Results tagged ‘ Carlos Lee ’

Baserunning 101: practicing the walkoff homer.

Third base coach Dave Clark is as nice and pleasant of a fellow that you’ll meet, which makes it even more entertaining to watch him when he’s in full-blown coaching mode during Spring Training.

Clark, who in his former life was first a Golden Gloves boxer and then a big league outfielder, has a little drill sergeant in him as he oversees certain areas of morning workouts. Whether it’s pitchers practicing sliding or position players running the bases, there’s never any confusion when “Clarkie” relays what he wants to see during this or that particular exercise.

Baserunning drills might not seem terribly exciting this time of year, but they are when you considering the different scenarios they practice: base hits that are bobbled by the opposing outfielders, doubles to the gaps, triples, scoring on a sacrifice fly and on.

Clark barks out the scenario, and the players fall in line on the basepaths, adhering to the orders. At the end of one particular session that I watched (and recorded), Clark had some fun at the end, telling the players to practice the “walkoff homer” trot:

Notes from camp:
Just as soon as Brad Mills announced who will start Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener on Saturday, he announced a scratch. Carlos Lee will not play, due to a mild right hamstring strain that he’s been fighting for a few days. Instead, Brett Wallace will start at first base.

Lee went through quite a few sprinting drills with head athletic trainer Nate Lucero toward the end of Friday’s workout, so I would venture to guess the hammy strain indeed is not terribly serious. Teams will err on the side of caution this time of year.

The other starters for Saturday’s game are as follows (order to be announced later): Livan Hernandez P; Jason Castro C; Jose Altuve 2b; Chris Johnson, 3b;  Jed Lowrie SS; J.B. Shuck LF; Jason Bourgeois CF; Travis Buck RF; Jack Cust, DH.

(Most National League teams will utilize the DH until the middle of the month. Pitchers usually don’t start hitting in games until the final 10 days to two weeks of exhibition games.)

Photo gallery:

Chris Johnson, Brian Bogusevic

First base prospect Jonathan Singleton (acquired in Pence trade with Phillies).

Jed Lowrie, Matt Downs

Jose Altuve

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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.

Wednesday roundup: running, running and more running.

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Wednesday’s workouts were slightly shorter than normal because the pitchers, who have been either throwing bullpens or live batting practice every day, were given a day of rest. Instead, manager Brad Mills went heavy on the conditioning drills at the end of the session, which mixed up the routine a little bit and kept things interesting.

I’ll say this about Carlos Lee: he provides plenty of comic relief during these workouts. The conditioning drills were pretty rigorous on Wednesday and involved a lot more than simply jogging from point A to point B. In the middle of outfield sprints, Carlos dropped to the ground, laid on his back, legs and arms spread, and feigned passing out. I think I heard him yell “Trainer!” more than once. The best part was watching everyone ignore him, followed by his teammates simply jumping over him as they finished their sprints. Funny stuff.

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Pitchers will resume throwing live BP on Thursday, and the Astros will play an Intrasquad game Sunday on Field 1 at 11 a.m. The game will be open to the public.

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Quotable:

Mills, on if the rotation order is set:

“No, no, not at all yet. We come up and read in the paper some clubs are already announcing their rotation for the season. This is just our club I’m talking about, but if we start to make those plans now, we don’t know what’s going to happen as far as injuries, how guys throw the ball, how guys do things.

“We’re going to utilize this time to the best of our ability to kind of let guys get in shape and do the things they need to do to be ready. There’s enough first time through that we can kind of map things through later.”

Infielder Bill Hall (who arrived to camp Wednesday after the birth of his daughter Sydni):

“As expected, I’ve been anticipating this for a long time. Once that new year turns over, everybody starts thinking baseball. Watching Baseball Network for the past month and a half, I’ve been mentally ready with anticipation. I’m excited. Obviously, being around a group of guys with so much talent, a lot of youth. I kind of had this kind clubhouse in Milwaukee, so I feel like I’ll fit in just fine. And I’m excited about what this team can do.”

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Throughout the spring season, we’ll be posting one-on-one, getting-to-know you interviews (hosted by yours truly) on Astros.com. Our first one, with third baseman Chris Johnson, is up and running, and you can find it here.

Next up: Bud Norris.

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Today’s photo gallery:

Bunting practice: Jason Bourgeois…

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…and Michael Bourn…

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…and J.B. Shuck.

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Chris Johnson, all smiles while warming up.

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Bill Hall

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J.A. Happ, Brett Myers

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Jason Michaels, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee during batting practice.

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Pence and Lee in the cages earlier in the morning.

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Ed Wade, Brad Mills

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Day One of Winter Meetings: gathering the troops, sizing up the market, and catching up with Brad Mills.

Ed Wade gathered his staff of about 15 in his suite at 2 p.m. ET on Monday to go over the very basic items every GM discusses this time of year: club needs, free agents that might be a fit, and teams that might work well as a potential trade partner.

A dry erase board sits in the middle of the room, with lists: of teams, of players that might interest them, of Astros players that might be considered trade bait. You’d be surprised how many names float out there. One thing I learned 10 years ago when I sat in on one of Gerry Hunsicker’s meetings with his scouts: few, if any, players on the roster get through the week without being mentioned at least once.

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(Dry erase board in Ed’s suite – the safe-for-public-consumption model)

The Winter Meetings are certainly a time to wheel and deal, but it’s also a time for evaluation and exploration. It also should be noted that 95 percent — and sometimes 99 or 100 percent — of things discussed never come to fruition. It’s how the business of baseball works. When you narrow the field down to two categories: a) free agents you can afford and b) teams that have someone you want, and you in turn have someone they want, well, it should come as no surprise that most of the time, nothing happens.

Obviously, I can’t get into specifics as to who and what was discussed during Wade’s meeting with his staff. But one thing did stand out to me: the Astros truly do not know who will get the majority of the playing time at first base in 2011. They hope Brett Wallace flat-out wins the job during Spring Training, but they also realize Carlos Lee may end up over there for much of the season. It will probably be the most interesting story line when we get to Kissimmee in February.

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Each member of Wade’s staff is assigned a few teams, with the directive to communicate with those front offices to see if there is a match. Most of that information-gathering takes place in the hotel lobby, where they talk with their counterparts, feel out the situation and bring back to the suite for more discussions with Wade.

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Although they garner the most attention, trades and free agent signings are not the only activities at the Winter Meetings. Athletic trainers from all 30 clubs gather for their own meetings, as do public relations staffs and traveling secretaries. Every manager also attends the Winter Meetings and meets with the media for 30 minute sessions, scattered over the first two days.

Brad Mills, walking well after undergoing knee replacement surgery in early November (and becoming a grandfather for the second time), met with reporters in the middle of the afternoon on Monday. It’s not that we need a reminder of how respected he is in baseball, but walking through the hotel with him was sort of like walking with a rock star. He was stopped every five minutes by managers, GMs, reporters…all wanting to shake his hand, wish him well, and most significantly, congratulate him on the Astros’ second-half turnaround in 2010. Even though Mills was a “rookie” manager this year, events like the Winter Meetings serve as a nice reminder that he’s been around the game a long, long time — three decades, in fact.

Here are some tidbits from his back-and-forth with reporters:

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Q. How do you view the first base situation between Carlos and Brett?  Seems like it’s Brett’s job but Carlos will be there in the ready if he can’t do it.

MILLS:  Yeah, that’s probably a pretty good way to say it, but at the same time, here in December, to say that this guy is going to be at this position and this guy is going to be at that position, where we might have a few question marks, might be a little bit difficult.  And whether we are going to say, Carlos is going to play first base or Brett is going to play base or whatever; let’s let these guys go play a little bit, and let’s continue to work both places for Carlos and Brett to be ready.

Q. What do you think the biggest challenge will be for (Jason) Castro?  Probably be your Opening Day catcher, but he struggled offensively last year.  What would you like to see him doing to stay in the lineup?

MILLS:  I mentioned Brett Wallace, the at bats he was able to get and I think they were crucial, and the same thing with Jason, the at bats that he was able to get last year can do nothing but help him moving forward to get better. He knows he has to make some adjustments.  He worked on making some adjustments last year. Some adjustments worked. Some didn’t. And so that experience moving forward are going to be a situation to where now he has something to fall back and some reference as well.

(Mills also said Jordan Lyles will be in the mix for the fifth starter job, but he’ll have to win it outright. They like his demeanor and makeup and they want to see how he fares against Major League hitters during Spring Training.)

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Brian McTaggart has the full rundown of the first day of the Winter Meetings here. The story also includes video from Mills’ visit with MLB Network. 

And enjoy the rest of the images…

Across the room from Mills, World Series champ Giants manager Bruce Bochy conducted his media session. Understandably, Bochy is a popular interview target this week.  

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Mills on the set with the MLB Network crew.

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Kevin Millar, now a member of the MLB Network staff, and Mills were together with the Red Sox when Boston won the World Series in 2004. So this interview was also a reunion of sorts.

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The media workroom includes a stage and a seating area in case teams have major announcements to make. Here we have the Padres announcing the Adrian Gonzalez trade.

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GMs meet with the media at the end of each business day of the Winter Meetings. Here Wade sits with the mighty Houston media contingent (Zachary Levine and Brian McTaggart).

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Totally unrelated, but other than the one by Rockefeller Center, this is the largest Christmas tree I’ve ever seen. It’s located in the lobby of the Dophin Hotel at the Walt Disney Resort.

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Aluminum bats, Minor League MVPs, and…Bagwell takes BP?

It’s never fun to be one of the many teams NOT headed for the playoffs the final weekend of the regular season, but still, those final moments of a 162-game grind when you know the season is coming to an end can be highly entertaining. While it’s still business as usual in terms of preparing for the game, it is also not uncommon for oddities to pop up here and there in the hours leading up to gametime.

Take “early BP” for example. Normally, early BP involves some of the younger hitters who might not be getting enough at-bats or veteran players who are struggling. On Saturday, a few folks took early BP, including…hitting coach Jeff Bagwell and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg.

Arnsberg had been out early with his son, Kyle, a sophomore at the Arizona State University. Kyle was hitting with the college-issued aluminum bat, and pretty soon, so was Pops. Bagwell took a few swings, too (but I think he might have used a wooden bat).

That wasn’t the end of the aluminum bat cameo. It reappeared a few minutes later when the veteran hitters took BP, and while we all know why Major League players don’t use aluminum bats, Saturday’s session provided a nice reminder.

Hunter Pence hit the light fixture that extends a couple hundred feet above the facade in left center. Carlos Lee came thiiiiiiiiiis close to hitting Drayton McLane’s office window on the fifth floor of Union Station. A couple of balls left the ballpark completely.

It’s been a long year, and while everyone’s experiencing some level of fatigue, it was nice to see the players having a little fun as the season winds down.

We captured images of a lot of laughs, and who can’t use a few chuckles after 160 games (194, if you count Spring Training)?

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Geoff Blum.

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Jason Michaels was the first to hit with the aluminum bat.

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This is Michaels pointing to Union Station and making sure Carlos realized how close he was to actually hitting Drayton’s window. JMike swears he saw Drayton watching from his office.

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Pence takes some aluminum hacks…

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And tips his cap to…well, no one, since it was before gates open. But he was proud of hitting the light fixture.

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Humberto Quintero wasn’t part of the aluminum hitting group, but he’s always good for a pregame laugh or too anyway. 

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The pregame ceremony on Saturday was dedicated to the best and brightest of the Astros’ Minor League system: Pitcher of the Year Jordan Lyles, Player of the Year J.D. Martinez and Player Development Man of the Year, Gulf Coast League manager Omar Lopez. The three also enjoyed an up-close view of batting practice, although they looked slightly out of place being so well-dressed among a bunch of polyester-clad ballplayers. Enjoy the sights.

Lyles and Martinez are greeted at the cage by Bagwell and Co.  

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Are the Astros a better team when Carlos Lee plays first base?

During Brad Mills’ daily session with the media on Tuesday, the skipper revealed that he and Ed Wade had talked extensively last winter about moving Carlos Lee to first base and Lance Berkman to left field.

Berkman had volunteered to do so if management felt that would give them the best chance to win, and although they ultimately decided against pulling the switch-a-roo, it does raise an interesting question about what the Astros might have in mind for 2011.

Lee has played a lot at first base lately, more than Brett Wallace, and you have to assume that Lee, at this point, has the edge on Wallace as to who might be playing over there come Opening Day next year.

This isn’t so much about Wallace’s performance so far as it’s about the team putting Lee at a position that best helps the ballclub. And I think it’s pretty obvious that Lee is much better at first base than we thought he’d be, and he’s also a much better first baseman than he is a left fielder.

You also have to wonder if playing first base has helped Lee at the plate. Is playing a position where he is involved in nearly every play, which in turn requires non-stop concentration, helping him focus better at the plate? There seems to be long stretches of nothingness while standing in the outfield, and I can see where it would be easy to become distracted or let your mind wander. Maybe the concentration that’s there when Carlos plays first base lingers when he is hitting. It could be the best explanation as to why his bat has come to life after hitting around .240 for the better part of four months.

So if Carlos plays first base next year, where does that leave Wallace? More than likely, it would leave him in Oklahoma City, which on Wednesday will be formally introduced as the Astros’ new Triple-A affiliate.

Wallace is a young player with options on his contract, which means the Astros can send him to the Minor Leagues without penalty. And when you’re a young player, sometimes the numbers game — not statistical numbers, but rather, the numbers that total what a team is paying a veteran player — trumps productivity, or potential for productivity, on the field.

Wallace playing first base at Triple-A gives the Astros depth at the first base position — a plus for the club. It’s probably not what Wallace wants to hear, and we’re getting way, way ahead of ourselves by even trying to look seven months down the road. But it’s an interesting discussion nonetheless.

The other question is, if Carlos plays first, who plays left field? I went back and forth on this topic with a lot of you over Twitter, and many of you suggested Brian Bogusevic. My response? I am all for taking a look at him out there, but I have not seen him play enough to make a concrete judgment on how he’ll perform if he plays, say, 150 games out there. That would be one of the many questions the front office and field staff would have to answer between now and Opening Day next year.

Some suggested Jason Michaels be given a chance to start, but I do not believe that is the answer. It’s easy to look at the nice year Michaels is having and assume he should be an every day player. But I believe Michaels is perfectly suited for what he’s doing right now — starting once or twice a week to stay fresh, and coming off the bench as a late-game pinch-hitter in RBI situations. That’s what he’s here for, and it’s what he does well.

The Astros will have some money to spend — how much is to be determined — and could pursue a free agent outfielder. Or they could take a look at Jason Bourgeois or other outfielders currently in the system. First and foremost, they must decide where they want Lee to play. I still think Wallace is the long-term solution at first base, but there’s nothing that says that long term has to begin in 2011.

If you were a decision-maker, what would you do?

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The Astros made their annual trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center Tuesday morning, and by my count, they batted 1.000 in attendance. The entire team (which, you’ve probably noticed, is pretty expansive this time of year), the coaching staff and the athletic training staff were accounted for, as were Wade, Dave Gottfried and the Grand Poobah himself, owner Drayton McLane.

That there were not as many wounded soldiers to meet this time was a blessing, of course. Those who were there rehabbing were gracious with their time when the Astros approached, and as usual, in terms of lifting spirits, the players left feeling they got more out of the visit than the soldiers.

“They tell you they wish they could go back (to the Middle East),” Mills said. “Because they’re soldiers, and that’s what they do. There’s a sense of gratitude for that.”

We were asked not to take pictures or film video inside the medical center, but I did manage to capture a few images with my iphone before we went in…

Bagwell, McLane (I was fighing the sun on this one)
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And finally, here are some images from batting practice at the Nationals’ (really impressive, fan-friendly) ballpark:

Press box view:  

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Michael Bourn, who will be out at least a couple more days with a strained oblique, hangs out at the cage with hitting coach Jeff Bagwell and tries not to lose his mind with boredom. Not playing appears to be not sitting well with the speedy center fielder.

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Jason Castro

 

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Hunter Pence

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Brett Wallace

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Lots of Astros fans in the stands for the first two games. Here’s a shot of one particularly interesting fan we met Tuesday.

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Jim Deshaies found him interesting, too. I think JD made a ZZ Top reference during the exchange.

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Random thoughts on the Astros as we near the finish line.

The Astros have their eyes fixated firmly on finishing the season at the .500 mark, a goal that seemed impossible just two months ago when they were in danger of being the first team in club history to lose 100 games.

It would be great to finish at .500, of course, but even if they fall short, they can be proud of a 79 or 80 win season, too, because it will still symbolize how far they’ve come in a very short amount of time.

About halfway through this season, I remember feeling a little panicked — not because of where they were headed in 2010 (we all sensed this could be a somewhat lean year) — but because of what it meant for ’11. I recall talking with some Astros fans after an Astroline show during the offseason and telling them 2011 looks pretty good. I figured with the core of hitters in the middle of the order, coupled with some young pitching coming through the system, next year could be, at the very least, interesting.

Then came the struggles — by Lance Berkman, by Carlos Lee, and at times, by Hunter Pence — and I said, “Uh oh.” The blueprint for ’11, at the time, was predicated on these three being what they had always been. Problem was, Berkman and Lee were hitting some 50 points below their career averages and showed no signs of pulling out of it. The offensive talent coming through the system is not as strong as the pitching, and I feared the club could find itself in a helpless situation as it put together the team for 2011.

Times have changed dramatically. Chris Johnson has had a fantastic rookie season, answered every challenge as he was moved from seventh to sixth to fifth in the order, and appears to be primed for a full season next year as the starting third baseman. Lee has performed better at first base than I think anyone expected, and he seems to even hit better during games when he’s playing over there. Brett Wallace, while still working to put it all together, has shown great potential as a hitter and is also a lot more defensively savvy than had been indicated when he was traded here.

Michael Bourn has had his share of struggles offensively but has also had long stretches of extreme productivity, and he has to be considered one of the top center fielders in the league. Pence has been red-hot in the second half, and Jeff Keppinger is the perfect No. 2 hitter — rarely strikes out, makes contact and keeps things moving.

The overall lack of power still concerns me and I do worry about Lee’s ability to spread his production over a full season, considering how much he struggled for the better part of four months. A lot will have to go right next year, which is the case every year. But a strong pitching staff and a reshaped lineup tells me the Astros could be in for some interesting times next year.

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What I really like about this team is not only the infusion of youth, but also that these guys are going through these early stages of their careers together. A lot of the players with the Astros now went through the Minor Leagues together and having each other to lean on now, at this level, is a very good thing.

I recall in 2004 writing a feature on the Astros playoff team and noting that around 70 percent of the Opening Day starting lineup had either been drafted and developed by the Astros (Ensberg, Biggio, Berkman, Oswalt, etc.) or had come from outside of the organization but had never played a Major League game for anyone but the Astros (Everett, Bagwell). Drafting and developing your own talent is the lifeline of every organization, but it also creates a closeness and camaraderie that makes a team a cohesive, unselfish group moving forward.

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Heading to the offseason, there are a few things to keep in mind as we watch the front office put together next year’s team. The question I get more than any other is if the Astros are going to make any splashy trades for veteran players or sign any big free agents. Please keep in mind that trading for veteran talent requires giving up Minor League players, and the only players other teams are interested in are the absolute top prospects and no one else. That’s one of the biggest misconceptions — that the Astros could trade for a big impact player in exchange for a bunch of players not considered “prospects.” Please keep in mind it’s not about quantity when you make a trade, it’s about quality. And the Astros, for all of the work they’ve done in reshaping the farm system, are still in no position to get rid of top talent. When a team has a surplus of top prospects, they can use some of those players as trade chips. The Astros aren’t there yet, and when it comes to dangling the Jordan Lyles of the world this winter, it’s in the best interests of this club to just say no.

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On the Minor League front, the Astros are hoping Oklahoma City picks them to be the parent club of their Triple-A team in 2011. Two teams that are in search of a new home are eyeing Oklahoma City — the Astros and the Blue Jays. A decision is expected in the not-so-distant future.

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The Astros were one of several teams who watched Barret Loux, Arizona’s former No. 1 draft pick, throw an extended bullpen session at Texas A&M recently. You can read the details in McTaggart’s notebook here.

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We’re all geared up for our second Social Media event, which will take place Sunday in the Budweiser Patio. You can read the details and purchase tickets by clicking here, but I wanted to show some of the items we’re giving away during our Twitter trivia contest (in addition to the baseballs signed by Johnson, who will be out there from noon to 12:15 to hand them out).

Signed Biggio bronze bust (that’s him in the background, after I hit him up for the autograph)

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Bourn signed bobblehead

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Throwback cap, signed by Biggio and Jeff Bagwell.

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Pence signed bobblehead

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I get a lot of questions from fans about former players, about where they are now, and what they’re doing these days. For the most part, I have to Google their names, and if they’re not in baseball, I have no idea what they’re doing now. But no one elicits more “where are they now” inquiries than popular former second baseman Bill Doran. Turns out, Doran is working in the Reds’ organization as their Assistant Field Coordinator of Instruction and he’s with the Major League club during this trip to Houston.

Here’s a picture of him taken Friday during batting practice, talking with another popular former second baseman. (Sorry it’s a bit blurry. I need a new camera.)

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And finally…from the photo vault:

I stumbled upon this funny picture, taken during one of our annual offseason caravan trips to Temple (I think this was 2008). Pence and Chris Sampson always knew how to ham it up for the camera.

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Early returns on Happ? A-plus.

When the Astros were in Philadelphia on the last road trip, I learned from a local reporter that when the big trade went down — the one that sent Roy Oswalt to Philly in exchange for J.A. Happ and others — the Phillies players didn’t want to talk about it with the media.

The players were upset to lose Happ, and they were wary of sounding like it was a slam on Oswalt. It wasn’t. They were happy to have him on their team, but they were saddened to lose Happ, a pitcher whom most of his former teammates saw as a future top-of-the-rotation mainstay. They knew what they were losing. One month later, it’s becoming clear that Philly’s loss was Houston’s gain. In a big way.

Happ isn’t going to overpower hitters, but clearly, he knows how to confuse them. Other than one abysmal start in St. Louis — his second start as an Astro — Happ has been, for lack of a better term, nails. He tossed a two-hit shutout against the same St. Louis club on Monday, lowering his ERA at Minute Maid Park to 0.84. He’s the only pitcher in stadium history to make at least five starts without recording a loss, and his ERA this season is 2.89.

Happ is 27 and under club control through 2014. He’ll begin his arbitration years in 2012. In other words, the Astros have him for a long time, and when you’re in the process of revamping your organization, it’s essential to reload with young pitchers who will be around for a while. The starting rotation has posted a 2.27 ERA over the last 21 games, and Happ has been a big part of it.

A lot will have to go right in order for the Astros to a force in the NL Central next year, but when you have a strong starting staff, you have a chance. The Astros, at the very least, have that.

Other notes from the win:

Carlos Lee picked up an RBI Monday, giving him 29 RBI in his last 30 games since July 28. Since that date, Lee leads all Major Leaguers in RBIs immediately ahead of Carlos Gonzalez (28) and Casey McGehee (28).

Michael Bourn extended his hitting streak to nine games by going 1-for-4. The streak dates back to Aug. 22, during which he’s hit .368 with five stolen bases and three RBIs.

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Calling all heroes

The Astros are honoring all local police forces, fire stations and EMS teams as well as those serving in the United States Armed Forces during 9/11 Heroes Night at Minute Maid Park prior to the Astros vs. Pirates game.

The Astros are also offering a special discount to all local heroes and their guests. Fans can visit www.astros.com/heroes to take advantage of this offer.

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29-95.com night

Join the Astros for 29-95.com Night at Minute Maid Park on Friday, September 17. For just $29.95, you can score a package that includes a seat on the FiveSeven Patio to watch the Astros take on the Reds, a slider trio (burger, chicken and pulled pork), french fries and your choice of beverage.

After the game, you can enjoy live music from Robert Ellis and The Boys in the FiveSeven Grille. Plus, each 29-95.com member will receive an Astros cap and $3.75 draft beer and margarita specials.

Tickets and food and beverage vouchers will be mailed upon receipt of purchase on or before Friday, Sept. 10. Packages purchased after Sept. 10 can be picked up at the Minute Maid Park Box Office, located along Texas Avenue, on Sept. 17. Box Office will open at 9:00 a.m.

Click here to order tickets: http://houston.astros.mlb.com/hou/ticketing/2995.jsp

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It’s always nice when Craig Biggio drops by the ballpark, but it’s especially appreciated by your friendly neighborhood blogger, for photo opp purposes. Enjoy the sights:

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Bagwell and Biggio together always creates a bit of a stir.

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Bourn

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Chris Johnson

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Jason Michaels, Geoff Blum

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Carlos Lee

 

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Hunter Pence

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Learning on the job requires hard work from players and patience from us.

The Astros took on a dramatic new look after they peppered the field with rookies following the trade deadline, and when they started winning a few games as the calendar flipped to August, the Astros — though not contenders — became interesting to watch again.

But young players require patience, and as you can see, waiting out the growing pains can be a frustrating and arduous process.

Rookies are fast, enthusiastic and full of energy. They also can, at times, look lost at the plate, confused on the basepaths and overmatched at their positions defensively. It’s tough to watch, sure. But it’s part of the process. One great game might be followed by two bad ones. The remainder of this season is about learning on the job, and some of the blunders and mental errors that so frustrate the average fan will serve as great teaching tools for manager Brad Mills and his coaching staff.

Mills was a little more agitated than normal after the Astros dropped the opener in Florida on Friday. The final score — 9-0 — suggests this game was a blowout, but for six innings, it wasn’t, and Mills saw many key plays that, had they been properly executed, could have resulted in a much different outcome.

Instead, all the Astros mounted was a pile of missed opportunities, and Mills spent a portion of the pregame period on Saturday talking with various players about how things could have been done differently.

For example: Jason Castro was on second with one out in the sixth inning, and it was J.A. Happ’s job to bunt him over. The only problem was Happ’s bunt rolled toward first base, and Castro was out on a 3-5 fielder’s choice. The bunt should have been toward third.

In the second inning, Brett Wallace’s task was to simply make contact, which would advance Chris Johnson, who had doubled with one out in the inning. Instead, Wallace struck out.

Mills doesn’t use these teaching opportunities to point fingers. This isn’t about calling someone out or needlessly embarrassing a player. But if there are missed chances — missing the cutoff man, throwing to the wrong base, etc. — that are preventing the Astros from getting over that proverbial hump, it’s Mills’ job to address it, talk about it, and plan for a different outcome next time.

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Here and there:

Brian Moehler, in his second attempt to return to the field after a lengthy groin injury, is scheduled to fly to Houston on Sunday and throw a bullpen session on Monday. If that goes well, he will begin a rehab assignment with Round Rock on Tuesday. He’ll have a 60-pitch limit in that start.He’ll then rejoin the Astros in Philadelphia on Thursday and throw another bullpen session in anticipation of a start for the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks on Sunday in San Antonio.

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Congratulations to Mills and his wife, Ronda, who celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary on Saturday. We were wondering how Mills, who went into coaching and managing almost as soon as his playing career ended and has been working in baseball for more than 30 years, could have possibly found time to get married in the middle of a season. Most baseball weddings occur in November.

Turns out, Mills got married before the baseball career started — he and Ronda wed right before his senior year of college at the University of Arizona.

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Life can be pretty routine for those running the home and visiting clubhouses at big league ballparks, but the Marlins’ visiting clubhouse staff has found a way to keep things interesting as teams roll in and out of Sun Life Stadium throughout the season.

Hanging on the wall near the entrance are five pictures of the visiting team — “action” shots they take the first day the team is in town, which are then hung up the next day.

I found some of the Astros’ shots mildly amusing, like this one of Wandy Rodriguez and Anderson Hernandez (I guess it was a good thing Wandy wasn’t pitching this game).

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If you’re familiar with Rex Jones, the mustachioed half of the intrepid Astros’ athletic training staff, then you’ll probably like this extreme close up:

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Postgame notes from the Astros’ 6-3 loss to the Marlins Saturday night;

Johnson is hitting .319 in August and .361 against right-handed pitching this month.

Rodriguez tied his season high with 10 strikeouts. It was his sixth career 10-plus strikeout game.

Astros starting pitchers have posted a 2.54 ERA over the last 12 games.

The loss was the Astros 11th in their last 12 games played at the Marlins’ ballpark. They haven’t won a series here since May 9-11 in 2005.   

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And finally, we end with some candid images taken during the few afternoon hours it didn’t rain:

Geoff Blum, pointing out that former pop princess Tiffany indeed performed “I Think We’re Alone Now” (which was playing when this picture was taken) at a mall in the 1980s.  

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Michael Bourn in the cage.

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Carlos Lee grooving to aforementioned Tiffany tune.

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Blum, Mills, Bagwell

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Coach Bagwell.

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Castro, Wallace warm up.

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Bagwell’s been on the job one day, and already Berkman has a new batting stance.

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I kid, I kid.

But this image of Lance Berkman imitating Jeff Bagwell while taking batting practice on Thursday did make me laugh, for two reasons: 1) it was pretty much a spot-on imitation; and 2) It was good comic relief for me after sifting through a few dozen messages from fans who were concerned that Bagwell couldn’t possibly be a good hitting coach because all he was going to do is make everyone adopt that bizarre, unconventional squatty stance that worked for him many moons ago.

The Bagwell squat isn’t making a resurgence, thankfully, but it’s good to see the old first baseman back in uniform. Bagwell stood behind the cage on Thursday and watched batting practice, chatted with the players and pulled a few to the side for one-on-one talks. In other words, it was a pretty typical day in the life of a hitting coach, but one that drew a bit more attention considering where Bags fits into the history of this franchise.

Watch video of the Astros’ workout and Bagwell’s first day on the job here.

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A quick note on retired numbers: A former player whose number is retired but who comes back to the organization as uniformed personnel is permitted to wear his number. Jose Cruz wore No. 25 when he returned to coach, and Bagwell will wear his No. 5.

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It was a pretty lively, loose group that worked out at PNC Park on Thursday. About half the players met the team in Pittsburgh from wherever they spent their All-Star break, and everyone made it on time — except for Carlos Lee. Citing flight problems out of Panama, Lee missed the workout. Michael Bourn was also not in attendance, but that was arranged by the club. Bourn spent three days at the All-Star Game and was given Thursday off to rest.

Lee’s absence is considered “unexcused,” although the workout was not mandatory. As Chronicle beat writer Bernardo Fallas tweeted Thursday night, “GM Ed Wade said he was disappointed…Needless to say, the absence, which we’ll deem unexcused, threatens Carlos Lee’s role as starter for Fri.’s series opener vs. Bucs.”

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From the workout:

Bagwell, Pence 

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Jason Castro.

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Chris Johnson.

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Geoff Blum, Tommy Manzella.

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Hunter Pence.

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Warm-ups can often look like dancing when captured with a still camera.

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