Results tagged ‘ Brandon Backe ’

Mike Scott’s no-hitter in ’86 was one for the ages. But it wasn’t the only great playoff-clinching moment in Astros history.

One Sunday morning, several years ago, Brandon Backe sat at his locker doing what young players normally do in the hours before gametime. Hanging out. Saying very little. Doing nothing to draw attention to himself.

This was 2004, arguably the most significant (at that time) of Backe’s Major League career. He spent that season up and down between the minors to the big leagues, mostly as a reliever. Inconsistency and one bout of fatigue-related issues prevented him from gaining any real staying power in the rotation.

But Backe showed enough to merit multiple opportunities with the Astros that year. He had spunk. He had moxie. He had, quite frankly, an attitude. That type of demeanor, paired with hard work, usually buys a kid some extra time while he tries to put the pitching side of things together.

This particular Sunday in 2004 wasn’t like the other Sundays. No, this was the final Sunday of the season, the final game of the season, and the National League Wild Card was on the line. Win the game, go to the playoffs. It was that simple.

The team liked its chances, what, with Roger Clemens scheduled to start and the Astros having enjoyed a streak of 35 wins against 10 losses that catapulted them right into the thick of a hotly-contested Wild Card race.

An hour before gametime, however, things changed. Instead of suiting up for the game, Clemens was laying on a table in the training room, IVs inserted in his arm, trying to fast-forward through a stomach flu that left him sapped of his energy.

Clemens said the right things to the athletic trainers and doctors — “I’m fine, I can pitch” — but his body was saying quite the opposite. As the minutes passed, it was clear it would not be Clemens taking the mound at 1:05 for arguably the most important game of the season.

“Clemens is sick,” manager Phil Garner said to catcher Brad Ausmus, in passing, near the lunch room in the Astros’ clubhouse. “Backe’s pitching.”

Ausmus’ face fell, briefly. Then, perhaps realizing a reporter was watching this exchange, his expression changed. He simply nodded, and walked off.

Inside the locker room, pitching coach Jim Hickey walked up to Backe’s locker and told the 26-year-old righty that he was starting the game. Backe, likely dumbfounded and now with 60 minutes to prepare, nodded silently. Then he headed straight to the bathroom.

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Backe put forth a fabulous effort that day. He struck out six and held the Rockies to two runs five hits with two walks. And, he contributed the first two RBIs with a two-run bloop single in the second frame that put the Astros on the board for the first time. The Astros won by two runs, a sold-out Minute Maid Park erupted, and the party was on.

Brandon Backe didn’t spare any champagne after the Wild Card clincher in 2004.

The Astros have had many exciting playoff-clinching moments. Really, in recent history, the only ho-hum clincher was in 1998, only because the Astros were so good that it negated a true division race. They clinched it with about a week-and-a-half left in the season, creating as much drama and suspense as a rerun of “Laverne and Shirley.”

But other than that 102-win season, the Astros have had many, many nail-biting, down-to-the-wire clinchers that happened on the very last day of the season, or close to it.

They had around four days remaining in ’97 when they clinched, but that one was extra-special, because it was their first NL Central division title and their first division winner in 11 years. In 1999, they won the division title while playing the final regular-season game in the Dome, in front of a jam-packed crowd that included almost every former player who had meant anything to the franchise over three-plus decades of baseball in Houston.

Larry Dierker, the manager of the Astros at that time, called the win, and the celebration of history after, “Baseball heaven.”

The famous shot from the ’97 clincher: Hampton, Biggio, Bagwell. (photo courtesy of Karen Warren, Houston Chronicle)

The 2001 clincher was memorable as well, considering the team they were fighting for the division title was also the team they had to beat on the last day.

The Astros ended the regular season in St. Louis, a week later than originally scheduled because of the tragic events on Sept. 11. They had been in relative cruise control a couple of weeks earlier and looked to be on their way to easily winning the division, but then they spent the better part of one crucial week losing almost every day. So it came down to the last game, and in front of a hostile Busch Stadium crowd, the Astros beat Darryl Kile and the Cardinals, 9-2.

The 2005 Wild Card clincher, like ’04, happened on the final day. The Astros topped the Cubs to finally, and officially, brush away the pesky Phillies, their closest nemesis in the Wild Card race. That push to the finish was even more impressive than the Astros’ 36-10 run from the year before, because this group had to climb out of a 15-30 hole it dug itself into at the start of the season.

Phil Garner and Craig Biggio walk off the field after the 2004 Wild Card clincher.

The most exciting clincher in Astros history, obviously, was Mike Scott’s no-hitter in 1986. The Astros were expected to do very little in the NL West that year, but heading to the final stretch, there they were, at the top of the standings. Two days before Scott’s game, Jim Deshaies threw a two-hitter. Nolan Ryan followed with a one-hitter over eight innings, after which Alan Ashby said to J.D., prophetically, “I have a feeling Scotty’s going to show both of you up tomorrow.”

Scott no-hit the Giants and the Astros clinched the division. To this day, when eye-witnesses reflect back to that game, their speech patterns speed up and their voices get a little screechy.

Manager Hal Lanier and Mike Scott after Scott’s no-no in ’86.

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Given the historic nature of Scott’s no-hitter, it would be silly to think any other playoff-clincher could possibly trump that one. Polling fans on this one would be just plain silly.

Too bad — we’re doing it anyway! But don’t just cast your vote. I want to know what you remember best from those clinching games. Perhaps you were at the 2004 Backe game. Or maybe you were watching from home, wearing your baseball cap positioned just so atop of your head, the same way you had worn it for all 36 games of the Astros’ 36-10 run that year. Or maybe you were just a kid when the Dome opened and found yourself back there, in person, when it closed down in ’99.

Whatever the memory, please share with us here. We’ve provided plenty of nostalgia for you as we celebrate the club’s 50th anniversary. Now it’s your turn to provide a walk down memory lane.

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Links we like:

First, Brett Myers was compared to Charles Dickens. Now, in his latest blog entry, Astros radio announcer Dave Raymond finds parallels between the Astros’ nearly four-hour game with the Dodgers Saturday night and the Chevy Chase classic, “Fletch.” (Personally, I’m skeptical. Chevy Chase makes me laugh, yet the only emotion I felt during the game Saturday was an overwhelming urge to gouge my eyes out).

Dave also gives us some cool Astros-by-the-numbers info. For those of you who haven’t figured it out by now, our affable radio announcer is also a bit of a stat nerd.

In The Crawfish Boxes “Mondays Three Astros Things,” David Coleman discusses why the Astros appear to have come out ahead on the Jobduan Morales-Justin Ruggiano trade. He also focuses on everyone’s favorite topic — Altuve, Altuve and Altuve.

Sure, Altuve is the leading candidate to be an All-Star, but there are others on this roster too, no?

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Hot topics: Doug Brocail, Brandon Backe, suspended games and booing Blum (!)

Most of us already consider Doug Brocail something of a medical miracle, given the angioplasties, heart stents and multitude of DL stints and surgeries he’s endured over his 15 years in the big leagues. So it should come as no surprise that’s he’s turning to another unconventional method in an attempt to return from yet another injury.

Soon after he tore his hamstring on a play at first base in Atlanta in early May, Brocail underwent a procedure called platelet rich plasma therapy. This involved extracting a small amount of blood from the body and spinning it for approximately 15 minutes, a step that removes unwanted components of the blood that are not primarily responsible for healing.

What remains is an increased concentration of platelets, which are reinjected into the injured area. It’s not about reattaching the tendons as much as it’s a way to have the healthy areas fuse together, through the platelets.

You might remember the Steelers’ Hines Ward undergoing the procedure just before the Super Bowl earlier this year. Reportedly, Dodgers pitcher Takashi Saito also had the PRP therapy.

Whether this procedure helps Brocail get back on the mound is still to be determined, but he’s happy with the progress so far. He’s moving around well and has begun to throw bullpens again. Two months ago, he said he was shooting for a return soon after the All-Star break, but obviously, that’s not happening. Now he’s eyeing August, and while there is no guarantee he’ll make that deadline, or ever pitch again, you have to admire his determination. Stay tuned.

Randoms:
* Brandon Backe had his right shoulder examined by Astros medical director David Lintner, who diagnosed the right-hander with a partial thickness tear of his right rotator cuff. Backe will seek a second opinion next week in Birmingham, Ala. from well-known orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews. The Astros expect Backe to undergo surgery, and even though they released him, they’ll be on the hook for the cost of the surgery.

Read Brian McTaggart’s full story here.

I’m a little curious as to why Backe refused the Minor League assignment after he was designated a couple of weeks ago. After the surgery, he could have rehabbed with the Astros and continued to accrue service time while on the DL. As it stands, he’s a free agent headed for surgery, looking for a job. Doesn’t make sense.

* The suspended game between the Astros and Nationals took a whole seven minutes to complete. I predicted this one would go 15 or 16 innings, just because. Instead, Miguel Tejada threw wildly to Puma on an inning-ending double play, Nyjer Morgan scored from second, and the game was over.

I did a quick walk-through of the clubhouse following the loss, just to see how the players were reacting. It was what I expected — they sat at their lockers, chatted, watched TV…just like any other day. Carlos Lee rallied the troops with a “Let’s be ready at 7:05″ pep talk, and for the most part, the team was in fine spirits.

After the game, Puma was asked if he was disappointed when the first game ended. His response: “I wasn’t out there long enough to be disappointed. I went out there, moved some dirt around, and that was it.”

On the outcome: “That’s pretty much how you expected that game to end. It was one of the ugliest games I’ve ever seen, in the first place (referring to the May 5 portion in D.C.).”

* Geoff Blum was roundly booed in the fourth inning for seemingly not running hard on a double that he may have been able to stretch to a triple. I suspected Blum is still not 100 percent from the hamstring issues he’s had to deal with this year, and after talking with him after the game, that appears to be the case.

Blum does not like talking about injuries, nor does he use them as an excuse. But he realized he had to address this one:

“You want to boo me, boo me,” he said. “But I’m going to give you every effort that I’ve got, and right now, I don’t have that.

“I’ve never let any team I’ve played for down and never given them anything but everything I have.”

*Russ Ortiz was not happy with his manager on Thursday.

From the Ask Alyson files:

I was wondering if there’s any chance that Hunter Pence might compete in the Home Run Derby. We know he has more power than his numbers show because he’s more of a complete hitter who puts the ball in play rather than trying to pull everything. I bet he would do very well in the Derby, and it would be a great way for him to introduce himself to the rest of the country’s fans that don’t know him. Brian S.

Players have to be invited to participate and so far, Pence hasn’t been invited. He has said he would do it if asked. To be honest, I’d rather he didn’t participate…I’ve seen way too many post-Derby slumps over the years for it to be purely coincidental and I’m just as happy with Hunter sitting this one out.

Assume that the Astros finish in second place with 82 wins, and narrowly miss the division/Wild Card, would you say that they would be active in next years free agent market?  If so, who would they target?  Nils

There is no way to know what the Astros will be doing four months from now but looking at the roster right now, we can see a ton of players who will be free agents and theoretically could come off the books. That leaves four players under multi-year contracts: Berkman ($14.5 million), Oswalt ($15 million), Lee ($18.5) and Matsui ($5). Those four will take up $53 million and I would surmise the payroll is going to come down from the $100 million-plus it is now.

If Jose Valverde walks, the Astros will need a closer. And obviously, they need starting pitching as well — who doesn’t? If Mike Hampton finishes the year strong I’d like to see them bring him back. It’s way too early to see how the Astros will address their needs, but whether they make or miss the playoffs with 82 wins will be largely irrelevant. Their task is the same every year, to put a competitive team on the field. I’d like to see one or two of the young pitchers at Triple-A get a real chance next spring to crack the rotation. This team simply has to get younger. Not having a single starting pitcher under the age of 30 is not a good thing, in my opinion.

Could you give an explanation about how players run out of options and what happens if you move someone to the Major League level and add him to the 40-man roster? Does he have to clear waivers to be sent back down?  I am specifically wondering about what ifs for guys like Bud Norris and Yorman Bazardo. Jim, Highland Haven, Texas
 
Basically, every player has three options on his contract when he begins his professional career. He can be sent down and called up as many times as a team wants in a single season and that counts as one option. So, in layman’s terms, a player is pretty much at the mercy of the club for the first three years of his Major League career, before he enters arbitration-eligibility.

Norris and Bazardo are not on the Astros 40-man roster, so their time hasn’t yet arrived. If they were to be called up, their contracts would be purchased — as opposed to a player who is already on the 40-man roster being “recalled.” At that point, their service time officially begins. Because they have no service time, they do not have to clear waivers to be sent back down.

When a player does run out of the three options, he must pass through waivers before the club can send him down.

Please send your questions to askalyson@astros.com.

So long, Brandon Backe.

Brandon Backe refused the Astros’ Minor League assignment, and now, the club in the process of giving him his unconditional release.

The decision to designate Backe for assignment a few days ago signaled the likely end of his tenure with the Astros, but today’s news obviously makes it official, and permanent.

I hope Backe finds another team, and I hope he does well. Even though he didn’t pan out in the last year or so, this Galveston kid was always a fan favorite, and he’ll forever be remembered for his tenacity when the pressure was on.

One image sticks in my mind more than any other. It was the last game of the season in 2004, and I was standing in the hallway in the clubhsouse that connects the locker room, the lunch room and the training room. As Brad Ausmus walked by, Phil Garner stopped him and said, “Clemens is sick. He can’t go. Backe’s pitching.” Ausmus’ face fell, just for a fleeting moment; then he nodded and walked away.

Pitching coach Jim Hickey then sat down next to Backe and quietly gave him the news. This was an hour before gametime, and the Astros’ postseason hopes were riding on this one game. Backe looked at Hickey and didn’t say a word. He just took a deep breath, nodded, and got ready to pitch.

Backe pitched his heart out, allowing three runs over five innings, and the Astros won the Wild Card. That performance was eclipsed only by his Game 5 start in the NLCS, when he went nose-to-nose with Woody Williams, allowing one hit over eight innings, in a game the Astros won on Jeff Kent’s ninth-inning home run.

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Here are a couple of details regarding how unconditional releases work:

* The process to obtain unconditional waivers for the purpose of giving a player his release takes three days.

* If Backe clears waivers, he becomes an unrestricted free agent and will collect his full 2009 salary, whether he signs with another club or not. If Backe does sign with another club, that team is required to pay him the Major League minimum salary (prorated).

Read Brian McTaggart’s story here.

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The decision to stick with six pitchers until the All-Star break makes sense for the Astros, especially if you think about it in terms of contract status.

The six pitchers are Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, Felipe Paulino and Brian Moehler. All are pitching well. Obviously, Oswalt and Rodriguez are your mainstays who aren’t in danger of losing their status as top of the rotation guys. The next tier are Hampton and Moehler, who have not worked out of the bullpen this year. They’re also veterans signed to guaranteed contracts, which eliminates the possibility of moving them without losing them. Russ Ortiz, who has worked out of ‘pen and rotation, is in the same boat.

So who’s movable? Felipe Paulino. But why would you send him down? He’s under 30, he’s loaded with potential and he was very, very good his last outing.

So really, the Astros don’t have many options. I suppose they could release Hampton if he’s not good in his next outing or two, but then what if someone else starts struggling? You’re taking away depth in a rotation that doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room.

Also, the Astros are considering using a starting pitcher to finish the suspended game, which would then put Roy and Wandy back on their regular schedule. That alone justifies utilizing a six-man rotation.

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From the Ask Alyson files:

I’m a bit confused how the continued game with the Nationals on July 9 will work. Will there be some kind of limit to the number of innings, or will they just play until there is a conclusion? If so, will the second game (the one originally scheduled for that date with the Astros as the home team) just start whenever the continued game ends, be it 7 p.m. or midnight (heaven forbid)? Will they be selling tickets to the continued game, and will they be broadcasting it as usual on FS-Houston? — Brian S.

Excellent questions. To review, the Astros and Nationals May 5 game was suspended in the 11th inning, and it will be played to its conclusion on July 9 at Minute Maid Park. The score was tied, 10-10, with the Nats batting in the bottom of the frame. Josh Willingham was at the plate with a runner on first and one out. The Nationals will be the home team.

There will be no limit to the number of innings played — they’ll play until someone wins. The second game will start no earlier than 7:05 p.m. CT but if the suspended game goes long, there will be a 30-minute break between games. If it ends quickly, the second game will start at its regular time.

A ticket to the regularly-scheduled game gets you into the suspended game. Both games will be broadcast on FS Houston and 740-AM KTRH.

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From around the cage at batting practice Monday afternoon:

Hitting coach Sean Berry talks, well, hitting, with Hunter Pence.  

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Mike Hampton and Roy Oswalt.

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Kaz Matsui stretches before he hits.

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Oswalt again.

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Hunter Pence laughs as he tells Ed Wade about his hair-cutting experience from that morning. Apparently, Pence wanted to trim the RallyHawk, but the first place he went to, the door was locked and the worker inside shook her head and said, “we’re closed.”

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Wesley Wright and Brian Moehler have a pre-batting practice chat.

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Backe active Friday, role undetermined.

Brandon Backe is officially an active player after being reinstated from the DL after Wednesday’s loss in Cincinnati. Backe, for now, will be available out of the bullpen. That’s not to say that he will spend the rest of the season as a reliever, but there appears to be no room for him in a weekend rotation that will consist of Brian Moehler [Friday], Wandy Rodriguez [Saturday] and Mike Hampton [Sunday].

As to whether Backe will be a middle reliever or long reliever, manager Cecil Cooper wouldn’t say.

“He’ll be activated on Friday,” Cooper said earlier Wednesday. “That’s all I can tell you.”

Backe was happy about that part, but he’s a bit perplexed as to why no one seems to know where he fits on this pitching staff. If he’s going to be a reliever, he can’t help but wonder why he spent the last month starting in the Minor Leagues.

“If that’s the case, in return, I’ve got to ask why I went off and made six starts,” he said. “I’m not here to question anybody’s authority. I’m here just to put a jersey on every day and give my best between the lines. Wherever it is, bullpen, starter, it doesn’t matter. My teammates know that more than anything.”

Backe vowed to concentrate on nothing but retiring hitters, in whatever role he’s assigned. If he does know what his job will be, he’s playing it close to the vest for now.

“I’m going to go out there regardless with the same mental focus on getting outs and helping our team win,” he said. “That’s the main objective of us as baseball players. It doesn’t matter where we are and when we get in. Roger Clemens proved it to us in the playoffs [in 2005] when he offered to come out of the bullpen and pitch three innings. He’s a savior. That turned
out pretty good for us.”

After confirming Backe’s pending activation, Cooper also made it clear Felipe Paulino’s outing against the Reds Wednesday was not an audition. Paulino will make at least one more start after this one.

“And I’m not saying he’s not going to get some after that,” Cooper said.

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Spent my time in the clubhouse before the game Wednesday afternoon trying to figure out exactly what the exchange was between Roy Oswalt and Cooper last night after the fifth inning. It appears the communication between Oswalt and the coaching staff went through pitching coach Dewey Robinson. Oswalt, hurting after fielding a Joey Votto ground ball with his pitching hand, threw a handful of pitching in the tunnel to make sure everything was OK.

Oswalt told Robinson he wanted to back out for the sixth, which he did. Obviously, it didn’t go well. Oswalt was numb in the bottom part of his index and middle fingers and could not get a feel for his pitches when he tried to get through his last inning.

Cooper said after the game that he did not know what was wrong with Oswalt. I do not believe that to be true. He knew, but for reasons not spoken publicly, he did not want to talk about it. And that’s where we are.

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Geoff Geary threw approximately 40 pitches off the mound Wednesday and felt no pain. “The ball’s coming out of my hand the way it should,” he said. It’s got life the way it’s supposed to have.”

Geary plans to throw to hitters, simulated-style, in Pittsburgh Friday, weather-permitting. He’d also like to make one rehab appearance after that.

“I’d like to throw against hitters in a game that doesn’t matter, just for mind over matter,” he said. “I could throw 90, 100 percent like I did today and then go into a game and all of a sudden have some weird feeling in my arm. I want to just clear everything up.” 

Odds and ends, news and notes

Jason Smith, recently designated for assignment, cleared waivers and accepted his assignment to Triple-A Round Rock.

Miguel Tejada has been named National League Player of the Week after hitting .522 over six games last week.

Still no word on when or where Brandon Backe will make his first appearance of the season, or if it will be as a starter or reliever.

Kazuo Matsui was omitted from the lineup Tuesday with a little soreness in  his right hamstring, according manager Cecil Cooper. Matsui could sit out Wednesday as well, but that might depend on Geoff Blum’s condition. Blum missed a second game with a sore left hamstring, and he could be out until the Pirates series. That could leave the Astros short too many backup infielders, which may necessitate a roster move.

Pudge Rodriguez was back in the lineup Tuesday, as the catcher promised. Rodriguez was removed in the first inning Monday after twisting his knee during a play at the plate.

A grand jury will not seek an indictment of Brandon Backe after hearing testimony from the pitcher two weeks ago. Charges stemming from an incident with Galveston police last October have been dropped. Said Backe: “I was very confident about being innocent. But you never know in those situations. It’s my word against the police. It’s a scary thought. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who have been in my situation who were found guilty, and that’s just not justice.”

Hampton day to day, what to do with Backe, and, most importantly, remembering Arnie.

Mike Hampton is tentatively scheduled to start on Sunday when the Astros wrap up their series with the Rangers, but as of Wednesday, the lefty’s status is day-to-day. Basically, this means that either the cut on his thumb will be healed by Sunday, in which case he’ll pitch, or it’ll still be an open wound, in which case he won’t.

“We think he’ll be fine,” manager Cecil Cooper said. “If not, we’ll have to figure out a way to give him a day or something, if he needs it. If there are issues, we might skip him. We’ll have to see.”

Hampton apparently cut his thumb on a soap dispenser while showering in the clubhouse at Wrigley Field on Sunday. I have to admit, it sounds a little strange to me. How does a soap dispenser have something that sharp enough on it that it would cut someone?

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Brandon Backe will make his seventh and final rehab outing on Saturday in Round Rock, but he won’t be reinstated from the DL right away. He can’t make any more rehab starts beyond next Tuesday, per the 30-day rule for pitchers, but that does not mean the Astros have to make an immediate roster move.

Instead, Backe will throw his normal between-start bullpen session and, assuming the team intends to put him on their 25-man roster, a move would be made just prior to Backe’s joining the rotation.

There is no target date for when Backe may appear for the first time in a big league game this season.

“We’ve talked preliminaries, but we haven’t nailed it down,” general manager Ed Wade said. “We’ll have to see how he progresses, how other guys progress and try to figure it out when we have to.”

Presumably, Backe would bump Felipe Paulino from the rotation, considering Paulino is the only starter who has options remaining on his contract and can go back to Round Rock without penalty. Nothing has been decided, however.

“It’s a nice problem to have,” Wade said. “It’s always better to have more than not enough. We tend to be able to figure those kinds of things out and unfortunately, as if often the case, those things figure themselves out. All we want to do is hope Brandon gets through that start on Saturday in good shape and pitches the way he pitched in his previous rehab outings.”

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Sad, sad news about a Minute Maid Park institution, Arnie Murphy, better known as “The Peanut Dude.” Arnie passed away after undergoing a stem cell procedure to aid his ailing heart.

Arnie was a member of the Astros and Aramark family for over 15 years and through the years, in addition to displaying some of the best peanut-tossing moves in the business, he had dedicated himself to bringing comfort to the many young children of the Sunshine Kids — a support group for kids with cancer and their families.

Every night, Arnie would pose with a Sunshine Kid in front of the press box, and the image would be shown on the giant JumboTron for the entire stadium’s viewing. It was a small gesture, but not to the featured youngster. Arnie always had a smile and a kind word, and the ballpark just won’t be the same without him.

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Sampson tweaks his back. Backe has one more start.

Manager Cecil Cooper was leaning toward giving Chris Sampson a night off Tuesday in an effort to give him two full days following a “stressful” outing in Chicago over the weekend. But after tweaking his back while playing with his son on the offday, Sampson may have no choice but to sit out the opener with the Brewers.

Sampson was sitting on the floor at his home and while playfully grabbing his two-year-old son, C.J., he felt a pain in his back.

“I went to grab [C.J.] while he was running by, and I kind of tweaked my lower back,” Sampson said an hour before Tuesday’s game. “It’s loosening up a little bit. I’m just going to treat it all day today and keep some heat on it, see if it won’t loosen up enough to possibly pitch tonight. If not tonight, then should be ready to go tomorrow. It’s not serious.

The back issue has nothing to do with the hip problem he experienced a couple of weeks ago.

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Brandon Backe is scheduled to complete what could possibly be the longest rehab assignment in history when he takes the mound for a seventh time in a Minor League game on Saturday. For Double-A Corpus Monday, Backe threw eight shutout innings,
allowing five hits and one walk while striking out five. He threw 98 pitches, 74 for strikes.

If he’s deemed ready to rejoin the team next week, the Astros will have some decisions to make. Does Backe go into the rotation, and if he does, who leaves? Felipe Paulino? And if that is the case, does Paulino go to the Minor Leagues, or does he rejoin the bullpen?

“I’m sure we’ll have discussions what to do,” Cooper said. “It’s a good problem to have.”

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Paulino proves me wrong. Astros on the mend.

I’ll be honest — I wasn’t expecting much from Felipe Paulino on Sunday. He was wholly unimpressive while auditioning for the fifth starter job during Spring Training, and while his first two starts for Round Rock were terrific, success at Triple-A doesn’t necessarily translate into success in the big leagues.

Paulino opened the game by allowing a base hit to Willy Taveras, and he hit the next batter, Chris Dickerson. But from there, Paulino was clearly in control. I have no idea what they’ll do with him once Brian Moehler is ready to come off the disabled list, but clearly, Paulino earned the chance to make another start. Moehler is probably going to make a few Minor League starts before rejoining the rotation, so that will give Paulino more opportunities to prove Sunday’s outing wasn’t a one-hit wonder.

With Brandon Backe on the mend and Paulino knocking on the door, it appears the Astros might actually have a little pitching depth. I’m still not convinced Backe can be an effective full-season starting pitcher, but he’s piqued my interest. We’ll see.

Kaz Matsui should be ready to return to his position Monday and look for Jeff Keppinger to play during the Dodgers series. The Astros are facing three lefties — including former Astro Randy Wolf — and the Astros are going to need Keppinger’s bat, and his stellar average against lefties, in that series.

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