Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

Astros notes: Rotation tweaks, Barmes’ hand, and what they’re Tweeting

The Astros are down to less than a week’s worth of Spring Training
games, and with that comes some mild tweaking of the pitching staff.

Brett Myers will start in a Minor League game on Saturday rather
than face the Nationals on the Major League side. The logic behind Brad
Mills’ thinking is the same he has for why he’s starting J.A. Happ
on Tuesday in Oklahoma City instead of on Monday against the Phillies:
no need to show the opponent too much of what they’ll see in the
not-too-distant future.

Happ’s first regular-season start will arrive on Sunday, April 3 in
Philadelphia, whom the Astros are also playing on Monday in Clearwater.
The Phillies are already familiar enough with Happ’s work. No need to
show them everything he has a few days before they see him again — when
the games actually matter.

Myers has faced the Nationals once this spring already and will probably
see them again at some point during the season. The starting pitchers
have long shaken off the offseason rust and are looking now like they
might look a month from now. So protecting them this time of the spring
isn’t a terrible idea.

“I know there’s a good chance he’ll face (the Nationals) twice during
the season,” manager Brad Mills said of Myers. “Do we want to expose him
that much during the spring? That’s kind of what we’re looking at.”

So while the regular season rotation will be Myers, Wandy, Happ, Norris
and Figueroa, the rotation for the final five games of the exhibition
season will be Henry Villar, Wandy, Norris, Happ and Figueroa.

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The Astros will collectively hold their breath and cross their fingers and any other cliched trick as they await the results of x-rays that will be taken on Clint Barmes’ left hand Saturday morning.

Barmes was hit by a pitch during the Astros’ game with the Yankees in Tampa on Friday and while he felt “sore, but promising” after his exit, he’s hoping the hand is just deeply bruised, and not broken.

“It hit me pretty square,” Barmes said. As soon as he got to first base, he felt the hand swell and immediately went to the training room to ice it.

Stay tuned.

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From the Astros Twitter files: 

Hoping Duke’s loss was all a figment of imagination:

@CJAstros23 Please tell me I was dreaming last night and duke didn’t get smoked by 20??? Someone please lie to me

One teammate admiring another’s athleticism…

@hunterpence9 If you don’t think pitchers are athlete’s check out @hyphen18 core routine… #CrazyAussie

…and that teammate’s response:

@hyphen18 It’s my ’7 minute abs routine’

Tri-City ValleyCats relive 2010 and get their rings.

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If the season the Tri-City ValleyCats had in 2010 is a foreshadow of things to come in Houston, more fruitful times are ahead of the Astros, at many levels of the organization.

Maybe the Short-Season A ValleyCats’ New York-Penn League championship title received minimal fanfare while the Astros were wrapping up their season last September. But their accomplishments were well-documented within the organization, and celebrated Tuesday night at the Astros’ Minor League complex in Kissimmee.

In the Major Leagues, it’s customary to hold a ring ceremony for a League and/or World Series championship early the next season. But in the Minor Leagues, most of the players who comprised a championship roster for one club have moved to a new team, and new city, the next year. Instead, the logical time to celebrate a title is during Spring Training, when the players are all together, regardless of where they might end up on opening day.

By all accounts, this ceremony had perfect attendance. Nearly every player from last year’s Tri-City team was there, in addition to the ValleyCats front office, the entire Astros’ Minor League staff and most of the Major League front office — around 120 total.

(Watch video from the banquet here)

“What you guys accomplished was really special,” said Fred Nelson, the Astros’ Director of Player Development, during his opening remarks to the players. “We don’t know where you’re going to be a year from now, or maybe two or three years from now in your life. But the ring you’re going to be getting tonight cannot be taken away from you.”

Added general manager Ed Wade: “Everybody in the office in Houston, everybody connected to player development, was paying a lot of attention to what you guys were doing in Tri-City. It hasn’t happened a lot in this organization, but it’s going to happen a lot more often.”

The banquet included a video that showed the highs and lows of the regular season, the intensity of the playoffs and the euphoric celebration after the ValleyCats clinched the title. What really struck me while watching the video wasn’t so much the timely hits or great plays that led them to the title, but rather the collective laughter from the players in the room as they watched the footage of the celebratory pile on, the crazy dancing and yelling in the clubhouse and the time-honored tradition of dousing each other with bubbly beverages — in this case, sparkling cider.

While I’m sure it was a lot more fun for the players when they actually won the title, it was still highly entertaining for this outsider to watch them relive the moment.

(And the rings are gorgeous.)

Video images

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Ring ceremony: Jake Buchanan and ValleyCats Vice President/General Manager Rick Murphy.

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Ryan Cole

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Oscar Figueroa (with ValleyCats president Bill Gladstone in background)

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Telvin Nash

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Group shot…

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…holding up their rings.

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Last minute ticket info as we near the Spring Training finish line

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As we inch toward the beginning of the regular season, we’d like to pass along some information about the upcoming exhibition game at Minute Maid Park, along with a couple of ticket tidbits you may have missed…

March 30 vs. Boston Red Sox

Before Brad Mills joined the Astros, we didn’t see much of the storied AL East Red Sox beyond an Interleague series every four years or so. But I sense it’s no coincidence that we’ve seen more of the Red Sox in the last two years than we did in the 15 years prior, now that Mills is in the mix.

For a baseball fan living in Houston, that can only be viewed as a good thing. While having the Royals and Blue Jays as our exhibition guests at Minute Maid Park for the better part of a decade was nice and all, it’s simply more fun to have a team like the Red Sox in town. And they’ll be here March 30 at 7:05 CT (in addition to a three-gamer in early July.)

Click here to reserve your tickets for the final exhibition game of 2011…

Also, we’re offering a First Pitch sweepstakes for the Astros-Red Sox game. Fans can text “pitch” to 26099 for the chance to throw out the first pitch on March 30. The contest ends Thursday afternoon and the winner will be notified on Friday.

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If you’re more focused on the regular season, check out this new cheap ticket, premium game package: The Opening Day 3-Game Hot Pack.

The package includes a ticket to Opening Day (April 8 versus the Marlins), a ticket to the June 28 game versus the Rangers and July 3 versus the Red Sox.

Details can be found here…

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Brett Wallace, Part Deux.

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Over the winter, it was widely believed within the inner workings of the Astros front office that Brett Wallace would have few problems securing the starting first base job during his time at Spring Training this year. However, in an industry where there are few guarantees, it would have been unwise to anoint him as the sure-fire favorite over Carlos Lee before the team had even arrived to Kissimmee to get ready for the season.

That said, after spending a little bit of time with Wallace during the offseason at Astroline and various community activities, I gained an understanding of his demeanor and guessed that he wasn’t going to have a problem dealing with what was waiting for him — daily speculation as to whether he was doing enough to win the job outright.

I don’t know him that well yet, but it’s clear that Wallace is a take-it-as-it-comes kind of player, who sees what’s in front of him with clarity, takes it at face value and deals with it in a level-headed manner. If he’s felt any pressure or stress this spring, he’s hid it well.

As we’ve discussed in past blogs, the first base job wasn’t as much his to win as it was his to lose. And yes, there’s a difference.

Competition for a position during Spring Training means two prominent players are going to get relatively equal playing time at that position and at the end, one will be declared the winner.

Wallace was the primary first baseman throughout the spring, with Lee playing all but two of his games in left. Lee, who showed last year that he can play a pretty decent first base, was strictly a Plan B in case Wallace had a terrible spring.

Wallace has had a great spring, but there still seems to be some confusion as to his standing on this team. I read a report on Fox Sports’ web site this morning that I found curious: “The Astros are at their payroll limit, but would like to add a left-handed hitting outfielder to platoon with Jason Michaels if they go with Carlos Lee over Brett Wallace at first base, which is hardly a sure thing.”

That was an accurate statement, two months ago. But no longer. If the Astros are responsible for putting the best team on the field, then I fail to see how Lee at first, Michaels in left and Wallace in Triple-A is a better combination than Wallace at first, Lee in left and Michaels as the first guy off the bench in a late-inning pinch-hitting situation.

What am I missing?

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A few weeks ago, Baseball America came out with a listing of how much teams have spent on International signings and the Astros were, according to this report, the third-highest spenders in 2010, behind the Mariners and Yankees.

According to the list, the Astros, who opened a new Dominican Academy last May, spent $5.13 million on International signings. Around $2.5 million went to their most heralded signing, 16-year-old outfielder Ariel Ovando (who is now 17).

While Ed Wade pointed out that the amount a team spends isn’t as important as the quality of the players it is spending on, it’s still nice to see the Astros near the top of this list. When Wade took over, he made two hugely important hires — first, Assistant General
Manager of Scouting Bobby Heck, and later, Felix Francisco, the club’s  Director of Latin American Scouting. Geographically, the scouting efforts were expanded, as were the spending parameters.

“We talk a lot about the impact that Bobby Heck and our free agent scouts have made through the domestic draft, but of equal importance is the work that Felix Francisco has done internationally,” Wade said. “Since coming over from the San Diego Padres, Felix has enhanced our Latin American presence a hundredfold.  It’s not about spending the third-most money or handing out the highest bonuses.  It’s about making smart baseball decisions and always working for the betterment of the Astros.  Felix is smart, aggressive and loyal, not
to mention extremely valuable.”

Here’s the Baseball America list of the top 10 International spenders:

1. Mariners, $6.47 million
2. Yankees, $5.27 million
3. Astros, $5.13 million
4. Pirates, $5.00 million
5. Athletics, $4.73 million
6. Blue Jays, $4.18 million
7. Cubs, $4.16 million
8. Rangers, $3.57 million
9. Braves, $3.28 million
10. Padres, $2.75 million

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On a much, much lighter note, I stumbled across this hilarious blog post from our friends in St. Louis. The post served as a tip of the cap to Post-Dispatch beat writer Derrick Goold, who noticed some glaring inaccuracies in Topps’ Photoshopped version of Lance Berkman’s “new” Cardinals baseball card. Then it escalated into something much more hilarious.

I initially found the post mildly amusing, until I got to the beer vendor part. I haven’t stopped laughing since. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
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And now for a pictorial wrap up of the weekend that was:

Craig Biggio

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Biggio, Cheo Cruz

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Carlos Lee

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Chris Johnson

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Puma

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Astros notes: FanFest, Myers, Bourn…and your Opening Day first baseman.

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The Astros have announced details about this year’s FanFest, which will take place April 9 and 10 in conjunction with Opening Weekend at Minute Maid Park. The events will take place primarily on the main concourse and will include autograph sessions, Talkin’ Baseball seminars with broadcasters and staff, silent auctions and the popular annual Garage Sale.

Admission is free each day with the purchase of a game ticket. The game on April 9 begins at 6:05 p.m. CT and at 1:05 p.m. CT on April 10.

Proceeds from the autograph sessions, Garage Sale and Mystery Grab Bags will benefit the Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy at Sylvester Turner Park. Additionally, in-stadium and online auction proceeds will benefit relief efforts in Japan.

The list of, and schedule for, former and current players who will sign autographs will be announced in the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, here are the basics:

Saturday, April 9:

* FanFest begins at noon, with gates opening at 11 a.m. This day will feature four autograph sessions, two from noon to 12:50 p.m. and two from 1 p.m. to 1:50.

* Each session will include autographs from four current players for a donation of $20 per session. Alumni will also sign.

* Other activities: Garage Sale, Mystery Grab Bags and auctions and face painters, clowns and other free activities for kids.

Sunday, April 10:

* Gates open at 11:30 a.m. Astros alumni players will sign autographs (current players sign on Saturday only).

* Other activities: Garage Sale, Mystery Grab Bags and auctions and face painters, clowns and other free activities for kids.

Tickets to the April 9 and 10 games are on sale now with prices starting as low as $7 for adults and $1 for kids ages 3-14.  Game tickets are available online at http://www.astros.com, at the Minute Maid Park Box Office on Texas Avenue or by phone toll free at 877-9ASTROS (877-927-8767).

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Myers to start Opening Day

The news that Brett Myers will pitch the first game of the regular season came as a shock to exactly no one, but it was still nice to hear Brad Mills make it official before the game in Jupiter on Friday.

Logic would dictate that Mills will have his rotation set up in a righty-lefty-right-lefty format, which would probably mean pitchers one through four would be Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ. But that doesn’t mean that’s how the rotation will look in another two weeks.

Mills hesitated to reveal how the pitchers will line up, probably because Wandy has been sidelined with shoulder tendinitis. However, Wandy has been cleared to start Tuesday’s game, and if you count out the days following that start, assuming he’ll be pitching on normal rest, that would put him on schedule to start April 1. Since that day is taken by Myers, it would make sense if Wandy pitched the next game.

Stay tuned.

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Other notables:

* Angel Sanchez’s back is still bothering him and he did not play on Friday.

* Michael Bourn, who has been hampered this week by a sinus condition, was back in the leadoff spot on Friday. Mills said before the game they’d be keeping an eye on him: “With this heat, it would be easy for him to get run down.” Bourn was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored against the Marlins.

* One Killer B leaves, another arrives. Jeff Bagwell left Kissimmee on Friday but plans to return the final week of Spring Training. Meanwhile, Craig Biggio is here for the weekend. Both are special assistants to the GM.

* Congrats to Jason Michaels and his wife, Pamela, on the birth of their son, Logan James. Little “LMike” arrived on St. Patty’s Day, weighing in at a robust eight pounds, seven ounces and measuring 20 inches.

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Links worth clicking:

* When you have a chance please read this delightful piece from Jerry Crasnick about Astros pitchers and their coach. It perfectly captures Brad Arnsberg and his relationship with his pitchers.

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* Heading into Spring Training, first base wasn’t Brett Wallace’s job to win as much as it was his to lose. He was penciled in as the starting first baseman when he arrived to Kissimmee, but with less than two weeks remaining before Opening Day, you can chuck the pencil and mark it in red ink.

From the feedback I received from readers throughout the spring season, there seemed to be a feeling that Wallace was competing with Carlos Lee for the first base job. That was not the case. Lee showed he could play a pretty good first base last season and was considered a Plan B for that position — but only if Wallace showed he wasn’t ready for the full-time job.

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Wallace would have had to have a monumentally terrible spring for that to happen. Instead, he’s had a fantastic go of it, hitting .364 through Friday’s game in Jupiter (where he went 2-for-4). He’s got it all but wrapped up.  

MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez has a nice write up on Wallace here.

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TV-radio notes: J.D. to moonlight as sideline reporter eye candy.

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After more than a month of Spring Training, it’s always nice to get some fresh, new faces around camp…especially when those fresh, new faces belong to Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies.

Many moons ago, Brownie and J.D. attended Spring Training for the entire month, like the radio announcers. But in the last several years, their time in Florida has instead centered around the few days before and after the Astros’ Spring Training television broadcasts.

FS Houston usually swings through town to show a game or three on TV, and Brownie and J.D. are here now, preparing for two regionally televised games on Friday in Jupiter against the Marlins and Saturday at home against the Cardinals.

Brownie and J.D. will be in the booth together Friday, but because Saturday’s game will be delivered to both the Houston and St. Louis markets, they’re going with one broadcaster from each team: Brownie, and Cards announcer Al Hrabosky.

Where does that leave J.D.?

“I’m going to be the Tony Siragusa guy,” J.D. said, referring to the retired NFL defensive tackle who is now a sideline analyst for football games shown on the Fox Network. “The sideline guy, hanging out, not contributing a whole lot. But it gives the fans a chance to see the games.”

“Does Tony Siragusa eat when he’s on the air?” Brownie wondered.

“My hunch is that he’s got something squirreled away,” J.D. said of the 340 pound Siragusa. “That’s what I’ll do. I’ll be the guy eating hot dogs in the stands. They can get a shot of me every now and then and I’ll have a different food product every half inning.”

So on Saturday, look for hits from Hunter Pence, strikeouts from Wilton Lopez and a little mustard in J.D.’s well-trimmed goatee.

Watch our full interview with Brownie and J.D. here.

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Speaking of our television broadcasters, did you know 2011 is Brownie’s Silver Anniversary? It’s his 25th year as the Astros primary play-by-play voice on television. This season also marks the 15th for Brownie and J.D. as a team.

On that note, Milo Hamilton, the legendary elder statesman on the radio side, will host the second to last Astroline tonight (Wednesday) at 8 ET/7 CT at the ESPN Club on the Disney Boardwalk. His guest will be Nelson Figueroa.

You can listen to the show on 740 KTRH and Astros.com. You can also tweet me questions and comments if you have any…

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Camp tidbits:

* Wandy Rodriguez, sidelined with some mild shoulder tendinitis, will throw a side session on Friday and will be re-evaluated before being scheduled for his next start. He is not expected to miss another turn in the rotation, although Brad Mills did not want to reveal the target date he and his staff have for Wandy just yet.

* Angel Sanchez was unavailable for Wednesday’s game after tweaking his back on Tuesday in Sarasota.

* The Astros will enjoy their one and only scheduled off day Thursday before resuming the Grapefruit League schedule on Friday in Jupiter. Lefty J.A. Happ will start that game, while the Marlins will counter with right-hander Ricky Nolasco.

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The Astros hosted a special guest during their morning routine on Wednesday: 16-year-old Matt Myers, who plays baseball at Seminole High School in Sanford, FL. He was diagnosed with bone cancer in January. His visit was coordinated by third base coach Dave Clark, who introduced Myers and his family to most of the Astros Spring Training contingent. Myers also threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game.

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In case you missed our #TwitterTuesday contest, our winner was @MigM_, who guessed correctly that Jeff Bagwell’s first car was a Mercury Capri (and it was orange. Bags admitted he thought he looked pretty cool in it, but looking back realizes he definitely did not).

Here’s Bagwell’s video confession.

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On to the photos…

Bagwell

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Bagwell, Jamie Quirk, Jason Michaels

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Michael Bourn, Carlos Lee

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Clint Barmes, Bill Hall

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J.D. signs autographs

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Michaels, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee

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Astros are on MLB Network, and Bagwell’s on Twitter (Tuesday only).

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As a self-admitted MLB Network junkie, it sure has been a long month without my favorite cable sports station.

The place I rent down here has the bare minimum when it comes to cable programming, so I’m a little limited. After three (three!) Disney channels, TNT, E! and ESPN, the pickings are slim. Sadly, I’m experiencing pangs and withdrawal symptoms without MLB Network — and Bravo, too, come to think of it. Now, not only am I without nightly baseball talk, I also have no way of getting my daily dose of the fantastic train wrecks that are the “Real Housewives.”

Anyhoo, I happy to see Greg Amsinger and his crew at our spring complex early Monday morning, shooting b-roll and stocking up on interviews with about a dozen Astros. While I won’t be able to actually watch Tuesday night’s “30 clubs, 30 days” special featuring your Astros, it was, I suppose, gratifying enough watching the crew gather the content.

A full hour, beginning Tuesday at 7 p.m. CT, will be dedicated to all things Astros. They talked to every prominent player while they were here shooting, and they will also dedicate an entire segment solely to the farm system and the talent that we may see in the big leagues in the not-so-distant future.

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“It’s for the hardcore baseball fan,” Amsinger said. “It gives a little bit of everything, not just the guys at the big league level.”

Hopefully you’ll watch, enjoy, and give me a proverbial scouting report. For a full schedule of “30 clubs, 30 days,” click here.
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Question from e-mailer Ben:

I was wondering if you could tell me the following distances (miles/hours to get to certain camps.) Most notably Nationals, Braves, Phillies and Yankees.

Answer from your friendly neighborhood blogger:

The Astros travel anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours for Spring Training road trips, which is why the Braves (30 minutes) and not the Red Sox (three hours) are the official Preferred Opponent of Your Spring Training Houston Astros.

Here’s a photo of the entire Grapefruit League schedule, bus-ride version. To calculate the time it takes to get to the road destination, simply subtract the time the bus leaves from 10 a.m., which is the standard arrival time for a 1 p.m. game (4 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game, 3 for a 6 p.m. game. You get the drift).

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So, if the Astros are traveling to Lakeland to play the Tigers, that trip is an hour, so the bus will leave from the ballpark at 9 a.m.

I don’t know the exact mileage, but you can find that easy enough on Google maps. Enter “Kissimmee” and the road city and it will include how many miles it takes, in addition to directions.

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Why is this man smiling?

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I can’t tell you yet, but you’ll find out soon enough when we reveal our #TwitterTuesday question on, well, Tuesday.

Jeff Bagwell is the topic of this week’s Google-free trivia question and we’ll tweet that question exactly at noon CT. The first correct answer wins two free tickets to any Astros game this season with the exception of Opening Day, the Red Sox series and the final homestand of the season.

The exercise is simple — I tweet the question, you tweet your guesses back to me. When we receive the first correct answer, we’ll run a video of Bags giving his answer. Soon after that, we’ll also type it out on Twitter, for those who might not be able to access the video.

(Bagwell is here until Friday, by the way.)

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The Oklahoma City RedHawks have announced that tickets for the March 29 exhibition game against the Astros will go on sale to the general public beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday (March 15).

Remaining availability is limited, and seats are expected to sell quickly. For the Astros-RedHawks exhibition, Club seats are $20, Field and Bleacher seats are $16, Third Base Terrace seats are $12 and Lawn seating is $10. First pitch on March 29 is scheduled for
6:30 p.m., with gates opening at 5:00 p.m., the same time Astros batting practice is scheduled to begin.

Tickets are available for purchase by phone at (405) 218-1000, online at http://www.okcredhawks.com, or by visiting the RedHawks ticket office on Mickey Mantle Drive in Bricktown.

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Female ballplayer throws batting practice, promotes Baseball for All.

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Of all of the life lessons Justine Siegal can pass along to the many kids she’s impacted over the years, perseverance could very well be at the top of the list.

Sure, Siegal initially had no choice but to take no for answer when she first reached out to all 30 teams with a request to throw batting practice to Major League hitters during the next Spring Training. She sent emails, and she received no responses. Well, she did get one — “it was a beautiful email,” she said. “Telling me, politely, no.”

But Siegal was encouraged that at least someone did read it. So she pushed on. She reached out to people she knew who might have an “in” with general managers. She showed up at the Winter Meetings. She got some one-on-one face time with club execs.

“People started warming to it,” Siegal said.

First, Oakland A’s. Then her hometown Indians. The Rays, Cardinals, Astros and Mets soon followed. By those teams saying yes, Siegal, a 36-year-old former high school and amateur baseball player, became what is believed to be the first woman to throw batting practice to big league hitters.

Siegal threw a round of BP to Astros hitters on the backfields at Osceola County Stadium Saturday morning. The Astros were the fourth team she threw to, but it was “the first time I’ve done this where I haven’t felt nervous when I started,” she said.

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The batting practice experience helped Siegal fulfill one lifelong goal, but ultimately, her main purpose is to bring awareness to her organization, Baseball For All, which provides girls and women the opportunity to get involved in baseball as players, coaches and umpires. Her web site, baseballforall.com, details many opportunities for girls to play in tournaments and participate in camps and academies.

“They don’t want to just watch and wear a pink jersey,” Siegal said. “They want to be a part of baseball.”

Siegal, who was the first woman to coach men’s professional when she coached for the Brockton Rox in 2009, has received a positive response from all of the teams she’s worked with this spring. The Rays “almost made it a home run derby,” she recalled. “It was a really light atmosphere, with Coco Crisp leading the way. They were having a good time with it. That’s what I wanted — for them to enjoy the experience.”

Siegal wears a patch, dedicated to the memory of Christina-Taylor Green, on her left sleeve. Green, who was killed during the shootings in Tucson in January, was the only girl on her Little League team and had aspirations to become the first female Major League Baseball player.

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“When she was shot, a lot of parents reached out to me, wanting to know what BFA was going to do to help,” Siegal said. “I knew I wanted to do something. Then I heard about the patch.”

Asked how the Green family reacted to the attention the patch is receiving as she tours the different spring training facilities, Siegal said simply, “They gave me the best compliment possible — they said they’re very proud of me.”

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Play was halted for about 15 minutes on Saturday after a female fan apparently was hit in the head by a foul ball. She was tended to by the on-site EMTs and taken away on a stretcher. There was no indication how severe the injury or the fan’s condition available. We will provide an update when we receive word.

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Promotional updates:

On March 14 vs. PHI, the first 2,000 fans will receive Astros drawstring backpacks presented by Holiday Inn Main Gate East…Kid’s Run the Bases!, for children ages 5-12, will be featured twice this Spring on March 20 and 27 immediately following the game…the March 20 will feature $1 hot dogs and free Astros posters, presented by Florida Operation Lifesaver, while supplies last…Military Appreciation Day, presented by Outback Steakhouse, will be March 27, as well as free Astros posters presented by Florida Operation Lifesaver, while supplies last.

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Sunday

The Astros will play their fifth of six split squad games on Sunday, with half the team going to Disney to play the Braves and the other half traveling to Lakeland to face the Tigers.

The pitchers scheduled to throw in these games are:

ATL: RHP Bud Norris, RHP Brandon Lyon, RHP Jeff Fulchino, RHP Mark Melancon, RHP Fernando Rodriguez, RHP Henry Villar.
DET: LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith, RHP Aneury Rodriguez, LHP Wesley Wright, LHP Gustavo Chacin, RHP Enerio Del Rosario, RHP Jose Valdez.

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Finally, here are some images from Saturday’s activities at Osceola County Stadium:

Hunter Pence
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Pence, Carlos Lee
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Oswaldo Navarro, Bill Hall
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J.D. Martinez

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Pitching coach Brad Arnsberg works with Wesley Wright.

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Lining up for the anthem.

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Focus Friday: Carlos Lee

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Every Friday throughout Spring Training, we run non-baseball questions for a feature we call #FocusFriday, where fans tweet their questions and we relay them to the selected player of the week.

Most of the questions for Carlos Lee revolved around ranching and raising cattle — a side business that takes up the majority of the left fielder’s time during his offseasons in Panama.

You can watch the video here, while reading along with this transcript…

@CarlaFendley: Do you raise cattle to sell or is this just a hobby?

Carlos Lee: It’s part of my business. I raise cattle for mainly slaughterhouses. It’s mainly for reproduction.

@irishndude4 How many cattle do you have?

CL: It all depends. In Panama I’ve got a lot more. In Houston, it’s probably around 600. I mainly check them out, brand them, dehorn them, make sure everything is OK, take care of the babies.

@AppyAstros: What do you miss the most about Panama during the baseball season (aside from family/friends)?

CL: I’m pretty used to being in the United States. It’s my job and I’m kind of used to it. I know my time here is (until) October and hopefully it’ll be November this year. I know when my time is up, then I can start thinking about Panama again.

@allphilla Since you are a rancher, have you ever considered opening a steak house a la Roy Oswalt in Houston?

CL:
(laughs) That’s a totally different business and I don’t think I’m ready for that. But I would be happy to sell my beef to Roy.

@MrBlaineTrain: Carlos, what is your favorite place to eat at in Houston during the season?

CL: I like Vic and Anthony’s. It’s a really nice steak house and it’s really convenient for me after the games. So I just go there a lot.

With Opening Day three weeks away, competition (for jobs) heats up.

MLB.com beat writer Brian McTaggart took his first stab at predicting the Opening Day roster in his latest blog, and for the most part, I agree with his predictions. Mostly.

Tags notes that with three weeks left in the spring, a lot can (and probably will) change. There aren’t a ton of roster spots up for grabs this spring, but several players are making cases for themselves for the few jobs that are available.

I agree with Tags that Brian Bogusevic probably has a leg up over Jason Bourgeois for the fifth outfielder job, because he’s left-handed (even though it would be a luxury to have someone with Bourgeois’ speed on the bench). I like his bullpen mix of Brandon Lyon, Wilton Lopez, Fernando Abad, Jeff Fulchino, Mark Melancon and Henry Villar, although I am more inclined to believe Nelson Figueroa, whom Tags has benchmarked as a long reliever, will instead win the fifth starter job.

That said, I love how 20-year-old Jordan Lyles is giving the front office and coaching staff pause as he continues to pile up the quality innings this spring. He’s allowed three runs — two earned — over eight innings and had a very promising showing during a game against the Cardinals in Jupiter (where he was most impressive against the Pujols-Holliday-Berkman trifecta).

Should Lyles force his way into the rotation, that would probably push Figueroa to the bullpen and Ryan Rowland-Smith, possibly, to Triple-A. As Tags notes, the final spot in the bullpen is entirely up for grabs, with Sergio Escalona and Enerio Del Rosario quietly making cases for themselves.

As for the backup infielders, Matt Downs is having a very nice showing this spring and, I feel, has an advantage over the rest to win a roster spot. Another interesting candidate is Tommy Manzella, who has been honing his skills at second and third with hopes to find a niche on this team away from the shortstop position, now occupied by Clint Barmes.

Other candidates for backup infield spots are Anderson Hernandez and Angel Sanchez, both strong offensive players who are having nice springs. Defensively, Manzella and Downs probably have the advantage.

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One position that I do not feel is up for grabs is first base. I still believe this is Brett Wallace’s job and that he’ll be there on Opening Day. Manager Brad Mills has been careful not to make any definitive declarations regarding first base, but he has lauded Wallace on many occasions for his approach and ability.

“He has confidence in his ability,” Mills said. “And, quite frankly, so do we.”

Mills did reveal that Carlos Lee will probably receive a small dose of playing time at first base once the Astros play their final split squad games (March 20). I would caution not to read too much into that. Lee has been taking ground balls at first base all spring but is preparing for the season as the left fielder.

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Notable:

*Jeff Keppinger is officially out of the walking boot he’s been wearing since he had offseason surgery on his foot.

* Michael Bourn was not in Thursday’s lineup for no other reason than Mills wanted to give him a rest. Bourn had the most spring at-bats of anyone heading into the game with the Nationals, and the short turnaround following the rare night game on Thursday was a perfect time to give Bourn a short break.

* The Astros will play a day game in Kissimmee with the Red Sox and a night game (5 p.m. CT start) at the Nationals on Friday, the fourth of six split-squad days the Astros have on their spring schedule.

* Justine Siegal is scheduled to throw a round of batting practice to Astros hitters prior to Saturday’s game with the Orioles. Siegal is the first woman to throw batting practice to a Major League club, having done so with the Cleveland Indians, Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays.

Siegal wears a patch on her sleeve in honor or Christina-Taylor Green, who was killed in the Jan. 8 shooting near Tucson. Green, the granddaughter of former Phillies manager Dallas Green, was the only girl on her Little League team and wanted to be the first woman to play in the Major Leagues.

* Three more games will be aired on MLB Network, in addition to the March 18 and 19 games that will be shown by FS Houston: March 15 at Baltimore, March 27 vs. Detroit, March 30 vs. Red Sox (at Minute Maid Park).

* The Astros now have three active players on Twitter: Hunter Pence (@HunterPence9), Ryan Rowland-Smith (@hyphen18) and our newest addition to the Twitterverse, Chris Johnson (cjastros23). All three tweet regularly and enjoy the give and take with the fans. On Thursday, through Twitter, we learned that Rowland-Smith forgot the Astros had a night game on Thursday and arrived to an empty clubhouse at 8 a.m. (thus ruining his one and only chance to sleep in this spring) and that Pence had seven eggs (five in an omelette), two muffins and potatoes for breakfast at Mimi’s Cafe. This equated to, quoting the right fielder, a “Happy Hunter.”
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On to the pictures from an overcast afternoon and somewhat soggy (but playable) field during Thursday’s pregame practice:

Clint Barmes

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Barmes, Chris Johnson

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Bourn and his son, Bryson

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Brad Mills, Carlos Lee

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Astros are on Facebook
Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter
Check out Astros witticisms at AstrosOneLiners 

Questions? Send to afooter@astros.com  

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