton, headed for Class A Lancaster, as the Phillies No. 2 prospect and No. 38 among the top 50 in all of baseball:

“The 2009 high school draftee had an extremely productive first full season, being named the South Atlantic League’s Most Outstanding Major League prospect. He should hit for average and power and has a good approach at the plate.”

Zeid, 24, owns a 2-3 record and a 5.65 ERA in 21 games, including 11 starts, for Double A Reading this season. As a reliever, Zeid (pronounced Zide) has posted a 2.25 ERA (4ER/16IP) in 10 games. Originally a 10th round pick of the Phillies in 2009, Zeid will report to Corpus Christi.

(In Baseball America’s mid-season revised top 50 rankings, Singleton was listed at No. 41; Cosart, No. 43.)

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Earlier on Friday, a colleague and I quietly discussed why in the world J.D. Martinez had not moved up to Triple-A Oklahoma City yet. He has been absolutely blistering the ball at Double-A Corpus and really has shown there’s not much more at that level he needs to do to prove he can play.

A couple of hours later, it became pretty obvious: Martinez is, like his buddy Jose Altuve, bypassing Triple-A all together and joining the Astros.

Martinez’s position and role has yet to be determined and we’ll know more from Mills when we convene at Miller Park on Saturday. But make no mistake — the addition of Martinez could shake things up a bit. Martinez has played nothing but left field all season and has very little experience in right. So let’s not assume he just slips into Pence’s old position.

If Martinez continues to be a left fielder, they have to do something with Carlos Lee. He’s been playing a lot of first base as Brett Wallace’s playing time dwindles, and it will be interesting if Mills continues that pattern. Jason Bourgeois, who has been thriving as a starter — hitting third, no less — is also making a good case to continue playing every day, and probably will.

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Astros lineup 7/29 at Milwaukee. First pitch 7:10 CT

Praise in the Park, Los Astros, Buddies Club party on deck for August.

As we begin a road trip-ending, three-game series in Miluwakee, here are a couple of events coming up in August….

* For the second consecutive year, the Astros are bringing the joy and spirit of Gospel music to Minute Maid Park as the club hosts Praise in the Park following the Saturday, August 6, 6:05 p.m. game against the Brewers. This spirit-filled event featuring gospel artist Marvin Sapp and comedian Marcus D. Wiley will inspire, uplift and entertain Houston’s gospel audience.

Praise in the Park tickets start as low as $7. Admission to the concert is included with a valid game ticket. All seating for the concert will be general admission along the first base side of the ballpark. Sapp will perform from the warning track near first base. Fans purchasing tickets for the game must sit in their ticketed seats until the end of the game, but may then move into any available seat on the first base side of the ballpark for the concert.

Visit astros.com/praise to purchase discounted tickets for Praise in the Park. For groups of 20 or more tickets, contact Joe Schiavi at 713-259-8314.

* August 20 has been designated as Los Astros Night, which will include a Hispanic street fest from 4 to 6 p.m. CT in KBR Plaza and will feature Latin foods, games, dancers, player appearances and live music by Grupo Kache.

The first 10,000 fans to the ballpark will receive a “Los Astros” t-shirt, courtesy of Goya Foods. Astros players will be wearing “Los Astros” jerseys for the first time in franchise history.

The Astros are offering discounted seats for Los Astros Night. Field box seats start at $22, Bullpen boxes $115, Terrace deck $14, Mezzanine $12, View Deck I $9 and View Deck II $7. To purchase tickets, go to astros.com/losastros.

* Members of the Coca-Cola Astros Buddies Kids Club are invited to attend the members-only autograph party on Friday, August 5. The event is at Minute Maid Park from 1:30-3:30 p.m. and scheduled to appear are pitchers Wilton Lopez, Jordan Lyles and Mark Melancon, catchers Carlos Corporan and Humberto Quintero, and infielders Clint Barmes, Matt Downs and Brett Wallace.  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, Michael Bourn insulated lunch bag, 2011 Astros Buddies collectible baseball cap and much more for only $15.

Mid-game notes: Norris, Altuve, who’s hot on the farm.

Mid-game notes on a hot, steamy getaway Thursday at Busch Stadium…

Bud Norris shrunk his ERA on Thursday and he didn’t even have to throw a pitch. Major League Baseball’s scoring committee reviewed the play from last Friday’s game in Chicago and changed a hit to an error, which worked in favor of Norris.

Darwin Barney hit a pop fly to shallow right that was difficult, but playable, for second baseman Jose Altuve. The play was ruled a hit, but on Thursday, it was changed to a dropped pop-fly error by Altuve. Three of the four runs Norris allowed that inning became unearned, which lowers his ERA from 3.60 to 3.39.

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From the Elias Sports Bureau (we received this before Thursday’s game):

“It’s been a dream debut week for Astros rookie Jose Altuve, who capped a 3-for-5 night with a game-winning single in the ninth inning of a 4-2 win at St. Louis. Altuve is batting .423, with 11 hits in 26 at-bats in his first seven games for  Houston. Only two other players in team history collected 11 or more hits in their first seven games in the majors: Ken Caminiti in 1987 (11-for-27) and Orlando Miller in 1994 (11-for-23).”

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Early in his start Thursday, Wandy Rodriguez passed our lovable television announcer Jim Deshaies in the category of career innings pitched by an Astros left-hander. After the third inning, Wandy had 1,103 career innings, taking over third place and bumping J.D. (1,102) down a notch. Bob Knepper holds the record with 1,738 innings, followed by Mike Hampton 1,138.

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Minor League highlights:

J.B. Shuck was 3-for-4 for Triple-A Oklahoma City on Wednesday and has hit safely in 10 of the 12 games he has played since the All-Star break. Since the break, Shuck is batting .444 (20-for-45) with nine RBIs. Shuck recorded only 17 RBIs in his first 260 at-bats prior to the All-Star break. His current .292 average is his highest since May 15 when he was batting .293.

Right-hander Lucas Harrell, recently claimed off waivers from the White Sox, has a 1.00 ERA over three games started with Oklahoma City. He has 16 strikeouts over 18 innings pitched.

Who’s hot in Double-A Corpus:

OF J.D. Martinez — .341, 12 HR, 68 RBIs. Past 10 games: .375, 2 HR

OF Jacob Gobbert — .323, 5 HR, 33 RBIs. Past 10 games: .395 (15-for-38)

Who’s hot in Class A Lancaster:

RHP Jose Cisnero — Past 18.1 IP: 2.98 ERA, 31 Ks

OF Adam Bailey — Past 10 games: .349, 2 HR, 12 RBIs

Who’s hot in Class A Lexington:

SS Ben Orloff — .317, 1 HR, 19 RBIs. Past 10 games: .400 (12-for-30).

2b Delino DeShields Jr. -- .230, 24 SB. Past 10 games: .381 (16-for-42), 4 SB

Who’s hot in St. Louis:

Me. It’s 100 degrees here. We’re melting. Thank goodness for Minute Maid Park, air conditioning and that wonderful, wonderful roof. We’ll be home soon.

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Astros lineup 7/28 at Cardinals. First pitch 7:15 p.m. CT

Astros Notes: Pence, Altuve, Minor League prospects and Twitter.

Hunter Pence rarely gets days off, so when he wasn’t in the lineup Wednesday, so close to the trade deadline…well, people started to get a little worried.

Pence’s name comes up at least three times a day in trade rumors, and while no one has any idea what will happen between now and Sunday’s deadline, fans are probably justified in being a little jumpy about the popular right fielder. Pence diffused any panic/rumors about why he wasn’t playing by telling reporters manager Brad Mills had told him the night before he was getting a day off. There was nothing more to it than that.

Pence probably needed a breather, perhaps to clear his head but also to give his body a break. The game time temperature at first pitch has rarely dipped below 90 degrees for any of the first six games of this road trip, beginning with a sweltering Chicago and continuing on to a suffocatingly hot and humid St. Louis. Given how intense Hunter is and how hard he pushes himself — even during batting practice — it would be easy to burn out a little during this long road stretch.

“He didn’t get an All-Star break,” Mills said. “And he’s been struggling after the All-Star break. The weather on this trip is extra warm and he wears himself out because he plays so hard.”

(Turns out, Pence to pinch-hit late in the game and stayed in to play right field)

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Meanwhile, down on the farm…

Henry Sosa, arguably the more interesting of the two pitching prospects the Astros received from the Giants in the Jeff Keppinger trade, struck out nine batters in seven innings on Tuesday in Double-A Corpus Christi’s 11-1 win over San Antonio. Sosa allowed three hits and one unearned run in the outing. Over two starts for the Hooks, he has not allowed an earned run and has struck out 14 over the course of 14 innings.

Top outfield prospect J.D. Martinez continues to hit and hit and hit. He logged three hits in five at-bats in the landslide win over the Missions, improving his season batting average to .339. First base prospect Kody Hinze was 2-for-3 with a fifth-inning home run and has compiled a .354 average in 18 games with the Hooks. Third baseman Jimmy Paredes (part of the Lance Berkman trade from last year) was 3-for-5 with one RBI and is hitting .267 on the year.

At Class A Lexington, last year’s No. 1 pick, Delino DeShields, has had a nice two-week stretch, batting .381 (21-for-55) over his last 14 games. He’s also hitting .329 in the month of July.

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How about that Jose Altuve? He bypasses Triple-A all together and spends the first seven games of his Major League career hitting like an All-Star. He has hit safely in all seven games, logging 11 hits in 26 at-bats for a .423 average. He tied the franchise record for the longest hit streak to start a career, matching Russ Johnson (1997).

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We have added one more Astro to our Twitter family: infielder Matt Downs. Actually, he signed up for an account a while back, but it took some time for him to activate it — and understandably so. He spent the last few weeks anxiously awaiting the birth of his first child, and now that Matthew Russell Downs II is comfortably sleeping, eating, crying and pooping back home in Alabama, Downs (the original) is ready to Tweet. Give him a follow, if you please, at @DownsTown16.

Elsewhere in the Twitterverse:

Funny tweet from radio announcer Brett Dolan:

Bourgeois just said Bourn “horse laughed” him and nearly fell down when he found out Jason is batting 3rd tonight. I like the hijinx.

From Jerry Seinfeld:

I love when Baseball Broadcasters say, ” He’s playing like the David Wright of old.” What is this, The Canterbury Tales?

From Joe Posnanski:
Funny, I wrote about having dinner with Marv LEVY, and THREE different people made back biting jokes. #ThatsMarvAlbert

From AstrosOneLiners:
Brownie, on new turf at Busch: “I hear they got the turf shipped here from Colorado.” JD: “I’ve heard you can get good grass in Colorado.”

From Brian McTaggart:
Here’s the stat of the day: Astros are 6-0 this year when entering game on a five-game losing streak.

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Astros lineup 7/27 at Cardinals. First pitch 7:15 p.m. CT

Hunter Pence is receiving a day off…he was told by manager Brad Mills last night that he would be off today.

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