Why Livan? One word: innings.
Much of the talk so far this spring has been about how many jobs are available, at just about every position, with the exception of just a few.
Let’s just say most of the players aren’t making permanent arrangements for Houston just yet. Instead, the mantra is one of caution: “I have to make the team first.”
If anything, that uncertainty will make for a more intriguing Grapefruit League season. Not only will several infield and outfield positions be up for grabs, but the starting pitching situation could also become pretty dramatic as the spring season draws to a close.
While there are no real guarantees in life beyond death, taxes and mind-numbing traffic at every corner of the greater Kissimmee metropolitan area, barring any unforeseen trades, it’s pretty definite that three of the rotation spots are going to Bud Norris, Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers.
That leaves a slew of candidates for the remaining two spots, and with that, of course, comes uncertainty about not only who will win these jobs by the time camp breaks, but also how reliable these pitchers will be over the course of a full season.
That is why a team must have more than one option and more than one plan moving forward. And that is precisely why general manager Jeff Luhnow saw enough in Livan Hernandez to sign him to a low-risk Minor League contract.
If healthy and effective, the 37-year-old Hernandez gives the Astros something they might find they desperately need a couple of months into the season: innings, innings and more innings. Specifically, around 200 of them.
Over the last five seasons, Hernandez has averaged 180.1 innings per year. The ERAs have been all over the map, from very good (3.66 in 2010) to not so good (6.05 in 2008) to respectable (4.93 in 2007 and 4.47 in 2011). What manager Brad Mills and the coaching staff like about Hernandez is his ability to do two things: keep his team in the game, and still be on the mound in the seventh and eighth innings.
The Astros will look at many candidates this spring to fill those final two spots in the rotation. J.A Happ and Jordan Lyles have an upper hand in that they were both part of the equation, for varying amounts of time, just one season ago. Lucas Harrell, Zach Duke, Kyle Weiland and Henry Sosa could see some starts this spring as well.
But it would be impossible (and irresponsible) to label any of the candidates with a broad brush, mark them down in red pen and declare them as guaranteed innings-eaters.
That’s why the Astros signed Hernandez. If he’s healthy and does well this spring, he could be a big lift for a rotation in transition.
* Another day, another Astros tweeter. Harrell has joined the Twitterverse and can be followed at @lucasharrell34. On an unrelated note, he also lost a bet to a buddy a while back and can’t cut his hair for a year, which is why he looks a little unruly these days. And he’s only 7 1/2 months into paying up.
* There are more position players in camp than I can count, so I’m not going to attempt to give an unscientific number of who’s already here. But I did sneak into the batting cages today and spotted Jed Lowrie, Jake Gobbert, J.B Shuck and J.D. Martinez, among others.
(More than half of the players in there are also active on Twitter. This completely irrelevant, I realize, but it kind of made me feel like a proud den mom.)
* While a Major League coaching staff consists of only seven people (including the manager), a Spring Training staff is much larger. Nearly two dozen coaches and special assistants comprise the spring staff. That includes all Minor League coordinators and instructors and select members of the coaching staffs of the Minor League teams. For example, the Triple-A Oklahoma City manager and coaches are working in big league camp, and slowly, as cuts are made and the Minor League spring seasons get underway, they will filter back over to their regular-season assignments.
Feeling peppy? The Astros will hold auditions for Park Patrol hopefuls on Friday, March 2 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday, March 3 from 8 a.m. to noon at Union Station at Minute Maid Park.
The Park Patrol is an interactive squad that performs at Astros home games. Game presentation activities include t-shirt launches, prize giveaways and trivia contests, in addition to performing dance routines and “skits” with the Team Mascot.
Park Patrol members will perform these tasks live in the stands, on ballpark concourses and will be featured on the stadium video boards. The Astros Park Patrol will also make appearances at season ticket holder events, Astros in Action Foundation events, and any approved event in connection with the Houston Astros.
• Must be able to perform activities and interact with fans on camera in front of 40,000+ people. Prior entertainment experience preferred.
• Squad will wear baseball-inspired, cheerleader-styled attire. Previous experience as a cheerleader, pep squad, or drill team member or some dance classes a plus, but not required.
• Individuals must have outstanding communication skills and a positive, energetic personality.
• They must also have stamina and fitness level capable of performing in conditions for several hours before and during games.
• Individuals must be available to work during Astros home games and other special events as needed.
• Must be reliable, punctual, and courteous. Good listening skills and ability to work with brief instruction required. Must also be flexible and able to handle situations with a quick and professional response.
• Those who are selected to the squad must be able to attend mandatory training sessions being held March 22 to March 25.
And we leave you with more images from another sunny morning in Central Florida: