July 2011

Astros get younger (and shorter). Look for Altuve at second base, immediately.

I guess I was expecting something a little less definitive from manager Brad Mills when he was asked about his plans for Jose Altuve.

Maybe something like, “We’ll, we’re going to ease him in, let him get comfortable here, let him get his feet wet. Angel Sanchez has done a heck of a job for us this year and he’s going to get the bulk of the playing time in the early-going. We’ll work in Altuve once he gets settled in and gets used to the environment up here.”

Uh, no.

Altuve is going to play. A lot. Beginning immediately.

“Right now, I plan on playing him at second base tomorrow,” Mills said, about 20 minutes after the Astros traded Jeff Keppinger to the Giants. By tomorrow, Mills means Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. CT, when the Astros wrap up a series and homestand with the Washington Nationals. Mills didn’t mince words: they did not bring Altuve up here to sit. “If he’s healthy, he’s going to play,” Mills said.

The 21-year-old Altuve, who drove in from Corpus on Tuesday and was spotted in the Astros dugout around the seventh inning, is presumably healthy, although he missed five games recently with a leg ailment. If the leg was a problem, obviously, he wouldn’t be here, so we’ll just assume there are no lingering issues in that area.

According to Greg Rajan of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Altuve, who will wear uniform No. 27, is the first Hooks position player to be promoted directly to the Majors and the third overall player, joining pitchers Matt Albers (2006) and Wilton Lopez (2009).


When I blogged about Altuve from Corpus a couple of weeks ago, many of you had the same question: is he ready for the big leagues? And why not just give him a shot, regardless?

My argument for keeping him in the Minors was two-fold. First of all, the Astros season is a lost season. Altuve can’t be that much of a difference-maker where he’d actually catapult the team into contention. No singular player could possibly do that at this point, and bringing him up too quickly is risky in terms of development.

Second, the speed of the game at this level is so much faster than in the Minor Leagues. There will be an adjustment period needed for all players when they make the leap to the big leagues. I was more in favor of inviting Altuve to Major League Spring Training next year and letting him work his way onto the roster at some point after.

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Let’s wipe all of that from our short-term memory. It appears the Astros are prepared to push their prospects a little harder, challenge them more and let them learn how to be Major League players by simply putting them out there and forcing them to learn on the job. Altuve is here, and he’s going to play.

What’s more, he could hit a full 100 points lower than his average in the Minor Leagues this year and still be lauded for a solid rookie season.

Here’s what Ed Wade said about the rapid acceleration of the youngsters, namely, Altuve, to the big leagues:

“Over the last four years we’ve talked about creating an express lane in the organization for players. Obviously it’s driven by talent, and everything’s driven by talent, but it’s also driven by makeup and whether players can take on that type of a challenge and move at that pace. We saw Jason Castro do it coming out of college and being in the big leagues in June of 2010. And we’ve seen Jordan Lyles’ ascent to the big leagues this year in the same fashion and we think Jose is made the same way.

“I don’t think we’ve presented a challenge to (Altuve) yet that he hasn’t embraced. Everybody is going to see Jose and see his stature and begin to question his ability from there. In that case people are really going to underestimate what this kid is all about. He’s got a chance to be a really good big league player. Again, we’re not bringing him up here and saying the future of the franchise or the franchise cornerstone is here. We’re bringing a kid up here that we think is capable of handling this level and hopefully benefiting from the experience going forward.”

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Astros lineup 7/19 vs. Nationals. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT

Wallace and Johnson join Astros trainers for PLAY Campaign

By Rachel Frey

Houston Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy participants were welcomed to Minute Maid Park on Monday, July 18, to as part of the 2011 “PLAY” Campaign.

PLAY (Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth) is a public awareness campaign developed by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) to encourage youths nationwide to be active, eat right and sustain a healthy lifestyle.

The kids were split into four groups and they rotated through four different stations. The first station was with Roberta Anding, who is the nutritionist for the Houston Astros and the Houston Texans. She spoke about the importance of hydration, healthy food choices, and how performance-enhancing drugs are unnecessary with a proper diet.

The second station was with Astros Assistant Athletic Trainer Rex Jones, who taught the young ball players the stretches the Astros do before each game to stay limber. Nate Lucero, Astros Head Athletic Trainer, showed them agility drills that will help improve their athletic ability in any sport.

The final station featured Clint Faught from the Taylor Hooton Foundation. The foundation was founded in honor of Taylor Hooton, a high school baseball player who committed suicide after using anabolic steroids. They learned about the effects performance-enhancing drugs have on a young person’s body and mind.  Additionally, they were taught the warning signs of steroid abuse, so they can recognize them.

After the kids had rotated through the stations, Chris Johnson and Brett Wallace joined them to talk about their active childhoods, which helped shape the athletes they are today. Both players played multiple sports, and advised the youths to stay active as much as possible.

The day wrapped up with a healthy lunch for the Urban Youth Academy players in the FiveSeven Grille.

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A special Astros draft pick spends the day at the ballpark.

LaMothe with Astros manager Brad Mills

Buddy Lamothe posted a 0.86 ERA and struck out 27 batters in 21 innings last season as a top reliever on the San Jacinto Junior College pitching staff.

But last month, his promising baseball future came to a terrible end when he was severely injured in a swimming accident. While floating the San Marcos River, Buddy dove in to retrieve his sunglasses in the water and hit his head. The accident has left him paralyzed.

Prior to the accident, Astros scout Rusty Pendergrass already had his eye on Buddy, and following the injury, the Astros made a symbolic gesture and drafted him in the 40th round of the First-Year Player Draft in June. On Monday, Lamothe was the special guest of the Astros, who hosted Buddy, his teammates and his family during batting practice and invited Buddy to participate in the first pitch ceremony.

Lamothe is currently involved in inpatient rehab at a Houston-area medical center and he hopes to someday play baseball again. Meanwhile, his family is accepting donations at this web site: http://www.wix.com/donate4buddy/buddylamothe.

Lamothe with Hunter Pence

Lamothe and family watch batting practice

Lamothe's San Jac teammate, Tyler Wright, escorted Lamothe to the mound and threw the pitch to Wesley Wright.

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

Weekend roundup: paternity leave, Social Media Night and Family Day photos

Matt Downs will miss the Washington Nationals series in order to be with his wife, Leah, as she gives birth to their first child, a son.

Downs is officially on “paternity leave,” which means the Astros are entitled to replace Downs on the roster for the three days he will be gone. They have taken advantage of the opportunity, calling up lefty Wesley Wright from Oklahoma City. Downs will be back with the Astros in Chicago on Friday, and Wright will head back to the RedHawks.

The paternity rule was instituted by Major League Baseball this year. It allows players to leave their teams for 24 to 72 hours due to the birth of their children.

Kudos for baseball for finally – FINALLY — implementing such a rule. In the past, players were allowed to leave the team for up to three days because of a birth of a child, but the teams were not permitted to replace them on the roster. In 2004, Mike Lamb missed Games 3, 4 and 5 of the NLCS because of the birth of his son, Andrew. The Astros had with 24 players on the roster for those three games (and, incidentally, won all three).


Chris Johnsonwill meet fans and sign autographs at the Whataburger restaurant located at 4831 Wilson Rd., Humble, TX 77396 from 11 a.m. to noon on Tuesday (July 19).

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, Oklahoma City RedHawks and Corpus Christi Hooks, an on-field batting practice visit, the chance to participate in a pregame ceremony and an opportunity to throw out a ceremonial pitch.


We have two events to share in today’s photo album: one from Social Media Night on Saturday and one from Family Day Sunday. Social Media Night was another rousing success, not only because the Astros won (the Astros are 4-2 on Social Media Nights, dating back to last season). We handed out 12 baseballs, autographed by and presented to the winners by Downs, and two Michael Bourn bobbleheads. The next Social Media Night is Aug. 20 and the final one will take place Sept. 24. We will put the August tickets on sale early next month, at which time we will announce who will be guesting.

Family Day is always a hoot. In a nutshell, families of all Astros personnel — players, coaches, manager, front office — are invited onto the field for some wiffle ball and a run or two around the bases. The kids, of course, steal the show every year, and this time was no different. Every part of the field was taken up by little ones, running in all different directions, tackling Junction Jack, rolling around in the dirt…in other words, they were being kids.

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The kid population was considerably smaller this year than the last two years, which should come as no surprise — the Astros have shaved off more than four years of their average age since 2009, and when a team gets drastically younger, the amount of offspring it has is much lower as well. That brings me to my all-time favorite picture from Family Day, taken last year. Our two resident single guys, Johnson and Tommy Manzella, watched the chaos unfold from the comforts of the home dugout, and the expressions on their faces (especially CJ’s) is priceless. I keep it on my iphone and look at it whenever I need a laugh.

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Astros lineup 7/17 vs. Pirates. First pitch 1:05 p.m. CT

Astros lineup 7/16 vs. Pirates. First pitch 6:05 CT.


Friday night notes: new lineup, CJ’s playing time, Altuve’s leg.

The proverbial second half of the season (I say “proverbial” because the Astros are actually beyond the half-way point, having played 92 games in the first half) began with a little lineup shakeup by manager Brad Mills. It wasn’t actually so much a shakeup as it was a minor shift — everyone moved down a spot, with Matt Downs moving into the two-hole and playing third base.

It wasn’t a huge change, but still, it knocked Hunter Pence to the cleanup spot and Carlos Lee to the five-hole, a spot he’s only been in one other time this year. Mills’ hope is that with Michael Bourn, Downs and Jeff Keppinger — all of whom are pretty good at getting on base — batting in front of the two presumed run-producers, the Astros will, well, produce more runs.

“Hunter’s having such a good year,” Mills said. “And Carlos has been an RBI guy his whole career. We’re trying to get them (at-bats) with more guys on.”

It’s probably unfair to judge the new plan on one game, especially since the Astros lost to the Pirates, due to very few contributions on the offensive side. But Mills indicated before the game he’s prepared to give this new lineup a nice, long look, and really, given the Astros’ record through 93 games, why not?


The two most asked questions from Twitterverse on Friday involved Chris Johnson (is he ever going to start again?) and Jose Altuve (why isn’t he playing?)

First, on CJ. Mills said he talked to the third baseman during the workout on Thursday and told him the diminished playing time is “nothing against him. We’re still looking for him to be a part of this.”

This isn’t terribly difficult to decipher. Johnson was hitting .237 over his last 10 games entering Friday’s opener with the Pirates, and overall this year, he was batting .243 and had struck out 74 times. Downs, in a much lesser role, had a batting average nearly 30 points higher (.270 before Friday’s game) and has as many home runs as Johnson (six) with nearly one-third as many at-bats.

The Astros rarely win, the offense is struggling and Mills is looking for an answer. So for now, Downs is going to play more. Johnson, it should be noted, singled in a pinch-hit at-bat on Friday.

Next, Altuve:

A few of you have asked why the Double-A Hooks second baseman hasn’t played in the last few days. According to my spies in Corpus, Altuve aggravated a leg muscle Monday night when he was running the bases in the sixth inning. Manager Tom Lawless said he’d be sidelined a couple of days, but that was on Tuesday. Altuve hasn’t been placed on the disabled list, which means he’s probably due back soon.


Thanks to everyone who purchased Social Media Night tickets for Saturday night in the Budweiser Patio. As a reminder, here is the timeline:

3 p.m. — Meet in Union Station for the ballpark tour and/or batting practice. If you don’t want the tour, we will be there to take you directly to BP. If you do go on the tour, you’ll join the group behind the Astros’ dugout around 3:45 to watch BP.

After batting practice we ask everyone be seated in the Budweiser Patio (behind center field) by 5 p.m. You can go out there at your leisure, but the program with Matt Downs begins sharply at 5 and ends no later than 5:15.

We’ll have popcorn and kettle chips to munch on before the game starts, and we’ll start serving dinner — Ballpark Beef Nachos — right around the first pitch.

The Will Call windows will be open in plenty of time for you to pick up your tickets and make the tour on time.


We conclude with a few images from batting practice on Friday…

Jason Castro, rehabbing from season-ending knee surgery, works out with the team during homestands.

Brett Wallace, Chris Johnson take grounders

Carlos Lee, smiling at first base

Clint Barmes with folks from Clint's Crew

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We’re back! Astros lineup 7/15 vs. Pirates. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT