August 2011

Astros notes: Castro in ’12, Social Media Night and a pitching prospect channeling his inner John Travolta.

Upon hearing his name for the first time after the Astros took him in the third round of the draft, the only thing that struck me about Jack Armstrong Jr. is that he’s the son of Jack Armstrong Sr., who just happened to pitch for my beloved 1990 World Series champion Cincinnati Reds.

But the more I learn about Armstrong Jr., the more I am hoping he ends up being a true Major League prospect, regardless of who his dad is.

I mean, sure, I’m hoping he has a Major League arm and can translate his six feet, seven inch frame and 230 pounds of athleticism into the next big thing on the Astros’ pitching staff. But I’m mostly anxious for him to get here because he appears to be something of a class clown who seemingly would be good at keeping things loosey goosey behind the scenes in the clubhouse.

He piqued my interest after I watched this video of his pregame routine, which included doing a back flips surrounded by chortling teammates.(My reaction: “That’s funny. Really cool. Now don’t ever do that again please.”)

But this video, and Armstrong’s role in it, is, by all accounts, highly entertaining. Clearly, Armstrong and friends aren’t afraid to let themselves go every now and again. They also are seemingly unfazed to air it out with the YouTube generation as an audience. The videos are great. The fact that Vanderbilt University produced them makes it that much better.

From a Social Media perspective, it’s nice to see the team being unafraid to expose the…”lighter” side of a baseball team.

When you have a minute or two, please watch. Armstrong’s cameo begins in earnest around 0:40.

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Interesting conversation during the manager’s session today involving Jason Castro. Brad Mills was asked how many starts Castro could realistically be expected to make next year, assuming full health, and the answer, loosely calculated, was about half of the 162-game schedule.

Mills emphatically noted that this number was completely a guess. But even if it’s a little less, or a little more, than 81 games, clearly, Castro is not going to be ready for a full slate his first season back after suffering a major knee injury and undergoing extensive surgery. Given the demanding nature of his position, one that requires him to squat and stand up dozens of times in a single game, catchers have to proceed much more cautiously when making a comeback after a full year off from playing.

Mills acknowledged that these circumstances could prompt the team to carry a third catcher. But that catcher would have to be versatile enough to be able to do other things than catch, like play first base and move around the outfield a little.

This probably also bodes well for Humberto Quintero, who is viewed as more of a backup catcher type but has certainly had played like a front-line catcher for parts of this season. He’s making $1 million this year and has one more year of arbitration-eligibility left. Presumably, he’d be back in 2012 to share the main catching duties with Castro.

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Checking in on some of the more prominent names in the Astros’ Minor League system:

Jarred Cosart (acquired in Pence trade) got his first win since joining the Double-A Hooks. On Tuesday, he pitched five innings and struck out five, while giving up only one run. His ERA is now 2.78 in six starts with Corpus Christi.

The Lexington Legends defeated the West Virginia Power 4-2 on Tuesday, and outfielder Domingo Santana (PTBNL in Pence trade) continued to hit well, going 3-for-4 on the night. He is now hitting .429 (18-for-42) with five homers and 12 RBIs in his last 10 games.

In Lancaster, Jonathan Singleton (acquired in Pence trade) is hitting .342 with two homers and four RBIs in his last 10 games.

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Friendly reminder that our final Social Media Night will take place on Sept. 24, the final Saturday home game of the season, and will feature an appearance by left fielder J.D. Martinez. A $45 ticket includes a game ticket on the Budweiser Patio, a ballpark tour, batting practice viewing, dinner, dessert, a t-shirt and an opportunity to win signed prizes, handed out by Martinez, during our Twitter Trivia session.

The player appearance is usually from 5-5:15, but to accommodate Martinez’s pregame preparation routine, we’ll begin the Twitter Trivia at 4:55 and conclude sharply at 5:10.

We’ll also be raffling off (for free) a visit to the television booth to watch Brownie, J.D. and Jeff Bagwell work their game day magic for one inning.

You can purchase tickets here. Hope to see you then!


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Astros lineup 8/31 vs. Pirates. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT

Astros pregame notes: Harrell to the Astros, Myers to the ‘pen, baby on the way

We still don’t know all of the players who will be getting the call to the big leagues when rosters expand on Sept. 1, but we do know three for sure: J.B. Shuck, Jordan Lyles, and now, with Tuesday’s announcement that Brett Myers will leave the team to be with his wife and pending newborn baby, we’ve learned right-hander Lucas Harrell will soon be joining the club as well.

Harrell will pitch Friday in Myers’ place and will remain with the team throughout September. Myers’ wife, Kim, is expected to give birth to their fourth child either Thursday or Friday. Myers, in turn, was to be available for one inning out of the bullpen during Tuesday’s game with the Pirates. He will return to the rotation next Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

Harrell, whom the Astros selected off waivers from Chicago White Sox in July, was 5-2 with a 1.72 ERA over nine starts for Triple-A Oklahoma City. He yielded 10 earned runs over 52 1/3 innings pitches with 24 walks and 38 strikeouts. He was dominant in his final outing for OKC, allowing three hits and one unearned run over eight innings.

A fourth-round pick of the White Sox in 2004, the 26-year-old Harrell has limited time in the big leagues, appearing in eight games for the White Sox in 2010 and three earlier this season.

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Catcher Jason Castro is with the club this week working out and will head back to Florida for a week of Instructional League when the Astros begin their road trip next Monday. Castro will likely then head to Arizona to participate in Fall League competition.

On Tuesday, Castro, who is rehabbing from knee surgery he underwent during Spring Training, was cleared by the athletic trainers to begin catching drills. He went into a full crouch behind the plate, caught a “pitch” from bullpen coach Jamie Quirk and threw full-force down to second base.

Castro will not play in a Major League game this year, but all indications are that he is on track and on schedule to be ready for Spring Training and Opening Day next year.

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On the farm:

Triple-A OKC:
SS Anderson Hernandez extended his current PCL-best hitting streak to 27 games, setting a RedHawks record since their move back to the PCL in 1998.

Double-A Corpus Christi:
LHP Brett Oberholtzer fanned seven batters over six innings in a win on Monday. He’s now 2-2.
RF Adam Bailey went 2-for-5 with three RBIs and now ranks second among all Astros minor leaguers in RBIs (90) this season.

Class A Lancaster:
LHP Wes Musick allowed just one run in six innings on Monday, helping Lancaster to a 5-2 win against the Lake Elsinore Storm. Musick fanned five batters and issued two walks in the outing.

Class A Lexington:
2B Delino DeShields Jr., RF Domingo Santana and CF Emilio King each knocked home runs in the Legends’ 17-9 loss to West Virginia.

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Images from the first two days of the Astros’ six-game homestand:

Monday:

Craig Biggio catches up with Jason Castro, who took batting practice with the team.

Carlos Corporan hits, hitting coach Mike Barnett watches.

Humberto Quintero, Jose Altuve

Tuesday:

Castro begins catching drills. First, the crouch...

...and then, the throw.

Brad Mills, Altuve have a chat.

Al Pedrique, Ed Wade and Carlos Lee have a laugh.

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Astros lineup 8/30 vs. Pirates. First pitch 7:05 p.m. CT

Road trip roundup: Travel tidbits, Crazy Crab’z and Dog Day in San Fran.

Received this two-part question from a reader recently: When a player is called up from the Minor Leagues or acquired mid-season in a trade and needs to be in uniform the next day, how is it that a team is able to outfit him with a jersey with his name and number so quickly? And when a player does get called up or arrives via trade, does the team pay for housing, or is he on his own for living accommodations right away?

I really had no idea, so on Sunday morning in San Francisco, I cornered the two people who would know: visiting clubhouse manager Steve Perry and traveling secretary Barry Waters.

First, the uniforms: the team has a stack of blank jerseys, with loose letters and numbers in the trunk. That trunk goes with them everywhere. The clubhouse manager and his staff will call the player’s old team to get his jersey size and will either ship the jersey off to the visiting clubhouse where the Astros are headed if they’re going on a road trip, or, if the team is in the middle of a homestand, they will sew the name and number on themselves.

The Astros have two people they utilize for help in the sewing department: Geraldine Liborio, wife of Equipment Manager Emeritus Dennis Liborio, and Perry, who has a sewing machine in his office and does most of the stitching when a visiting player is on his way to Houston.

(I’ve known Steve “Oh Sherry” Perry for almost 15 years and I never knew he was so multi-talented. Here I thought his greatest achievement was having the same name as the lead singer of Journey. Turns out, we have our very own Betsy Ross on staff.)

If the team has more than a day’s notice that a player is coming — which rarely happens — Majestic, the manufacturers of the Major League Baseball jerseys, can send the team a jersey with the player’s name and number sewn on.

Now, about housing: when a player gets called up or is traded to the Astros mid-season, the team has to pay for his hotel room for seven nights. That player will also receive a per diem for seven days. Every time he is called up, he gets seven days of hotel accommodations.

So, for example, When J.B. Shuck was called up not long ago, he was put up in a hotel on the Astros’ dime for a full week. He was sent back to Oklahoma City a few days ago but is expected to be back sometime soon after Sept. 1, and when he does get called back up, he’ll get another seven days’ worth of housing and meal money before he’s on his own again.

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If you’ve been following this blog through the road trip, you’ve probably noticed that we sampled a lot of ballpark fare throughout the week. All of it was delicious, none of it was cheap, and it was worth the extra calories and cash to enjoy some of the better eats at two of the finest ballparks in baseball, Coors Field and AT&T Park.

The last item on the to-eat list was the Crazy Crab’z Crab Sandwich. This concession stand is located in center field at the Giants ballpark, caddy corner from Orlando’s Caribbean BBQ, home of the sentimental favorite Cha Cha Bowl.

Crazy Crab'z: Crazy good, crazy expensive.

The Crazy Crab’z Sandwich is far and away the most expensive item I’ve ever come across, at any ballpark. This dish will run you a whopping $15.75, and while it’s absolutely delicious, I’m not sure I would be able to make this a regular stop if I frequented Giants games (which, obviously, I do not).

The crab meat is mixed lightly with mayo and served with sliced tomatoes on crisp sourdough bread grilled with garlic butter. The portion is generous and the blend of flavors is delicious. My main taste-tester for the week, Jim Deshaies, echoed a similar sentiment after digging in his half of the sandwich: “The crunch of the bread with the creaminess of the crab is very nice,” he said. “Texture is vital for a sandwich.”

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Photo of the day:
The Giants had their version of Take Your Dog to the Park Day on Sunday, with thousands of fans pouring into the stadium to parade their pooches around the warning track in the hours leading up to game time.

The outfits ranged from funny to creative to completely outrageous, so there was plenty of eye candy, so to speak, to take in during the elaborate walk around the park. A few of the Astros players came out to watch the barking brigade unfold. My friend and former colleague at MLB.com Chris

Shuttlesworth was down on the field snapping photos of Dog Day and captured this image of J.D. Martinez, Angel Sanchez and bullpen catcher Javier Bracamonte taking in the scene:

Incidentally, the Astros have their own Dog Day, which includes a Pooch Parade around the park, coming up on Sunday, Sept. 4. To read the full details and purchase tickets, click here.

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Astros lineup 8/28 at Giants. First pitch 3:05 p.m. CT

Man, people sure do take their bobbleheads seriously around here.

The Giants sell out every game, so it’s understandable that fans would want to get to the ballpark early when the team is handing out one of the really premium promotional giveaways.

We never could have imagined, however, that practically all 25,000 fans who eventually received the Tim Lincecum bobblehead had already arrived to AT&T Park by the time the Astros team bus pulled in three hours ahead of game time. Seriously. The lines extended for what seemed like miles. Here’s the aerial view, shot from the very top row in right field at AT&T Park:




All for this…

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Here’s something I didn’t know before today: Henry Sosa, the former Giant, is quite the barber. He, like Wandy Rodriguez, has been known to serve as the official team hair cutter through the season, especially when the team is on the road.

Sosa’s most famous patron? Without question, Hall of Famer Willie Mays, whom Sosa took a little off the sides for during Spring Training this year. “I asked him if he wanted a Mohawk,” Sosa laughed.

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We most definitely were not going to leave San Francisco — and end our week-long culinary tour — without tasting the most famous item offered at AT&T Park: the world famous Gilroy Garlic Fries. Smothered in butter, garlic cloves and parsley, the portions are large, the fries are delicious, and, best of all, the vendor throws in two mints for later.

The beauty part about the Garlic Fries is you don’t actually have to purchase them to enjoy them. The aroma filters through the entire ballpark and is by far the most identifiable scent at all Giants home games. It’s been a staple here for years and I would imagine this is one ballpark food option that will never be phased out.

(Hopefully, crab cakes won’t be either, because that’s what I’m ordering on Sunday.)

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Upcoming pitching matchups:

Sunday at Giants: Bud Norris vs. Matt Cain
Monday vs. Pirates: Wandy Rodriguez vs. Ross Ohlendorf
Tuesday vs. Pirates: Henry Sosa vs. Charlie Morton
Wednesday vs. Pirates: J.A. Happ vs. James McDonald

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Astros lineup 8/27 at Giants. First pitch 8:05 p.m. CT

Clam Chowder in a sourdough bowl? When in Rome…

In addition to the Cha Cha Bowl, the other food item I always try to have once a trip when I’m at AT&T Park in San Francisco is the clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. After all, what’s more identifiable to the great city of San Francisco than its fanastic seafood options and sourdough bread?

Pros: The chowder is authentic, really good, and piping hot. The bread is fresh and tasty and doesn’t feel like it’s been sitting around the warehouse for a multiple days.

Cons: When you get any kind of soup in a bread bowl, there’s usually more bread than soup. Such is the case this time as well. Probably not worth the money given how much more expensive ballpark food is compared to regular food, but at least the small amount of soup you receive is quite delicious.

(Incidentally, I ran into Jason Castro’s parents, native Northern Californians, on the concourse. Dad Castro said he was going to try the Cha Cha Bowl, thanks in part to the review on this blog. Gotta love the Internets)

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Minor League notes:

Who’s hot in the last 10 games:

Triple-A Oklahoma City:
OF Drew Locke: .367 (11-for-30), 4 2B
IF Anderson Hernandez: .425 (17-for-40), 6 RBIs

Double-A Corpus Christi:
OF T.J. Steele: .294, 2 HR, 8 RBIs, 3 SB
IF Brandon Wikoff: .367, 2 HR, 5 RBIs

Class A Lancaster:
IF Jonathan Singleton: .333 (13-for-39, 2 HR, 7 RBIs
LHP Pat Urckfitz: 2.25 ERA, 2 SV, 16 Ks

Class A Lexington:
OF Emilio King: .353 (12-for-34), 4 RBIs
OF Domingo Santana, .344 (11-for-32), 11 RBIs in eight games with Lexington

(Side note: Santana was the player to be named in the Hunter Pence trade and club officials who just spent the last few days watching him in Lexington say he might be the best player they received in that deal. That’s saying quite a bit, seeing Cossart and Singleton were ranked as the No. 1 and 2 prospects in the Phillies’ system)

Short Season A Tri-City:
C Ryan McCurdy: .355 (11-for-31), 7 RBIs
RHP Joan Belliard: 1-0, 1.46 ERA, 12 Ks

Rookie League Greeneville:
OF Jordan Scott: .390 (16-for-41), 8 RBIs, 3 SB

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Astros lineup 8/26 at Giants. First pitch 9:15 CT

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