Results tagged ‘ spring training ’

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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Random notes: TwitterTuesday, Astroline, TV games and Snooki.

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A tip of the cap goes to @mcLeod_jd, who had the only correct answer of the more than 250 guesses that poured in for #TwitterTuesday.

The question — who is Michael Bourn’s favorite actress? Answer: Sanaa Lathan.

I suppose I was in the majority in that I had never heard of Sanaa, nor had I heard of any of her movies, even after Bourn rattled them off. But that’s what I liked about this question — it had a stronger degree of difficulty than the previous two weeks, which kept the contest going for more than four or five minutes.

As a reminder, we ask a Google-free question on Twitter every Tuesday at noon CT sharp. The first to tweet the correct answer to me wins two free tickets to any game this season, with the exception of Opening Day, the Red Sox series in July and the last homestand in September.

The incorrect guesses are often more entertaining than the actual answer. For example, along with about 175 guesses that Halle Berry is Bourn’s favorite actress, I received two votes for Debra Winger and one each for Snooki, Betty White and Rudy from the Cosby Show.

A few news and notes from a relatively quiet day at the Kissimmee Complex:

* Jason Castro began physical therapy in Houston on Monday at the Methodist Rehabilitation Center. After undergoing knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and meniscus, Castro is effectively out for the year, with a small chance of a September return.

* FS Houston will air two Astros games: March 18 at the Marlins, and March 19 vs. the Cardinals. Additionally, four games will be on MLB Network: tomorrow (Wednesday) at the Mets, March 15 at Baltimore, March 27 vs. Detroit and March 30 vs. the Red Sox (at Minute Maid Park).

* Clint Barmes will be Milo Hamilton’s guest on Astroline Wednesday at the ESPN Club on the Boardwalk at Disney. The show starts at 8 ET/7 CT and can be heard on 740 KTRH and Astros.com. I’ll be asking for some questions through Twitter when the show gets closer, so if you have a question for the Astros shortstop, send it my way: http://www.twitter.com/alysonfooter

* 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. on 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.

And we end with a few early-morning batting practice images:

Enos Cabell, Carlos Lee
 
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Hunter Pence
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Brett Wallace, Matt Downs getting their bats ready for BP

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Chris Johnson (@cjastros23) is tweeting. Who’s next?

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It all started last week, when I asked fans to tweet their non-baseball questions for Chris Johnson for our weekly feature, “Focus Friday.”

One of our more loyal followers, @MissSadieK, asked of our third baseman: “Will you ever become a member of our Twitter family?” CJ said he didn’t know much about “The Twitter,” or how to set it up, but he would give a try if someone would show him how to do it.

Done. After batting practice in Viera on Monday, we got him all squared away, first with his Twitter name, @cjastros23, and next with his first tweet: “As promised I am now a member of the twitter family! Spring training game time at Nationals! Let’s get to work!”

As you’ve probably gathered from the stories and blogs you’ve read, Johnson is a lot of fun, a total hoot, and I would imagine he’ll provide a lot of entertainment (and hopefully some baseball insight too) through his tweets. He’s also a die-hard Duke fan and is very happy to have a new communication tool through which to express himself throughout tournament season.

Johnson is the third current Astro to join the Twitterverse. Hunter Pence (@HunterPence9) and Ryan Rowland-Smith (@hyphen18) are the other two. Hopefully you’ll give all three a follow.

Pence, flag football, Yogi and Cameron Diaz. Just another day at Astros Spring Training.

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It was supposed to be little more than a fun few minutes of catching passes from a Major League ballplayer, but right from the get-go, this flag football game carried with it a little something extra.

Addressing “teams” comprised of boys approximately 10-12 years old, Hunter Pence was fully engrossed in this flag football scrimmage. He huddled. Called plays. Talked strategy. If the kids were at all awestruck by being in the presence of a big leaguer, that quickly faded when the competitive juices kicked in and winning was on the line.

“It was beautiful offensive coordination,” Pence quipped, assessing his play calling. “I had a lot of great talent to work with. Those kids were amazing. I had a lot of fun. It brings me back to the old days as a kid.”

The flag football game was part of a flurry of activities Pence participated in during his visit to Disney on Friday, as part of the ESPN The Weekend festivities. Pence started in the Fun Zone, where he mingled with fans, signed autographs and, finally, choreographed  a well-organized football game.

“That was the most intense flag football scrimmage I’ve ever been a part of,” Pence said. “The kids were actually sharp, paying attention, making great plays. That’s what this is all about — hanging with the young guys.”

Pence also sat on a panel of baseball players and experts during a special presentation of “Baseball Tonight,” staged in front of a live audience. The entire BBTN crew was there — Karl Ravech, Tim Kurkjian, Bobby Valentine, John Kruk and Nomar Garciaparra, in addition to Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista and Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee.

ESPN Deportes held a similar panel discussion on Saturday, with participating from Carlos Lee as well as retired Yankee Bernie Williams.

A full video of Friday’s activities can be found here. Here are some photos for further illustration…

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Backstage at Baseball Tonight…Pence, Bautista, Lee

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And on stage.

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As I watched Cameron Diaz make her way to the front row of seats near the visitors dugout during the Astros-Yankees game on Sunday, I couldn’t help but wonder if she enjoyed that snail-like crawl down Hwy. 192, or if she stopped by the Firehouse Subs at the corner of 192 and John Young Parkway for a quick bite before the game like the rest of us.

The Astros’ spring home was packed to the gills on Sunday, and loosely calculated, the breakdown was as followed: 69.999 percent Yankees fans, 29.999 percent Astros fans, 0.002 percent Hollywood actresses (Diaz, who is famously dating Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, and Amanda Aardsma, girlfriend of Astros pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith).

Mix in a Hall of Fame legend (Yogi Berra) and there were clearly enough distractions to keep people occupied, just in case an exhibition game featuring 25 mph winds and a few Spring Training-ish home runs weren’t enough to hold their attention.

I snuck down to the concourse to try to snap a quick picture of Diaz, but needless to say, between the people trying to take pictures of her, the people trying to take pictures of the Yankees and the security gently asking us to “KEEP THE AISLE CLEAR PLEASE!”, I
didn’t have much luck. So her she is from the side. Sorry, best I could do.

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Here’s Yogi Berra chatting with Matt Galante, Burt Hooton and Jose Cruz. Yogi was an Astros coach from 1986-89 and still has many friends in the organization.

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Focus Friday: Chris Johnson

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Welcome to FocusFriday, our weekly Spring Training feature that invites fans to tweet non-baseball, human interest questions for various Astros players.

Last week, we featured Hunter Pence, and this week’s subject is Chris Johnson. If you’re curious about his hobbies outside of baseball, favorite place to eat in Houston or who he’s picking to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, read on. You can also watch the video here.

@finalfour: Do you follow college basketball and who do you think will win the NCAA tournament?

CJ:
Duke will win. I follow college basketball a lot. I love it. Duke’s my favorite team . They had a tough blow with Kyrie Irving going down but I think we’ll be able to hang in there and get to the Final Four and win it again for the repeat. They will win the National Championship.

@FreeDrinkPhx: What were your favorite cartoons/kids shows and do you still watch cartoons/kids shows?

CJ: I’m going to have to say Saved by the Bell was my favorite kids show growing up. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like the show Saved by the Bell. And what kid when he was younger didn’t want to be like Zack Morris? I know I did.

@zackmaddox21: What’s your favorite thing to do outside of baseball?

CJ: I’m kind of a movie guy. I like going to see movies. Anything relaxing, anything indoors, just because we’re outside so much.

(What was the last movie you saw?)

Last movie I saw…I just rented Due Date. It was OK, pretty good.

@allphilla Are you a video-gamer, and if so, what do you play?

CJ: I play video games a little bit. I like Call of Duty. It’s the only game I play — Call of Duty or Madden. I’m not very good because I don’t really play a lot but I’m a pretty good gamer.

@EckmanBrandon: What is your favorite place to eat in the Houston area?

CJ: Vic and Anthony’s. It was the first place I ever went to when I got called up to Houston and the crab cakes are outstanding.

@MissSadieK: Will you ever become a member of the Twitter family?

CJ: I don’t really know much about the Twitter or how to set it up. I’m not a big-time computer guy but I do have an iPhone, so I guess that could make it easy. If I can get somebody to show me how to do it. I’m kind of nervous that I won’t get a lot of friends on there. I could probably give it a shot.

(I think the Social Media Director for the Astros could probably help you set it up…)

CJ:
OK, then, I will get a Twitter account. I will tweet.

@Evie: We know you like Entourage, but what is your guilty pop culture pleasure?

CJ: I’m a pretty big Justin Bieber fan. I’ve got the fever. His songs are great. I listen to them on my iPod before the games, try to get pumped up. I haven’t been to his concerts yet. He hasn’t come through Houston yet, I don’t think, but when he does, I’m going to jump all over it. I just hope we don’t have a game, because then I’d miss the game.

Do spring records foreshadow regular season success? Most of the time — no.

Got this question from one of our more loyal Twitter followers, @Jaylen1182: What would you tell the fringe fans to have them not write this team off before the season starts based on Spring Training starts?

That issue has always been an interesting topic of conversation during Spring Training, because on one hand, you want your team to win as many games as possible, no matter what season it is. On the other hand, there may be nothing less telling than a team’s Grapefruit League win-loss record, mainly because most of the players who start the games are long gone by the time they’re over.

The first week of exhibition games could very well feature 50-60 players between the two teams. The starters get their two at-bats, play their three or four innings and are showered, dressed and gone several innings before the game actually ends. As the month wears on, players stay in longer and by the end, the box score looks similar to something you’d see on Opening Day. But for a good three weeks, players are shuffled in and out, and looking for any kind of trend or continuity is simply wasted time.

I’ve never cared about the final results as much as I scrutinize the individual performances of players who are either expected to make the team or are right there on the bubble and could make the team, depending on how they fare during Spring Training. I check the starting pitcher’s line, then look at how many hits the regular position players recorded, and finally, how the handful of relievers projected to comprise this year’s bullpen performed.

If the regular players were in the game for, say, five innings and after the fifth the Astros are ahead 5-2, but end up losing 7-5 because of a bunch of miscues that happened after their exit, am I worried? Not really.

On my way to the ballpark this morning, I started to think back to past springs and tried to remember what the final records were before some of the Astros’ best and worst regular seasons. Of course, I had no recollection, so I checked the media guide.

The 1998 team, which won a club record 102 regular-season games, recorded a very comparable 17-10-2 mark during Spring Training. But check this out: the 1986 Astros were 9-18-1 during Spring Training — and went on to win the NL West division. The 1991 Astros,
comprised of hugely talented but young, raw and not-yet-ready-to-win players who recorded the most losses in club history with 97, were a sparkling 17-10 during Spring Training.

The 1980 Astros, a playoff team, were 8-11 in spring. The 2000 Astros — a big, huge flop at 72-90, cruised through a 19-12 Grapefruit season.

Other notable years:
1999:    Reg. season: 97-65   Spring Training: 14-15
2004:    Reg. season: 92-70   Spring Training: 14-14-1
2005:    Reg. season: 89-73   Spring Training 13-14
2007:    Reg. season: 73-89   Spring Training: 18-11-1

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Enough of that. Let’s get to the fun stuff. Who needs to talk about on-field performance when clay molds of Brownie and J.D. bobbleheads are currently cookin’ in the oven and almost ready for paint?

The J.D. and Brownie Bobblehead, presented by Coca-Cola, will be given to the first 10,000 fans on Saturday, June 11 when the Astros host the Braves. Thanks to our marketing folks, we have this sneak peek of the bobblehead in its pre-packaging state. Should be a fun
keepsake. Did I mention you can order tickets for that game here?

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Players getting benched already? Heck, no.

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Mark it down: position players who are projected to be on the Opening Day 25-man roster are going to leave Florida with 55-65 Spring Training at-bats. This means two things: a) even the projected starters aren’t going to play every day and b) like pitchers, they have to slowly build up their strength throughout the spring season so they can be in acceptable playing shape when the bell rings on April 1.

I’ve already heard from a number of fans who have expressed concern when Chris Johnson and/or Brett Wallace aren’t in the lineup one day after they play. This is all by design, planned out ahead of time, and it absolutely does not mean they’re being benched. Rather, it simply means they’re staying on schedule.

Pretty soon, and throughout the Grapefruit season, you’ll notice a trend with a bunch of the position players expected to be regulars this season. They’ll play three days in a row and have a day off, and their at-bats per game will jump from two to three and eventually, by the end of the month, they’ll make the four plate appearances that are pretty typical during a regular-season nine-inning game.

There’s a difference in being in shape and being in playing shape. No matter how much conditioning a player does during the offseason, there is a period of “baseball soreness” that grabs him in the early stages of spring games. Michael Bourn may be the most well-conditioned athlete on the team, but when he first started working out on the fields at the Astros’ complex, he was sore. Really, really sore. That’s to be expected.

That “baseball soreness” won’t last as long if a player is already in shape when he gets to Spring Training. But there’s no way to prepare during the offseason for the long periods of time players have to spend running and fielding their positions on the hard infield dirt and the grassy outfields. By the end of Spring Training, their legs have readjusted to the elements. But this process does not happen overnight.

Subsequently, manager Brad Mills and his coaching staff map it out so that players can properly progress as the month of March wears on. They also have to find playing time for 63 players on the spring roster. This requires some crafty maneuvering and careful planning. No players play every day during Spring Training, and the Astros aren’t the exception.

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Initially, I was unfazed by the number of JBs, JTs, CJs and TJs wearing Houston Astros uniforms this spring. Then I actually started counting the number of people throughout the organization whose nicknames are designated by two letters and I have to wonder if this
would make it into the Big Book of Meaningless Stats and Unconfirmed Records.

By my count, the Astros have five players whose first names are simply initials: T.J. Steele, J.R. Towles, J.B. Shuck, J.D. Martinez and J.A. Happ (although his is pronounced “Jay”). Chris Johnson probably fits into this category too, because everyone pretty much
just calls him C.J.

The front office is also represented, thanks to media relations specialist M.J. Trahan. Don’t forget about the broadcast team either: our very own Jim Deshaies is probably referred to as “Jim” by his wife and, well, that’s about it. The rest of us know him simply as “J.D.

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Our old friend Moises Alou is in town, visiting with his old friend, Jeff Bagwell. Just like old times:

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Pics from pregame fun at Lakeland:

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Mix in a salad: Astros focus on nutrition.

Today’s ballplayers are arguably more fit and health-conscious than players of any era that preceded them, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use a little friendly supervision in the nutrition department every now and again.

The Astros have hired Sports Dietician Consultant Roberta Anding to help players maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout the season, which isn’t always such an easy thing once they reach the big league level.

Anding, the Sports Dietician for the Houston Texans and Rice University (where she’s also a professor), met with the entire squad before workouts Tuesday morning and stressed the importance of eating well, staying hydrated and staying away from supplements that could contain, unknowingly, banned substances.

In addition to working in healthier food choices inside the clubhouse, Anding will also work with Continental to come up with better options when the club is flying from city to city. In the past, players were greeted with dozens of food items as soon as they walked onto the plane, from the healthy (bananas, apples, oranges) to the relatively harmless (cheese and crackers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Lunchables), to the sinful (Snickers bars, Dove ice cream bars, Hershey bars).

Additionally, “appetizers” served before the main meal were often fried and accompanied by creamy sauces.

The Astros aren’t looking to overhaul the entire operation in one fell swoop. Rather, they want to slowly work in healthier choices that players can adapt to seamlessly without feeling like they’re missing anything. Although today’s athletes are well-conditioned and disciplined, temptation is everywhere.

(Speaking from personal experience, sometimes it’s hard to reach for the apples when you’ve got Peanut M&Ms staring you in the face.)

Meanwhile, Anding hopes to add a Smoothie station to the clubhouse kitchen. She also encouraged players to work in a healthy diet with their strength and conditioning routine and to stay hydrated.

“Fruits and vegetables are the water you chew,” she said, adding that dehydration can affect performance by “15 to 20 percent.”

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A lot of you have asked how many Major League players are on Twitter. Thanks to @MLB, we can view the entire growing list with one click of the mouse. Here’s the most recently updated verified list, including the Twitter profiles of a couple of Astros players: @HunterPence9 and @hyphen18.

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The first Florida-based Astroline will take place on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET/7 CT, live from the ESPN Club at the Disney Boardwalk. Hosted by Milo Hamilton, this week’s Astroline show will feature manager Brad Mills. The show can be heard on KTRH 740 and Astros.com.
You can tweet me your questions for the skipper at http://www.twitter.com/alysonfooter.

Astroline will air four times this spring: March 2, 9, 16 and 23.

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Speaking of Milo, a few weeks ago, he was inducted into the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame. In perfect double-play form, he also picked up the Pinky Primrose Long and Meritorious award.

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Notables: Fernando Abad was sent home Tuesday morning after the lefty checked in with a temperature of 101. Wesley Wright took his place took his place on the projected list of pitchers scheduled to appear during the home opener with the Braves. …congratulations to @dailyfudgeround for giving the correct answer during the second #TwitterTuesday contest. The question: What was Bill Hall’s favorite musician when he was a kid? Answer: Tupac Shakur. #TwitterTuesday takes place every Tuesday at noon CT throughout the spring and asks a question about a player that cannot be found through an online search. The first person to tweet the correct answer wins two free tickets to any home game this season, with the exception of Opening Day, the Red Sox series and the final homestand of the season. …the Astros will play two games on the road Wednesday — one in Lakeland (Tigers), one in Tampa (Yankees). J.A. Happ will start in Lakeland, Bud Norris in Tampa.

Some pregame images from the home opener:

Hanging on the field, waiting for the anthem…Bogusevic, Johnson…

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…etc….
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Brett Myers warms up

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Jeff Bagwell, in town for a few days, strides to the dugout

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Morning news and notes: Pitching schedules, Twitter Tuesday, Focus Friday, and today’s links.

The Astros announced on Tuesday that Wandy Rodriguez will start the Grapefruit League opener on Feb. 28 at Atlanta, while Brett Myers will pitch the next day when the Astros host the Braves in their first spring game of the season.

The Braves have Derek Lowe scheduled for the first game and Tommy Hanson for the second.

While Wandy is opening the spring season, I would not assume that translates into the same order when the regular season begins. The Spring Training pitching order is mapped out so that pitchers throw every fifth day and wind up making their first start of the season on that same schedule. If you count out the days from Myers first Grapefruit start, it would put him on schedule to start April 1 in Philadelphia. Not a coincidence.

As for the rest of the rotation order, that has yet to be announced. Stay tuned.

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Thanks to everyone who participated in #TwitterTuesday. The contest didn’t last long thanks to @austincory ‘s very prompt correct answer, but we still had a nice flow of guesses come in and I appreciate the interaction.

For those who missed it, every Tuesday at noon CT throughout Spring Training, I’ll post a Google-free, can’t-find-it-on-the-internet, won’t-be-able-to-look-it-up-on-baseballreference.com trivia question on my Twitter, and the first correct answer tweeted back to me
wins two free tickets to any Astros home game this season, with the exception of Opening Day, the Red Sox series and the final homestand of the season.

Yesterday’s question was: What is Chris Johnson’s favorite can’t-miss television show? The answer, which we first posted here in video form, was Entourage.

Next Tuesday, we’ll ask a different question of a different player and you can guess as many times as you want. The only requirement is you have to be following me on Twitter to participate.

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In addition to Twitter Tuesday, we’ve also added another new feature — Focus Friday. For this, we’ll ask an Astros player a handful off-the-field, non-baseball related questions that give some insight to him away from the game.

We’ll video the interview and post it on Twitter, and we’ll also provide a transcript on this blog. This is where the fun part comes in — the questions asked will come from you. I received some really good ones on Twitter yesterday for Hunter Pence, and we’ll sift through those, pick the best five or 10, and post them on Friday.

I’ll send out another alert next week when we’ve determined who we’ll be featuring in Focus Friday.

Miscellany:

* The Astros have teamed up with the Florida Blood Centers to host a blood drive prior to the March 3 game vs. the Florida Marlins at Osceola County Stadium. The blood drive will take place from 9:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m., and donors will receive a free Astros special edition t-shirt, as well as a voucher for a free ticket to one of two pre-selected Spring Training games (while supplies last)…donors must be at least 16 years old and weigh 102 pounds to be eligible to donate and a photo ID is required.

* Two Astros Spring games will be broadcast on FS Houston: March 18 at the Marlins and March 19 vs. the Cardinals.

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On to the links…

MLB.com:

Clint Barmes knew only the Colorado Rockies until he was traded to Houston last year. The shortstop welcomes a new beginning, he tells Brian McTaggart.

Lots of interesting information in this notebook, including who the Astros’ player representatives are this year, Fernando Abad’s role as he competes for a spot on the roster and Nelson Figueroa’s loss of his grandfather.

Chronicle:

The Astros find plenty of talent on the waiver wire. Zachary Levine gives a brief history of the club’s recent wire acquisitions.

It’s Twitter Tuesday, and we’re giving away tickets.

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Baseball fans and trivia contests are as natural a pairing as pine tar
and Craig Biggio’s batting helmets, so we’ve decided to make those
contests a weekly presence, beginning today.

Every Tuesday,
we’re going to post a question on Twitter, and the first person to tweet
back the correct answer will win two free tickets to any game this
season, with the exception of Opening Day (April 8), the Red Sox series
(July 1-3) and the final homestand of the season (Sept. 22-28).

But there’s a twist. This isn’t a garden-variety trivia contest. While we’re calling this Twitter Tuesday, the full, unabridged, official name of this contest is Google-free, can’t-find-it-on-the-internet, won’t-be-able-to-look-it-up-on-baseballreference.com Twitter Tuesday.

In
other words, we’ll be digging deep and asking the real probing
questions that you’ve always wanted to know but were afraid to ask.

Who needs Hunter Pence’s
career OPS when you can find out what he had for dinner three nights
ago? Or what his very first job was in high school? Or how he likes his
eggs cooked?

Google-free, can’t-find-it-on-the-internet,
won’t-be-able-to-look-it-up-on-baseballreference.com Twitter Tuesday
will be conducted exclusively through my Twitter profile, so if you’re
not following, please go to http://www.twitter.com/alysonfooter. We’ll post the question at noon CT every Tuesday, and the first correct answer wins.
_____________

Linkage:

MLB.com:

Brian McTaggart introduces us to the Astros’ two Rule 5 picks, Lance Pendleton and Aneury Rodriguez.

In
this notebook, we learn that Michael Bourn is working on his bunting
this spring, and Tommy Manzella is expanding his versatility by trying
his hand at second and third.

Chronicle:

Zachary Levine writes that 2009 first-round pick Jio Mier added 20 pounds of bulk, much to the team’s delight.

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