H-Town Sports

Houston Sports Blog - Real sports cities have TWO Conference USA teams

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Zobrist Watch Starts a New Chapter

With the dealing of Julio Lugo to the Dodgers today, Tampa Bay opened up its everyday shortstop job. Ty Wiggington, the Rays' everyday 3B since Aubrey Huff was dealt, is also out for the season due to an injury, and according to Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times, BJ Upton and Ben Zobrist have been called up to play 3B and SS, respectively.

Timmy P's midseason work now begins to fall under further scrutiny, as one of the prospects that he did manage to trade has miraculously leapt from Double-A to the majors, about two weeks after being freed from the shackles of the Astros' organization. Talbot tossing quality starts in Double-A, Zobrist already starting at short for the Rays and Huff hitting .224 for the Astros. The hits just keep a-comin! I guess Hunter Pence's letters of recommendation to every other GM in baseball did not get out in time to earn him emancipation.

Remind Me Next Year

Each year, after the MLB non-waivers trading deadline passes (yet again) with only a flurry of meaningless deals materializing, I tell myself, "Next year no one is going to get my pulse racing about this stupid deadline. It's annually the most anti-climactic day in sports." And each year, I convince myself, "This year is The Year...it's going to be CRAZY". Looks like I was wrong again. What a bore. The Mets seem to have earned the honors for Best Additions - Roberto Hernandez and Scott Linebrink make their bullpen very solid, even without Duaner Sanchez.

I would love to have a press pass for entry into the Astros' clubhouse tomorrow to speak to Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge. That should be quite interesting. I would rather have Jeremy Foster ask the questions than Jose de Jesus Ortiz, who is sure to screw up the situation.

By the way, I do not know for sure whether or not this is accurate, but I do know that Richard Justice earlier today broke the alleged "story" that Drayton McLane demanded that Brad Lidge be traded before today's deadline. Since then, I have read in multiple places online that Richard Justice later went on ESPNNews and denied that any such "demand" was ever made. I am not claiming to be surprised, just further disgusted. This fine city deserves so much better than Justice and Ortiz. What a crapfest.

Time to Abandon Ship?

If the Astros aren't going to emphatically deny that they were willing to trade Roy Oswalt plus another player or two for a short-term rental like Tejada, then they would possibly be better off throwing in the towel on this season and dealing him before today's trade deadline for the best package of prospects that they can get. Their chances of making the postseason this year, even with Oswalt, are very slim at this point, and their idiocy has now very likely burned their bridges with The Wizard beyond recognition.

I just do not see Drayton as being willing to give up on this season yet, especially considering the money that he has invested in The Rocket, which makes an Oswalt-for-prospects deal quite unlikely to occur. Sadly, though, we may all be able to look back on this day a year-and-a-half from now, if Oswalt signs elsewhere, as the day when the front office did irreparable harm to the team's relationship with its franchise pitcher and lost any chance to sign him to a long-term deal which would have likely insured that he was an Astro for the remainder of his career.

I certainly hope that, at the least, Preston Wilson, Brad Lidge and Jason Lane find new homes. It is also not too late to cut your losses with Aubrey Huff, if you believe that Ensberg is healthy again. You likely will not get as nice a package as you gave up for Huff, but maybe you could at least undo a little bit of the damage that has already been done. Brad Lidge will still quite likely attract a return of more than one major-league ready players, and Jason Lane's performance in the second half of 2005 will probably motivate some team to take a flyer on him, despite his terrible struggles in 2006.

Un-Freaking Believable - Oswalt to Mets???

I realize that rumors are a dime a dozen this time of year (of all the talk about Carlos Lee and whether or not he would be traded, I never once saw the Rangers as a possible destination), but the smoke seems to be thickening, and the clock continues to tick. Jon Heyman of SI.com reports that the Mets are dangling Lastings Milledge at the Giants and Astros, hoping to get either Jason Schmidt or Roy Oswalt. Milledge is a nice player, but again, Oswalt is worth much, much more in my mind than a great OF prospect. Throw in Mike Pelfrey, Aaron Heilman and Phillip Humber, and we'll talk. Oswalt is a young, proven 20-game winner.

One other note to Timmy P: if you're looking to run a talented young OF into the Astros' everyday lineup, check Whataburger Field. There's a guy by the name of Pence who fits the bill nicely. And you wouldn't even have to trade Roy O to get him!

Patton's Charge is Halted

AAA: Sacramento pummeled Round Rock for the second straight game, this time 10-4. Jared Gothreaux was rocked for nine runs (six earned) in three innings, and Phillip Barzilla pitched four good innings of relief. Fernando Nieve also pitched a scoreless inning in relief. Morgan Ensberg was 1-5 with an RBI double, and he also contributed two errors at third base. In perhaps the oddest storyline I have seen in weeks, Wandy Rodriguez was used in this game...as a pinch-hitter. He grounded out to SS in the ninth inning.

Ensberg hopes to come off the DL for Tuesday's game in San Diego, but it remains to be seen whether he will be wearing an Astros' uniform in that game.

AA: Troy Patton will try to forget his second start as a Hook. Frisco pounded him for seven hits and six runs in three innings, and he took the loss in a 9-8 decision favoring the Rough Riders. Josh Anderson was 3-5 with two runs scored, and Big Walter Young was 3-4 and drove in a pair. Hunter Pence was 1-4 with his eighth triple and a walk and struck out three times.

Patton allowed a three-run dong in each of the first two innings.

High A: Salem held off a late rally by Frederick to win 5-4. 3B Billy Hart was 3-3, and Jimmy Barthmaier pitched effectively into the seventh inning to earn the win.

Low A: Lexington allowed a run in the bottom of the ninth to lose 2-1 to Charleston. The offense was again lame, mustering only seven hits, but in a bright note, Brian Bogusevic scattered eight hits over six innings and allowed only one run while striking out four. You'd like your #1 pick from 2005 to be making a little better progress at this point, but at least it appears that he may have bottomed out.

Short Season A: Tri-City lost 4-2 to Onenota. Jordan Parraz had two more hits, and has a .331 average, .429 OBP and .500 SLG on the season.

Rookie: The Astros held off Bristol 3-2, and Serge Severino struck out 13(!) in six innings to earn the win.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Ben Zobrist was 2-4 with a double and a run scored for Durham. Aubrey Huff was 0-5 with two strikeouts in the Astros' stunning loss to Arizona, and his average is back to .224.

Trade Roy O!?! The Saddest Part - T-Poo Would Probably Do It

Since November 1, 2004:

Bad Moves: Letting Carlos Beltran destroy your offseason. Signing Preston Wilson. Trading Ben Zobrist and Mitch Talbot for Aubrey Huff. Leaving Luke Scott in AAA until late July. Leaving Jason Hirsh in Triple-A all season long. Leaving Mike Gallo on the 25-man roster for half of the 2006 season. Leaving Hunter Pence in Double-A. Signing John Franco. Signing Brandon Duckworth. Signing Dave Burba. Signing Turk Wendell. Signing Brad Ausmus to a two-year contract. Signing Orlando Palmeiro to a two-year contract. Signing Trever Miller.

Good Moves: Avoiding arbitration with Roy Oswalt (2 years, $17M). Trading Tim Redding (regardless of the return). Signing Lance Berkman to an extension. Signing Dave Borkowski.

Worst. Move. Ever. Including Roy Oswalt (allegedly) in trade talks with Baltimore for SS Miguel Tejada. Not just Oswalt, but apparently Oswalt plus another player or two, depending on who you believe. Not only is Oswalt the best pitcher in your organization and one of the best righties in the game today, he also is one of your most fragile egos on the team. He needs coddling and re-assurance, and quite deservedly so, considering he currently has only eight wins in 2006 despite posting a 3.23 ERA. Owner Drayton McLane has established a bond with Oswalt, purchasing him a $200,000 tractor for getting the team into the 2005 postseason and convincing him to represent the organization at the 2006 All-Star Game.

There are a lot of unknowns regarding the Astros' rotation in the next couple of seasons. Will Andy Pettitte sign a new contract after this season? Will Roger Clemens return for another year? Will Brandon Backe ever consistently replicate his legendary postseason starts? Will Jason Hirsh duplicate his minor league dominance in the Astros' rotation? But now there is one certainty: Roy Oswalt will not be part of that Astros' rotation come 2008. How on God's Green Earth you could consider trading The Wizard for Miguel Tejada, who we have established will likely be nothing more than a two-month rental (despite the Mainstream Media's refusal to acknowledge this fact among its reports), is beyond me. And if you did include Roy O, and the Orioles did not immediately say YES!, then they have the distinct dishonor of being the only front office in MLB more incompetent than the Astros. Roy has been as loyal to the Astros as he has been outstanding, and he deserves much, much more than being included in a ridiculous trade deadline rumor such as this one. And now you can bet the bank that he will receive much more money and much more love from an organization in 2008 and beyond, and to the ire and disgust of many an Astros' fan, it is not going to be as an Astro.

The facts speak for themselves. The Berkman and Oswalt decisions were slam dunks. The departure of Tim Redding was a blessing, but there's always going to be a taker for a young pitcher with 'potential', and the return was unable to move past Raul Chavez on the depth chart. Signing Dave Borkowksi currently stands as Tim Purpura's greatest move as GM of the Houston Astros. Purpura is dangerously approaching a point where he has proven himself unquestionably incompetent, getting to the 2005 postseason thanks to the godsends of Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, hometown heros who came to Houston on their own whim and to the terms of their own choosing. Any success that the Astros have enjoyed since November 1, 2004 has been despite Purpura's moves as GM. Purpura now has less than seven hours to try to right these wrongs and save the Astros' current season. If you're an Astros' fan, these may well be the longest seven hours of your life. The combination of ineptitude and desperation could prove deadly today, and the consequences could be felt in Houston for years to come.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Not a Good Start for the Texans

The Texans sustained an injury hit to a position where their depth was already a question mark: the secondary. Petey Faggins, slated to start opposite of Dunta Robinson at cornerback for the Texans, broke his right foot and could miss anywhere from six to ten weeks. Phillip Buchanon will temporarily replace Faggins in the lineup, a move that surely sent Texans' fans straight for their comodes with nausea. Buchanan's talent has never been a question mark, but his lack of passion and his lack of physicality were quite evident last season for Houston, and I do not know that a new coaching staff will be able to do anything to remedy those significant flaws.

Advantage: Astros?

If the Astros are still determined to obtain Miguel Tejada, they may have just received a boost in those efforts. Miguel Tejada told reporters that he does not want to play 3rd base, which would likely be necessary should he be traded to Anaheim or Texas, both of whom already have established shortstops (Orlando Cabrera and Michael Young, respectively).

One other option for Purpura could be to try to become part of a three-team deal involving the Orioles and either the Rangers or Angels, agreeing to take whichever of those team's shortstops becomes expendable with the acquisition of Tejada. Either Cabrera or Young while certainly not as talented as Tejada, would still be a tremendous upgrade over Adam Everett, at a considerably lesser cost. Here's a purely hypothetical "Would You?": Brad Lidge, Fernando Nieve, Morgan Ensberg and Adam Everett to Texas for Michael Young, Hank Blalock and Brad Wilkerson? What if it required Hirsh instead of Nieve? I would do the first, but I'm not sure about the second. Giving up Hirsh would likely be too much for me to do for the proposed return.

Purpura should also be seriously concerned about his starting rotation. Taylor Buchholz and Wandy Rodriguez have been deservedly been banished to Triple-A. Brandon Backe has allowed 16 hits and 6 walks with a 9.00 ERA in his two starts for Houston since returning from the DL. Since June 18, Andy Pettitte has allowed more hits than innings pitched in all but one of his starts, including 11 in five innings in his last outing versus the Reds. Chris Sampson allegedly will be used out of the bullpen, and while I am not claiming that he should be touted as a savior for this rotation, one wonders what Purpura and Garner have in mind for the future of this rotation. Something will have to change going forward, but Monday's off day provides a little extra time to make those decisions.

Ensberg Makes Statement (to Whom?)

AAA: Round Rock was walloped by Sacramento 14-7, but Morgan Ensberg provided several highlights. Batting in the two-spot, Ensberg went 3-3 with two doubles, a home run and two walks. JR House was 2-4 with a HR as well. Mike Gallo had a career night, allowing seven hits, two walks and eight runs in two innings.

AA: Corpus Christi's slide continued Saturday night, as Frisco's Eric Hurley shut them out 6-0. Chance Douglass had a quality start for the Hooks. Hunter Pence was 0-4 with a K.

High A: Salem beat Frederick 2-1 behind Raymar Diaz's seven shutout innings. Drew Sutton had two more hits for the Avalanche, and Beau Torbert homered.

Low A: Lexington and Charleston were rained out.

Short Season A: Chris Salamida was awesome again, going six innings and allowing only one run with seven strikeouts. His record now stands at 4-1 and his ERA 0.81. Max Sapp continued his tear with a pair of hits, and Jordan Parraz homered for the Valley Cats.

Rookie: Greenville was whipped by Elizabethon 9-0.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Mitch Talbot had another quality start for Montgomery Friday night: 6 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K. His ERA with Montgomery is 1.89 after three starts. Ben Zobrist was 0-3 with two walks, an RBI and a SB on Friday night. Twins' stud prospect Boof Bonser was dominant on Saturday night, and Zobrist was 0-4. Since the trade, Ben now possesses a .292 BA, .395 OBP and .354 SLG. Aubrey Huff had a great night Friday night, going 2-3 with three runs scored, a double and three walks. Saturday night saw Huff go 1-2 with a double and a walk. Since coming over from the AL, Huff is now batting .276 with a .353 OBP and .449 SLG.

Jon Daniels Must Be High

After a strong day of carousing in Boston with family, I just returned to my hotel room to learn from ESPN News (or ESPNEWS, if you prefer) that the Rangers allegedly offered Rod Barajas and Brad Wilkerson to the 'Stros for one Bradley Thomas Lidge this evening. Not surprisingly, T-Poo is reported to have shot the Rangers down. Perhaps it's my complete lack of tolerance at this point, but words cannot describe the disgust I have for Rangers GM Jon Daniels for even allegedly proposing that deal. Sure, Lights Out Lidge has fallen from grace since last season, but Barajas and Wilkerson collectively still cannot hold his jockstrap. Daniels is like the idiot in every fantasy league that offers Kevin Millwood for Big Papi or Jerry Hairston for Francisco Liriano. If I was Tim Purpura, I would refuse to take his calls from now on unless the words "Carlos Lee" or "Michael Young" were uttered.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

House Promoted to Round Rock

AAA: Round Rock could not hold onto an early lead and fell 7-4 to Fresno. Wandy Rodriguez looked much like he looked in Houston, allowing six runs and seven hits in six-plus innings. C Humberto Quintero had three hits, and Alan Zinter and Brooks Conrad homered. Quintero may be seeing less time in the near future, as Hooks C JR House became the latest to depart Corpus Christi, being called up to the Express. House has hit well this season for the Hooks (.325/.376/.475 with 10 HR and 69 RBI0, but his defense is a major question mark.

AA: The Hooks were ahead 5-0 after a half-inning but lost 6-5 as Frisco scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth off of Paul Estrada. Josh Anderson had two hits, and Marc Saccamanno hit a three-run home run. Free agent C Brian Peterson replaced JR House on the Hooks' roster.

High A: Salem beat Frederick 7-5 thanks to an eleven-hit offensive attack. Drew Sutton continued his great hitting with three hits, including a double and triple, and RF Frankie Caraballo added a bases-loaded double. Tip Fairchild struggled on the mound, but the bullpen picked up the slack for him, pitching 4.2 scoreless innings after his departure.

Low A: Lexington stunk up the city of Charleston, losing 5-1 thanks in large part to four defensive errors. Josh Flores carried his hot stick over from Thursday night, going 2-4, and Brad James extended his run of great starts with 5.2 innings allowing only one unearned run. His ERA is now 1.26 after eleven appearances, including eight starts.

Short Season A: Max Sapp continued his recent awakening at the plate, going 3-5 with three RBI to lead Tri-City past Onenota 7-5.

Rookie: Elizabethton's SP Jose Castillo shut down the Astros on one hit over seven innings in a 3-0 loss for Greenville. RP Kevin Fox had a nice relief stint, striking out four hitters in two scoreless frames.

Friday, July 28, 2006

OK, Purpura, I've Done the Thinking, You Make the Calls

The USA Today refers to an Astros' representative who says that the Astros are all hands on deck in pursuit of Alfonso Soriano. Bowden is always fiending for the 'big splash', and I do not see any way that the Nats do not deal Soriano. Houston is desperate and has a ton of young talent to trade, so there is definitely the potential for a match. I am going to run along these lines and give you my recipe for The Astros' Last Stand:

1. Trade Preston Wilson to anyone who will take him. Some contender (I am talking to you, Brian Cashman) will take him for a bag of balls, and you cannot play baseball without balls.

2. Trade Jason Hirsh, Charlton Jimerson and a third quality prospect (anyone not named Pence, Albers, Patton or Nieve) for Alfonso Soriano. Bowden LOVES 'toolsy' OF (see Marlon Byrd, Wily Mo Pena, Austin Kearns, Reggie Taylor). That is a steep price to pay for a rental, but if you are going to go all in, then it is now or never. Soriano is the best player on the market.

3. Trade Brad Lidge and Jason Lane to Arizona for Luis Gonzalez, Craig Counsell and a decent prospect. I love Lidge, and personally, I would fire Jim Hickey, who has not really developed a young pitcher on his watch, despite working with Buchholz, Nieve, Rodriguez, Astacio, etc. However, Hicke's failure has resulted in Lidge looking all too much like Derrick Turnbow and Francisco Cordero. Stephen Drew is ready to man the SS position for the D-Backs, making Counsell expendable. He is going to have to get clearance from the doctors, as he is recovering from a broken rib, but he can be released from the DL this weekend. Gonzalez is aging, but he has hit very well lately, and with the emergence of Quentin, the D-Backs can absorb the loss in their OF, and they have gone all year without a shut-down closer. They will take a flyer on Lidge to replace Jorge Julio (who replaced Jose Valverde). Call up Nieve, and put either Nieve or Albers in Buchholz's rotation spot, with the other guy going to the back of the bullpen.

The result:

Soriano CF
Biggio 2B
Berkman 1B
Gonzalez LF
Huff RF
Ensberg 3B
Counsell SS
Ausmus C

Bench: Lamb, Burke, Scott, Palmeiro, Munson, Everett

Rotation: Oswalt, Clemens, Pettitte, Backe, Albers

Bullpen: Qualls, Wheeler, Nieve, Springer, Miller, Borkowski

Make either Qualls or Wheeler the closer. Send Taveras down to AAA until September 1, when he can be brought up to pinch-run. You added a ton of offense, without losing Hunter Pence or Troy Patton. What am I missing?

Pence, Hirsh Shine for Scouts

AAA: Round Rock beat Fresno 6-1 behind their stud, Jason Hirsh, who did actually allow a run in this one. Hirsh gave up five hits and one earned run in seven innings, walking none and striking out five. Jailen Peguero pitched two hitless innings to wrap it up. I'd like to offer our readers a chance to propose some sort of feat that I can promise to tackle if Jason Hirsh is on the Round Rock roster on August 1st. There is just no way that the Astros can leave him down there any longer, with T-Buch blowing up, the offense in the toilet and the trading deadline approaching. Hirsh will either be on another club's roster or in the Astros' rotation come August 1. Mark my words. Notice also that both Matt Albers and Jason Hirsh started or pitched the equivalent of a start, making them both perfect fits to replace T-Buch in the Astros' rotation next time through.

AA: Corpus beat Frisco 5-2, as Hunter Pence shined for the opposing scouts on hand, going 3-4 with two doubles and a home run, driving in three and scoring twice. Ronnie Martinez had a nice start for the Hooks, and Paul Estrada pitched the ninth to earn his tenth save. Pence now has 24 HR and 79 RBI on the season, along with a .299 avg, .363 OBP and .579 SLG. Again, it is hard to imagine that Pence will be a Hook come August 1st. If Purpura is truly being 'aggressive' on the trade front, both Hirsh and Pence are guys that should have their bags packed. Personally, I'm okay with dealing Hirsh because the pitching depth is great in the Astros' organization, but the return for a deal including Pence had better be astounding because he is all you've got on the offensive side of the ball. Seven of the Hooks' ten hits, by the way, came against Kameron Loe, a member of the Rangers' rotation making a rehab start for Frisco.

MILB.com did a nice feature on Pence. Do not read it, though, if you are hesitant about dealing him, because you will just feel nauseous afterwards. Reading about his Texan pride, his intensity and his passion for the game will not make you feel better about the fact that he is not already in the Astros' everyday lineup. By the way, Pence is the same age as Willy Taveras.

High A: Salem lost to Frederick 5-3. Paulino del Guidice had a bit of a rough start, allowing five runs in five innings. Lou Santangelo was 2-4 with his 16th home run.

Low A: The Legends awakened from their deep sleep with a 20-hit rout of Savannah. Josh Flores and JR Towles each had four hits and a home run, and Eli Iorg had three hits.

Short Season A: The Valley Cats lost their second straight game, 5-3 to Jamestown. Max Sapp hit well again, going 2-4 with a walk.

Rookie: The Astros rallied for two runs in the ninth to beat Elizabethton 5-4. RF Andrew Darnell was the hero with homers in the seventh and ninth innings.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Ben Zobrist was 3-5 for the Bulls, lifting his average to .328, his OBP to .418 and his SLG to .397 since the trade. Mitch Talbot will make his third start for the Montgomery Biscuits tonight against the Jacksonville Suns. Aubrey Huff was 0-4 with a K in the Astros' loss to the Reds, lowering his average since joining the Astros to .208 and his OPS to .630.

The Floodgates are Open

ESPN is reporting that Carlos Lee is on his way to the Rangers, along with minor-league OF Nelson Cruz, in exchange for Francisco Cordero, Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix. Lee will be a free agent at the end of the season, and to me, this is a really nice deal for the Brewers. Mench will be a serviceable substitute for Lee in LF, and Cordero will provide them another powerful arm for their shaky pen. Brewers' fans can digest this deal as a shot at improving the team and staying in the race in addition to getting something in return for a player who they could not sign to a contract extension. Cordero had a bad outing on Wednesday in New York, but prior to that he had allowed an earned run in only two of his last 15 outings, covering 15.2 innings, and of course he has been a successful closer in the past. Derrick Turnbow has been terrible of late, and Cordero should help plug that leak along with Danny Kolb.

As for the Rangers, Lee will add some pop to their OF, but picking up Cruz could be more important in the long run, as he is tearing up AAA (.302/.378/.528 with 20 HR, 73 RBI). The Brewers may feel that they can afford to deal Cruz because when J. J. Hardy gets healthy, they could slide Bill Hall to 2B and Rickie Weeks out to the OF. Tony Gwynn and Corey Hart are also talented young OF for Milwaukee who could help replace Cruz on the depth chart.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Nieve Closes Win at Round Rock

AAA: Round Rock survived the departure of Jason Lane and defeated Fresno 5-2. Cody Ransom was 2-3 with a double and a pair of runs scored. Chris Sampson pitched a stellar seven innings, allowing only two runs, and Fernando Nieve pitched a perfect ninth to earn his first save of the season.

AA: San Antonio whipped the Hooks 7-1. The Hooks' bullpen was the culprit, as both Monte Mansfield and Steve Kent were beat up badly after entering the game in a 1-1 tie. With Josh Anderson getting the night off, Hunter Pence played CF and batted leadoff, going 0-3 with a walk. Showing why he is usually a DH, Josh Bonifay committed three errors (giving him 22 on the season) at third base, all three coming in the nightmarish eighth inning. Greg Rajan has a piece in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times today breaking down the state of the Hooks in the aftermath of the slew of roster moves that have drastically altered their roster.

High A: The Avalanche won a pitchers duel with Wilmington in dramatic fashion, as C Jeff Mackfor hit a two-out RBI single to plate the game's only run. Rory Shortell pitched very well in his fourth start since being added to the Salem rotation.

Low A: The Legends continued their tumble, losing 4-3 to Savannah. The offense continues to be sparse for the Legends, who managed only seven hits.

Short Season A: The Valley Cats lost at home to Jamestown 4-1. Nick Moresi had two hits.

Rookie: Princeton beat Greenville 7-4. Ronnie Ramirez was 2-5 with a double and a triple in the loss, and Polin Trinidad finally pitched like a mere mortal.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Quiet night at the plate for Ben Zobrist (0-5 with a run scored). Mitch Talbot did not pitch last night, but his new teammate did. The Missle!!! Scoreless inning for Dan the Man in his debut with AA Montgomery. Aubrey Huff was 1-4 with a double and a K for the Astros.

"Matchups" Run Amok

I hope that using Trever Miller to turn around Javy Valentin with one out in the ninth inning last night was worth potentially losing your closer permanently. Lidge was visibly upset last night, and rightfully so. He has been pitching better as of late and had not yet allowed a run last night. Furthermore, Trever Miller is NEVER a better option than Lidge. That is like pinch-hitting Brad Ausmus for Lance Berkman with RISP in a close and late situation becuase the opposing pitcher is a lefty. Garner's tinkering has gone too far, and if Lidge is lacking in confidence, much of that blame must be placed on his manager. For Lidge's sake, I hope he gets traded to a team with a competent pitching coach and a trusting manager. Despite Lidge's struggles, he has blown only four saves in twenty-six save opportunities this season, which is as good or better than Brian Fuentes, Billy Wagner, Ryan Dempster, Jason Isringhausen and Derrick Turnbow and just one more than Tom Gordon, Trevor Hoffman and Joe Borowski. Lidge may not be as good as he once was, but he sure deserves better treatment than he received last night.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Tejada Contract Question

With all of the rumor and innuendo about Miguel Tejada possibly being the answer to the prayers of Astros' fans, I think that it is important to get the facts straight about his contract and the effect of a trade upon it. Here is a link to the current MLBPA agreement with the owners.

See page 70, which is Article XX Section C. Paraphrasing, any player with 5+ years of big league service time (Tejada has this) who, at the time that his contract is assigned to another team (trade) has a contract that includes the subsequent season (Tejada is definitely signed through 2007) may at the conclusion of the season in which he is traded require that his contract be assigned to another team (demand another trade). If he signs with the team that traded for him (Astros, hypothetically), then he loses the ability to demand a trade if he's traded again the next season. Down in subsection (C)(2)(c), if he is not traded on or before the 15th of March (2007), then he shall become a free agent immediately thereafter.

In other words, Tejada can void his deal and become a free agent if the Orioles trade him. Like Beltran years ago, the Astros can hope to sign him long-term, but they will likely be waiting until after March 15 to do so, and then they will be competing with all of major league baseball for his services. To me, this means Tejada must be viewed as a rental player and any package proposed to obtain him must be valued accordingly. Pence, Nieve and Everett for two months of Tejada is not a deal that I would agree with from an Astros' perspective.

Lane is Lost

AAA: The Express lost to Fresno 4-2 in twelve innings. Jason Lane was 0-6 with five strikeouts. Seriously. Fernando Nieve worked 1.1 innings of scoreless relief, striking out two. Mike Rodriguez had three hits.

AA: San Antonio jumped two games ahead of the Hooks in the second half race with a 2-1 victory. Travis Chick, a pitching prospect recently acquired by the Mariners organization in the Eddie Guardado trade with the Reds, outdueled Troy Patton, who was making his Hooks' debut. Patton lasted 5-plus innings, allowing four hits and one earned run, walking three and striking out six. I guess Patton can apparently relate to another talented pitcher in the Astros' organization who was victimized by a terrible offensive performance last night. Hunter Pence was 1-4 with his 23rd home run while playing again in center field.

High A: Salem and Wilmington were suspended after fifteen innings with the score tied at 3. The Avalanche left twelve runners on base and stole five bases in the loss. Jimmy Barthmaier started and pitched pretty well for six innings.

Low A: Lexington was outlasted by Savannah 7-6 in thirteen innings. Tommy Manzella was 3-5 to raise his average to .271.

Short Season A: The Valley Cats won their seventh straight home game 10-9 over Jamestown. Max Sapp hit a grand slam for his first professional home run and SS Tim Torres was 2-2 with a double and a home run as well as as two walks and scored three runs. 2006 draft pick Casey Hudspeth was roughed up and did not escape the third inning.

Rookie: Greenville was walloped by Princeton 14-5. In a rare feat, P Kevin Fox committed two errors in the eighth inning, which resulted in the nine runs that he allowed in two-thirds of an inning of work being categorized as unearned, despite also allowing five hits and a home run in that span.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Ben Zobrist finally had a mortal night, going 0-4 with two strikeouts. Aubrey Huff, meanwhile, had yet another mortal night, going 0-3 with a K in the Astros' most recent loss. His average is at .225 and his OPS at .676 since being acquired from Tampa Bay.

Numbers of (Dis)Interest

Close and Late: (7th inning or later, 2 run game or less) - Astros are worst in NL with .617 OPS (.220 BA, .296 OBP, .321 SLG)

Pinch-hitting: Astros are 2nd worst in the NL with .560 OPS (.197 BA, .280 OBP, .280 SLG - worst in NL)

Runners in Scoring Position: Astros are second-worst in NL with .742 OPS (.259 BA, .348 OBP, .394 SLG - tied for worst in NL)

Scoring position, 2 outs: Surprisingly, the Astros are 8th in the NL with a .738 OPS (.247 BA, .356 OBP, .382 SLG)

No Runners on Base: .241 BA (worst in NL), .310 OBP (2nd worst in NL), .379 SLG (worst in NL), .689 OPS (worst in NL)

Post All-Star Break: .243 BA (2nd worst in NL), .307 OBP (2nd worst in NL), .354 SLG (2nd worst in NL).

#1 slot in Batting Order: .233 BA (2nd worst in NL), .281 OBP (worst in NL), .355 SLG (2nd worst in NL), .636 OPS (worst in NL)

#7 slot in Batting Order: .328 SLG (worst in NL), .652 OPS (2nd worst in NL)

#8 slot in Batting Order: .317 SLG (2nd worst in NL), .628 OPS (2nd worst in NL)

Suicide Squeezed

You know it is a bad state of affairs when the local talk radio shows are spending substantial amounts of air time discussing the epidemic of failed suicide squeeze bunts that is currently plaguing the hometown team.

Sure, we could all bunt when our Little League coaches required us to lay one down before taking cuts in batting practice. Sure, big leaguers make millions of dollars and do this full-time, so it should be relatively easy for them to get a bunt down more often than not. Unfortunately, however, it is a risky play to simultaneously send a runner steaming down the third-base line and insist that the batter bunt absolutely whatever pitch comes his way on the ground and in play, all while the opposing pitcher and defense are both prepared to defend the bunt.

But the saddest part of all is that it seems like nearly every night, the Astros' offense is in such disarray that a suicide squeeze play has become one of their most frequently attempted methods of offensive production. It is as if the possibility of three consecutive hits or a walk, a hit and a three-run home run are not even potential parts of the offensive equation. Times are tough in H-Town when Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus squaring around to bunt with Luke Scott sprinting for home is your best chance to score a run on a nightly basis. Roger, is this what you came back for?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Trade Rumblings

Jayson Stark of ESPN.com reports that there was an alleged proposal from the Orioles for Miguel Tejada:

"Tejada has been linked heavily lately with the Astros, in a deal that allegedly would send shortstop Adam Everett, pitcher Fernando Nieve and hot outfield prospect Hunter Pence to Baltimore. But according to an official of one club that has been speaking with both teams, the Astros have backpedaled away from that proposal at the speed of sound. And two different baseball men told us unequivocally this week that Houston's interest in trading for Tejada now is "minimal" at best."

Hold on a second...you're telling me that the 'Stros had a chance to acquire Miggy Freaking Tejada (.323 BA, 18 HR, 69 RBI, .372 OBP, .511 SLG) for Everett, Nieve, and Pence? If I'm Tim Purpura and the Orioles propose that deal, I can't say "Deal" fast enough. Pence and Nieve are talented prospects, sure, but it's going to cost something to get a bat like Tejada. Plus, you're not giving up Hirsh, Albers, or Patton! And as a no-hitting cherry on top of that sundae, the Orioles are willing to take Everett as well? I would have sent the papers into the league office so quick it would have made heads spin. If the 'Stros actually backed off of that proposal, T-Poo and his entire staff should be publicly executed at Union Station.

In that same article, Stark mentions that although Ensberg is apparently coveted by San Diego, it doesn't look like he's going anywhere. As bad as Mo has been since May, I'm inclined to think that you don't trade him for just Scott Linebrink right now. Linebrink would bolster the 'pen, but I have to think you could get more for someone coming off a 36 HR, 101 RBI season than just a middle reliever.

Interesting to note that there's no mention of trading Lidge in Stark's article. The Chronicle has certainly been beating that drum lately...

Zeke Gets Bombed

AAA: Round Rock was dropped by Omaha 10-5 last night. 2005's Spring Training Wunderkind Zeke Astacio was pounded for seven runs and eleven hits in two-plus innings, though Mike Gallo did hold the fort down, coercing five outs and surrendering only one walk. Cody Ransom continued his hot streak, going 2-3 with a walk and his 14th home run, though is hot hitting was considerably offset by a hat trick of defensive errors. Jason Lane got another night off, which seems odd, though he did play a double header the night before. Charlton Jimerson may be bottoming out, as he was 0-4 with 4 K's, running his totals for the season to 370 ABs, 149 Ks, 18 walks.

AA: Corpus Christi lost 6-4 at San Antonio. Chance Douglass was cruising along with a 4-2 lead into the seventh, but he and reliever Aaron Williams could not hold the lead. Jonny Ash had three hits for the Hooks. Troy Patton makes his Hooks' debut tonight.

High A: Salem fell to Wilmington 5-1. Raymar Diaz, in his first start since being promoted from Lexington, had control issues, walking six in 3.1 innings.

Low A: The Legends were rained out in Savannah.

Short Season A: The Valley Cats were off.

Rookie: Greenville defeated Princeton 8-6 thanks to a 14-hit attack.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Aubrey Huff and Mitch Talbot did not play last night. Ben Zobrist's Durham Bulls put a ten-spot on the Toledo Mudhens in the first inning last night and held on for a 15-10 victory, with Zobrist going 2-5 with a double and a triple, scoring three runs and driving in a pair. His average is now at .364 and his OBP at .472 through 44 ABs in Durham.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Astros Draft Update

Here is a quick update on the progress of the Astros' 2006 draft picks (#1-10):
#1: Max Sapp (C) - Max is at Short Season A ball in Tri-City, splitting time between DH and C. Through 23 games, Sapp has a .219 avg, .313 OBP and .288 SLG with 10 BB and 15 K.
#2: Sergio Perez (P) - Perez signed on July 1 and was assigned to Low A Lexington. He has yet to make an appearance for the Legends.
#3: Nick Moresi (OF) - Moresi is teammates with Max Sapp in Tri-City and is similarly struggling at the plate (.177 avg, .279 obp, .260 slg).
#4: Chris Johnson (IF) - Johnson is playing SS for Tri-City (.208/.264/.260).
#5: Casey Hudspeth (P) - Hudspeth has been very good in six starts for Tri-City - -2-0, 2.42 ERA, 8 BB and 21 K in 26 IP.
#6: David "Bud" Norris (P) - Norris has been pitching out of the Tri-City bullpen: 10 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 1 save and a 1.80 ERA.
#7: David Qualben (P) - Qualben has been sensational in the Valley Cats' rotation: 2-1, 0.96 ERA, 28 IP, 17 H, 7 BB and 14 K.
#8: James Van Ostrand (OF) - Van Ostrand, like almost all of the Valley Cats' hitteres, has had a terrible start: .225 avg, .287 obp, .250 obp and only two extra-base hits in 80 at-bats.
#9: Greg Buchanan (IF) - The former Rice Owl is hitting relatively well in Tri-City - .282/.318/.359 with four doubles and a triple in 78 ABs.
#10: Nathan Karns (P) - One of only two high-school players selected on the first day of the draft by the Astros (Sapp is the other), it does not appear that Karns has signed as of yet.

[Baseball America] Pence, Patton "Hot Prospects"

Baseball America updated its "Prospect Hot Sheet" last week. Hunter Pence was the #4 prospect listed in all of the minor leagues, and Troy Patton was #7.
UPDATE: This week's Hot Sheet is out, and the Astros are even better represented. #1 in all of baseball is Jason Hirsh, who has a 0.92 ERA since May 1 and has won ten consecutive decisions. Even Baseball America suggests that "the Astros most potent midseason addition could be calling up Hirsh". I just wish there was one, slightly credible reason for Hirsh remaining in Triple-A at this point, other than the theory that the Astros are holding him in Round Rock ahead of a trade. #2 is Troy Patton, newly promoted to Double-A.
Earning honorable mention honors are Tip Fairchild, the newest member of the High A Salem Avalanche starting rotation and his batterymate for the Avalanche, C Lou Santangelo. Other names of interest are Longhorn J. Brent Cox, who has a 26 inning scoreless streak for Double-A Trenton (Yankees), and some SS prospect for the Devil Rays named Ben Zobrist, whose defense is described as "steady" and who whose offensive numbers are bordering on extraordinary.

Lane Drives Express to Victory

AAA: Jason Lane hit one of four Express home runs in a 14-2 rout of Omaha. Jason was 2-5 with six RBI on the game, and since his demotion to AAA, he has a .300 avg, .367 OBP and .425 SLG with two doubles, one home run, 11 RBI, five walks and 11 K's. DH Mike Rodriguez went 4-5 with a home run, and Cody Ransom was 3-5. Mark McLemore and Phillip Barzilla pitched pretty well in tandem, though walking a combined eight Royals.

AA: The Hooks scored two runs to break a 4-4 tie in the top of the ninth and held on for a 6-5 win at San Antonio, moving them into a tie atop the Texas League South with the Missions. Josh Anderson, back in CF, had three hits and scored a pair, and Jorge Cortes, Walter Young and Josh Bonifay had two hits apiece. Josh Muecke pitched six innings and allowed three runs, and Paul Estrada got himself in and out of trouble to earn his ninth save of the season.

High A: Salem defeated Frederick 4-2 behind the stellar pitching of Tip Fairchild. Since earning a promotion from Lexington, Fairchild is 2-1 in three starts with a 3.32 ERA. Mario Garza homered for the Avalanche.

Low A: The Legends were off Sunday. C Lou Santangelo earned a mention in John Manuel's Weekend Dish at Baseball America. Santangelo is now tied for the Carolina League lead in HR (15) and first among regular catchers in the Carolina League in throwing out opposing baserunners (45%).

Short Season A: Tri-City beat Aberdeen 6-2 thanks to five shutout innings from starting pitcher Chris Salamida. The lefty Salamida, a 13th round pick by the Astros in 2006 out of baseball factory Onenota State University, is 3-1 in six starts for the Valley Cats with a 0.66 ERA and has allowed only 14 hits and two earned runs in 27.1 innings.

Rookie: Bluefield shut down Greenville 3-0, allowing the Astros only two hits.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: SS Ben Zobrist was 2-4 with a walk for the Durham Bulls on Sunday, pushing his average since the trade from Corpus Christi to .359, his OBP to .468 and his OPS to .853. Aubrey Huff was 2-5 with a run scored in the Astros' 8-4 win at New York.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Further Proof that the Texans were Right

Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports reports that Reggie Bush and his advisers could decide to have Bush sit out the entire 2006 season and re-enter the draft in 2007. My personal take has always been that the Texans were correct to avoid Bush with the #1 overall pick, and with a new coaching staff in place and their #1 overall pick in camp and working, the Texans clearly should be pleased to not have to deal with Bush and his financial demands. The organization has an incredible amount of positive momentum heading into the opening week of training camp, considering they are fresh off a 2-14 season last year. A reasonable mind may think that New Orleans would never allow this shot at a star player like bush to pass them by, but reasonable minds have never ruled the roost in New Orleans, and apparently Bush and his advisers may not be all that reasonable themselves.

Hirsh Untouchable Again

AAA: Round Rock pitchers dominated a doubleheader on Saturday. In the opener, some guy named Jason Hirsh got his 11th win, firing six scoreless innings. Wandy Rodriguez tossed five scoreless innings for Round Rock in a 3-1 Express victory. Humberto Quintero and Cody Ransom each had two hits. Jason Lane was 1-5 with a walk and three K's combined.
AA: Corpus Christi snapped its mini-slump, at least for the night, beating Midland 10-8. Marc Saccamanno continues to emerge from his season-long slump, going 3-3 last night with two doubles and a home run. Hunter Pence was 1-3 with his seventh triple of the season and a pair of walks. Paul Estrada pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his eighth save of the season.
High A: Salem moved into first place with a 10-7 victory over Fredricksburg. Paulino Del Guidice was roughed up in a rare bad start, but Lou Santangelo bailed him out with four hits, including three long balls, and four RBI. Drew Sutton also had two hits and a home run in the win.
Low A: Lexington lost its fifth game in a row as its offense continues to be MIA and its defense shoddy. Brad James was on the verge of a complete game shutout before his defense let him down in the final inning, leading to three unearned runs in the 3-2 loss. The Legends managed only two hits on the night against Hagerstown pitching.
Short Season A: Eric Taylor won the game with a solo homer in the tenth inning for Tri-City. Jordan Parraz had two more hits in the win.
Rookie: Greenville lost to Bluefield 5-4.
Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Ben Zobrist was 1-5 with a run scored for Durham. Mitch Talbot took a loss in his second start for the Montgomery Biscuits, but not for lack of effort. Talbot allowed only four hits and two runs in seven innings. Aubrey Huff was 0-4 with a K in the Astros' loss to the Mets.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Patton Promoted to Corpus

Now the Astros will win games, for sure, since Fernando Nieve was (finally) shipped out to Round Rock after last night's incredibly embarrassing rout at the hands of the New York Mets, a move intended to make room for Brandon Backe on the 25 man roster. Mike Gallo also (surprisingly) cleared waivers and (unfortunately) accepted an assignment to Round Rock, clearing room for Backe on the 40 man roster.

Nieve threw two scoreless innings on Friday night and was understandably frustrated by the club's decision to demote him. Nieve had allowed only two runs in his last ten ninnings of relief work and is certainly not the root of the Astros' problems. The offense is clearly the problem, not the bullpen. A lineup that cannot muster a single run against the likes of John Maine or more than two runs against Carlos Marmol cannot be expected to win games on a regular basis, no matter if Christy Mathewson is on the mound. Orlando Hernandez versus Brandon Backe is not a matchup that favors the Astros today, either. Backe was not impressive at all in his rehab starts for the Express. It will be interesting to watch the Astros' front office's reaction through the weekend. The Astros go into play Saturday five games behind the Reds in the Wildcard race and nine games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central.

AAA: Chris Sampson had one bad inning, allowing four runs in the seventh inning in a 4-3 loss to Omaha. Brian Gordon had two home runs for the Express. Jason Lane got the night off.

: A late rally fell short, as the Hooks lost 7-4 to Midland. Ronnie Martinez was roughed up in his second Double-A start. The Hooks were down 7-0 going into the bottom of the ninth but managed to get the tying run to the plate before being finally put down. Jonny Ash and Hunter Pence each had two hits in a losing effort. In an exciting, if expected development, Troy Patton was promoted from High A Salem to join the Hooks and will make his Hooks' debut on Tuesday at San Antonio. Ricky Bennett, the Astros' farm director, calls Patton "tougher than anybody we've got in our system."

High A
: Salem shut out Potomac 5-0 behind Rory Shortell. Ole Sheldon had a home run and five RBI and Beau Torbert had three hits.

Low A
: Lexington was rained out.

Short Season A
: The Valley Cats lost their second consecutive game, this one 2-1 to Aberdeen. RF Jordan Parraz had a two-hit night for Tri City, who is retiring #21 in honor of the newest big leaguer in Houston, Matt Albers, who became the first Valley Cat to reach the majors when he was called up earlier this week.

: Greenville coasted past Bluefield 6-1. Polin Trinidad continued to dominate with five one-hit innings, running his record to 3-0 and his ERA to 0.25.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch
: Ben Zobrist was 0-2 with two walks on Friday night, and he made a throwing error (his second error since the trade. By the way, his next-door neighbor at third base, BJ Upton, committed his 30th error of the season. Through nine games, Zobrist is 11-30 with three RBI and six runs scored, three steals, and seven walks versus three K's. He has an average of .367, an OBP of .486, a SLG of .367 and an OPS of .853.
Mitch Talbot is scheduled to start tonight for Montgomery against West Tennessee.
Aubrey Huff was 1-3 against the Mets Friday night and is 7-28 since being acquired by Houston. His splits are .250/.364/.429/.792. The Astros are 3-5 since the trade.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Hunter Pence, Astros' 2007 Opening Day Center Fielder?

AAA: Jared Gothreaux was knocked around by the Redbirds, allowing three home runs in five innings in a 7-1 loss for the Express. Jailen Peguero allowed two runs in two innings of relief work. Jason Lane was 0-3 with a pair of whiffs.

How quickly things change...former NL All Star Junior Spivey is the leadoff man in Memphis, and he is currently batting .176 in 199 AB's at AAA.

AA: Corpus Christi took out their frustration on the Midland Rouckhounds, pounding out 16 hits in a 9-4 rout at Whataburger Field. Chad Reineke was wild, failing to get out of the fourth inning thanks in part to five free passes. JR House was 3-3 with a pair of runs scored, and Josh Bonifay, Josh Anderson, Hunter Pence, Jonny Ash and even Osvaldo Fernando (.165 avg) each had a pair of hits.

As mentioned in Greg Rajan's notebook, Hunter Pence started in centerfield on Thursday night, with regular centerfielder Josh Anderson moving to right field. This is potentially an interesting development. The Astros continue to suffer from a void in centerfield, and establishing that he is capable of manning centerfield defensively could help Hunter Pence expedite his trip to the big leagues.

High A: Salem lost 2-1 to Potomac. Jimmy Barthmaier had another strong start, as he and Troy Patton jockey for the chance to replace Matt Albers in the rotation at Double-A. Aaron Fitt from Baseball America had a quick write-up about Patton's recent run of sensational pitching. Patton is 4-0 with a 0.72 ERA in July and currently leads the Carolina League in strikeouts.

Low A: Lexington was whipped again by Hagerstown, this time by a score of 8-3, thanks in no small part to five errors by the Legends.

Short Season A: Tri City's winning streak was snapped in a 11-1 loss at the hands of the Auburn Doubledays. 1st round pick Max Sapp is off to a slow start in his first 66 AB's, hitting at a .227/.301/.303 clip.

Rookie: Elizabethton stomped Greenville 7-2.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Ben Zobrist was 1-4 with a walk and a fielding error for Triple-A Durham, dropping his average to a scant .393. Aubrey Huff is 6-25 since being acquired by the Astros.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Bold Move, but Now What?

It is rare that a move leaves me as confused as this one did. Matt Albers, one of the three best pitching prospects in the Astros organization, was called up from Double-A Corpus Christi after the latest lifeless loss by the Astros. Albers, a 23rd round pick in 2001 out of Clements H.S. in Sugar Land, is 10-2 in 19 starts at Corpus with a 2.17 ERA. Wandy Rodriguez was mercifully sent down to Round Rock, where he will take Brandon Backe's spot in the rotation. The Astros - ridiculed for several seasons now for their tectonically slow player development methods - bring their AA ace up to the bigs. Not only is there a more qualified pitcher available (Jason Hirsh), but the move is apparently an attempt to shore up their bullpen, while their punchless offense is unquestionably the biggest weakness. If Astros fans were told that a Hook was on his way to save the day, 100% would have (justifiably) said, "Welcome to Houston, finally, Hunter Pence".

Wandy's demotion to the AAA rotation is somewhat cleverly disguised as an insurance policy in the event that Backe struggles in his return to the bigs, but with Fernando Nieve twiddling his thumbs in the Astros bullpen, the chance that Wandy gets the call in the event that Backe takes a step back is (hopefully) very slim. Astros' fans can hope that the Astros are slowly learning their lesson. First with Gallo, now with Wandy.

Purpura has indicated that Albers will be used out of the bullpen because of his resilient, powerful right arm. What is Albers' role going to be? Chad Qualls has given up exactly one run in his last 13 innings. Dan Wheeler has allowed only two earned runs since June 4. Six of Russ Springer's last eight outings have been scoreless. Even Dave Borkowski has been solid in his long relief role. Brad Lidge has been the most inconsistent relief pitcher, but he is also the most talented, and obviously Albers will not be thrust into the closer's role in the heat of a pennant race.

Albers last pitched on Tuesday, throwing seven innings and allowing only one unearned run. That means his next scheduled start would have been Saturday - the same day that Brandon Backe is due to start against the powerful Mets. Maybe Albers is going to get the Phillip Barzilla treatment - a cup of coffee, maybe a long relief stint if Backe leaves early, but he simply does not fit in the Astros' bullpen. If Jason Hirsh had not experienced some soreness in his throwing shoulder during his last start, maybe this would have been his callup instead of Albers. I doubt it, though, as fans are much more familiar with Hirsh's dominance at AAA and have been clamoring for him to be inserted in the Astros' rotation for months. It will be much easier to bring Albers up for a few days and return him to the minors than it would have been for Hirsh.

Some roster questions still remain. Brandon Backe's return on Saturday will require a move both on the 25 man roster and on the 40 man roster. The obvious option for DFA from the 40-man roster is Mike Gallo, but the Astros' have never seemed to be as critical of his pitching as the rest of the civilized world. There are already 12 pitchers on the 25-man roster, so it seems likely that a pitcher will need to go to make room for Backe. I think Borkowski has earned the trust of Garner and Hickey, and their infatuation with 'veteran leadership' makes me think that he's safe. That leaves Fernando Nieve as the most likely to go down, maybe back to the rotation in Round Rock to get some work. Replacing Nieve in the bullpen with Albers certainly seems like an odd swap, though. On a more minor note, it seems that Troy Patton is deservedly about to be the recipient of a call-up to Corpus Christi, which is great, especially for those of us with a trip to Whataburger Field on the upcoming calendar.

The one caveat to all this would be a trade. The Astros could clear space on their 25 and 40 man rosters by making a multi-player trade. I have felt for several weeks that the Astros may be keeping Jason Hirsh down in AAA to maintain his market value at its highest possible point. If they were to bring him up to the majors and he experienced some significant growing pains, that could tarnish his mystique in other teams' eyes. Troy Patton's recent uptick seems to indicate that he may be much closer to contributing for the big club than previously thought. My money says that after the terrible start to the second half in Miami and Chicago and with a three-day date with the NL's juggernaut Mets looming, here's guessing that Purpura has gotten permission to shake up the roster with a significant move, and I'll guess that Hirsh will be one of the players to go. I also feel like Lidge may have worn out his welcome in Houston. The fans have turned against him. While Brad Lidge still shows flashes of the stuff that made him one of the game's most dominant closers over the past three seasons, there is a rational argument that a change of scenery might do some good. Of course, I'd rather see the Astros acquire a pitching coach who could polish up Lidge's mechanics and return him to form. Moving Lidge would open the closer's spot up for Chad Qualls, and possibly move Albers into the seventh inning role for the remainder of the season. So that's going to be my guess: a trade of Hirsh, Adam Everett and Lidge for Miguel Tejada.

Patton's Marching

AAA: Brandon Puffer sidewinded his way to a loss for the Express last night, allowing five runs in the eighth inning to blow a 6-5 lead in a game the Express eventually lost 10-7. Alan Zinter and Cody Ransom homered for the Express, and Jason Lane was 1-2 with a walk and a sac fly. Mike Gallo, apparently being stretched out so that he can be an option as a starter if Andy Pettitte does not re-sign, allowed one run in three innings of relief.

AA: The Hooks' slide continued, losing 5-1 to Midland. Chance Douglass was roughed up, leaving after only three innings. Lefty Josh Muecke did pitch four hitless innings of relief, in a bright spot. Hunter Pence did go 2-4 with a pair of doubles. The Hooks are 2-6 since the big trade last week. Greg Rajan did a nice feature piece on Chance Douglass in today's Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

High A: Troy Patton may not finish the season in Salem. Oh wait, he's an Astro. He certainly won't be promoted, but it is not his fault. His string of incredible starts was extended last night, as he allowed only one hit and one unearned run while striking out eight over six innings in an 8-1 Salem win. Matt Cunningham hit his second home run of the season, and the Avalanche converted 12 hits and four walks into eight runs in posting their tenth consecutive road win.

Low A: Lexington was burned by Hagerstown 9-0, mustering only three hits.

Short Season A: The Valley Cats won their seventh game in a row, shutting out Auburn 5-0. The 6-8 hitters (1B James Van Ostrand, LF Andrew Holder and 2B Greg Buchanan) went a combined 7-13 at the plate, and Casey Hudspeth (2006 #5 draft pick) and Cory Lapinksi combined on a three-hit shutout, striking out eleven.

Rookie: Greenville lost 3-1 to Elizabethton, despite a nice start from Ryan Mitchell.

Zobrist/Talbot update: Zobrist was 2-3 with a walk and two runs scored for Triple-A Durham yesterday. He is now 10-24 with five runs scored and a .417 avg and .500 OBP.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

He's Greek to Me

I don't have any clue whether or not Vassillis Spanouils can play or not. To be honest, I have my doubts as to whether or not anyone really does. The hit-or-miss game of plucking Euros from their professional ranks and inserting them into NBA rotations has grown quite tiresome on me. "The Next Dirk" is as popular of a moniker on The Network as "The Next Mr. Pamela Anderson". It sure seems to me that for every Pau Gasol, there are at least five Boki Snackbars. Despite of my glaring indifference, the Rockets have committed three years and $5 million to this Greek guard. If nothing else, at least we will be spared from further, seemingly endless speculation. Vas will either make a deferens, or he will not (not bad, eh?). There will certainly be an opportunity for him to make a difference in the Rockets' subpar backcourt.

Farm Update

AAA: The Express scratched across a run in the ninth inning to defeat Memphis 10-9. Mark McLemore left after only one inning of work in which he allowed four runs, and Jailen Peguero allowed a pair of runs (striking out three) in an inning and two-thirds. Jason Lane was 2-5 (.320 since his demotion), and Brooks Conrad continued his hot hitting with a double and a triple.

AA: Corpus Christi was shut down 4-1 by Midland. Matt Albers had yet another great pitching performance, allowing only one unearned run on two hits over seven innings. Josh Bonifay and Jorge Cortes each had two hits for the skidding Hooks, who were an Astro-like 0-for-11 with RISP.

High A: Salem knocked off Potomac 4-1 behind Tip Fairchild, who pitched six solid innings to earn the his first win for the Avalanche. Lou Santangelo had two hits, including his 11th home run, to lead the offensive attack.

Low A: The Legends were flattened by the Power 10-5. Eli Iorg continued his recent surge with two doubles and two RBI.

Short Season A: Tri-City continued its winning ways with a 5-4 victory over Auburn. RF Jordan Parraz doubled twice, walked twice and drove in two runs.

Rookie: Greenville's ninth-inning rally fell a run short in a 4-3 loss to Elizabethton. 2B Reinaldo Ramirez hit his first home run of the season.

Zobrist/Talbot Watch: Ben Zobrist was 2-3 last night for Triple-A Durham. He's 8-21 since being traded with an OBP of .458.

Tim Redding Watch: I did not realize this, but Tim Redding has been in the starting rotation for the Charlotte Knights of the International League, the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. Redding has an 8-7 record in 20 starts (including three complete games) for the Knights and has posted a 3.55 ERA with 99 K's in 132 IP.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Farm Report

AAA: Jason Hirsh continues to struggle. Last night he allowed THREE hits in five scoreless innings, and the Express struck late with a pair of runs to defeat Memphis 2-0. Jailen Peguero pitched another scoreless inning in relief. Brooks Conrad won the game with a two-run shot in the eighth inning, and Jason Lane was 0-3 with a walk and a pair of K's. The Express have a 12.5 game lead over New Orleans in the PCL American South division.

AA: The Hooks open up a four game set tonight at home versus Midland. The Hooks won the first-half division title and currently hold a one-game lead in the second half race.

High A: Felipe Paulino Del Guidice (man, I hope Milo's still around when this guy makes the big club) allowed only two hits in six scorless innings and struck out seven to earn his fifth win of the season, defeating Potomac 6-0. In another local twist, Houston native Clint Everts gave up three runs in six hitless innings, walking six. Beau Torbert was the offensive star with a three-run double. The Avalanche have crept within 2.5 games of first place Myrtle Beach in the second half divisional race.

Low A
: Lexington beat West Virginia 5-1 in 16 innings on a Mitch Einertson (pictured) walk-off grand slam. Is that any good? Brad James continued his incredible pitching of late with another six shutout innings. Eli Iorg had three hits for the Legends, as his average continues to slowly creep upward (.240 now). The game was tied for the longest in the history of the franchise. The Legends won the first-half division title and are currently 11-14 in the second half, six games behind first place Lakewood.

Short Season A: Tri City also won in dramatic fashion. After allowing the Batavia Muckdogs to rally from a 4-0 deficit to tie the game in the top of the 9th, CF Nick Moresi won the game with an RBI single in the bottom of the inning. Moresi was a 3rd round pick of the Astros in 2006 out of a Fresno State University. Bryan Hallberg had a nice start, pitching six scoreless frames. Hallberg was the Astros 12th round pick in 2006, hailing from Pace University (NJ). The Valley Cats are 17-10 and hold a 1.5 game lead over Oneonta in the division.

Rookie: Greenville bashed Bristol 7-2. Kevin Fox earned his first save with three innings of one-hit relief in which he struck out six batters. Fox was a 15th round pick in the 2006 draft out of Biola University. SS Ronnie Ramirez continues to scald the baseball (.416/.471/.649 in 77 AB's). Greenville is currently 13-13 and sits four games behind first-place Elizabethton.

Rays Trade Watch: Ben Zobrist was 2-4 with a run scored for Durham last night. With a BJ Upton - Ben Zobrist - Delmon Young 1-2-3 punch, fans in Durham get pretty nice value for their buck. Last night's winning pitcher for Durham was Texas-Ex J.P. Howell, who threw five shutout innings and lowered his ERA since coming over from the KC system to 2.36 in five starts.

Monday, July 17, 2006

One Ray's Opinion

I am fortunate enough to have a contact in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' front office, who was kind enough to offer some remarks regarding the recent Aubrey Huff trade.

Interestingly, Mitch Talbot garnered more attention from this official than Ben Zobrist. This official, who requested anonymity, described Talbot as having "great command" and a "Major League changeup". He went on to say that Talbot gets a "fair amount of strikeouts", which indicates that "he is pounding hitters with quality pitches when it counts". His hope was that Talbot got a taste of AAA late in the season, but acknowledged that he may finish out the season at AA, which still is not bad progress at all for a 22 year old.

As for Zobrist, this official described Zobrist as a "quality player" and a "good SS" but agreed that the jury was still out as to whether he could play SS at the big-league level. This official did opine that as a former Team USA player who "has had success at every level of baseball", it would be a big mistake to "put a cap" on Zobrist.

For what it is worth, Zobrist is 4-14 so far in AAA Durham, with three RBI, two walks and a stolen base. Mitch Talbot pitched six scoreless innings to earn a win in his first start for the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits. Aubrey Huff had a big three-run home run in his Astros' debut Thursday night and was 4-16 in the four-game series in Miami.

Surprise, Surprise

TO: Scrap Iron

FROM: H-Town Sports

DATE: Immediate

RE: Ignorant Platooning

Contrary to the opinion of Astros' coaching, Mike Lamb can handle LHP. In 34 AB's this season, Lamb has posted .294/.351/.529 for an .881 OPS. Against LHP, Lamb has as many extra-base hits as Preston Wilson despite the fact that Wilson's had more than twice the number of at-bats (71). On the other hand, Aubrey Huff, in 75 AB's versus LHP, checks in at .240/.313/.320 for an Ausmusian .633 OPS. For his career, Huff does have an OPS of .751 against LHP while Lamb's is .740 (virtually equal to his career OPS v. RHP of .765). Meanwhile, Lamb sits on the bench while Huff and Wilson play everyday. Just something to think about.

Farm Update

AAA: The Express played a thriller with New Orleans, losing 10-9 in 13 innings. The teams were tied at six after nine innings, and each team scored two in the eleventh and one in the twelfth, before the Zephyrs won the game with a run in the 13th inning. Chris Sampson had a great start, allowing only five hits and a run over seven innings, but Brandon Puffer and Travis Driskill allowed a total of five runs in the eighth and ninth to blow the save. Mike Gallo entered the game in the 11th with runners on first and third and immediately gave up a game-tying hit. Jason Lane was 1-5 with a pair of walks.

AA: Corpus Christi was off.

High-A: Salem was off.

Low-A: Lexington was shut out by West Virginia 8-0. Brian Bogusevic was bombed for eight hits and five runs in five innings.

Short Season A: The Valley Cats shut out the Muckdogs 6-0 behind Douglas Arguello, who struck out eight and allowed only one hit in six scoreless innings.

Rookie: Greenville beat Bristol 4-1 behind the amazing Pollin Trinidad, who fired seven more scoreless innings for the Astros. Trinidad has given up ONE earned run in 31 innings pitched for Greenville, striking out 27 and allowing only 16 hits. He is now 2-1 with a miniscule 0.29 ERA.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Farm Report

AAA: Round Rock lost Friday night to the New Orleans Zephyrs 4-1. Brandon Backe made his final rehab start, walking six and allowing seven hits and four runs in seven innings. He apparently feels good, but Garner expressed concerns about his control, as he should. With Fernando Nieve collecting dust in the bullpen, the leash on Backe should be a short one. Jason Lane was 1-4, replacing Luke Scott in the Express OF. Charlton Jimerson has moved from CF to RF.

The Express rebounded to rout the Zephyrs 12-4 on Saturday. Jason Lane was 4-5 and reserve OF Brian Gordon had three hits. Cody Ransom homered again, and 2B Brooks Conrad drove in four runs. Jared Gothreaux started and earned his fourth win of the season.

AA: The Hooks lost two of three game to Arkansas. Friday night was a 6-5 loss blown by the bullpen, specifically David Rollandini, who allowed four hits and three runs in 1 1/3 innings. Jonny Ash and Marc Saccamanno homered for the Hooks, who hammered out 12 hits but committed three errors, including a pair by Saccamanno at third base. Ronnie Martinez was on track to earn the win in his Corpus debut.

Saturday's double-header resulted in a split. The Hooks lost the first game 6-4. Hunter Pence had a pair of hits, including his 21st home run. Josh Miller did not fare well in five innings of work. Corpus avoided the sweep by winning the nightcap 4-3. Pence was the hero of the nightcap as well, going 2-3 with his 22nd home run. Paul Estrada pitched the last two innings to earn his seventh save, allowing only one hit and striking out three.

High-A: Salem won the final two games of their series against Kinston to earn a split. Friday's win was by the score of 5-3. Frankie Caraballo and Lou Santangelo continued to carry the offense with a combined four hits. Troy Patton allowed only two runs in six innings to push his record to 6-7. Salem won 7-4 on Saturday. Big production from the 1B combo of Nathan Sellers and Ole Sheldon, who combined to go 5-6 with two walks and five RBI, and Jimmy Barthmeier pitched si good innings.

Low A: Lexington lost 5-4 to Delmarva on Friday and rebounded to beat West Virginia by the same score on Saturday. The Legends mustered only three hits on Friday night, one of which was a solo HR by Koby Clemens, his third HR of the season. On Saturday, Mitch Einertson had the big blow on Saturday, a first inning three-run HR, his ninth of the season.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Astros Minor League Roundup

AAA: The Express returned to action with an 8-4 win at New Orleans. Cody Ransom continued his recent power surge with a pair of homers, giving him eleven on the season. Ransom is a 30 year-old infielder who had several tastes of the bigs in San Francisco and spent last season in AAA for the Cubs and Rangers. Jason Lane went 0-3 with a pair of sac flies in his return to Round Rock. Phillip Barzilla earned the win with five innings of one-hit relief.

The Statesman's William Wilkerson has a nice column about Express ace Jason Hirsh, focusing several paragraphs to Hirsh's relationship with his younger brother Matt, who was released earlier this season by the Astros' rookie league affiliate.

AA: The Hooks split a doubleheader with Springfield on Wednesday and lost to the Cardinals again last night on the road. In the 6-5 win on Wednesday afternoon, JR House was the hero with two hits and three RBI, and Josh Anderson reached base three times and scored twice. Matt Albers was roughed up in four-plus innings of work. In the second game, Chad Reineke had a decent Double-A debut, allowing only an unearned run in three-plus innings, but also walking four, giving up five hits and making an error. Hunter Pence went 3-4 in the nightcap, and Jorge Cortes and Jonny Ash had two hits. The Hooks left seven men in scoring position in the second game.

Last night was a second consecutive 2-1 loss for the Hooks. Chance Douglass gave up a pair of runs and allowed ten baserunners in 5.2 innings pitched. Again, the Hooks piled up hits and baserunners (two hits apiece for Cortes, Anderson, Pence and Young) but left seven more men in scoring position. Wade Robinson, who was called up from High-A Salem, replaced Ben Zobrist at shortstop on Thursday night, and Osvaldo Fernando substituted in as well. Fernando is 14 hits in 88 at-bats this season (.159/.213/.170). Ronnie Martinez will take Mitch Talbot's spot in the Hooks' rotation after posting a 2.31 ERA in 58+ innings at Lexington and Salem.

Friend of H-Town Sports Greg Rajan of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times has a nice piece on the Hooks' perspective on Wednesday's trade for Aubrey Huff. Both Talbot and Zobrist knew that moves were coming, but they also both were suprised and disappointed to be personally involved. Greg also provides his take on the trade on his Hooks blog.

High-A: The Avalanche lost back-to-back games to Kinston. Wednesday's 7-6 loss was extraordinarily painful, as the Indians rallied for three runs in the ninth to take the lead, only for Salem to tie it in the bottom of the ninth. Kinston then won it in the tenth. Ryan Thompson blew the save for the 'Lanche, while Drew Sutton, Nathan Sellers and Beau Torbert each had a pair of hits. Paulino del Guidice was wild but effective in five innings.

Kinston took last night's game 8-3 as Salem starter Tip Fairchild cruised through six innings before getting lit up for five runs in the seventh, no thanks to Rodrigo Escobar allowing a two-out, three-run home run.

Low-A: Lexington routed Delmarva 13-0 on Wednesday night, as Eli Iorg went 3-4 with a homer and five RBI and Mitch Einerston hit a two-run homer. Mark Ori also had three hits and scored three runs. Brad James followed up on his recent one-hitter with six shutout innings to earn the win.

The Legends made it six wins in eight games with a 3-1 victory over Delmarva last night. Josh Flores and Eli Iorg each had two hits to pace the offense, and Raymar Diaz had another great start to earn his eighth win on the season.

In another side effect to the trade of Zobrist, Legends' SS Wladimir Sutil was promoted to Salem to replace Wade Robinson.

Short Season A: The Valley Cats split the first two games in a series at State College, losing 8-1 on Wednesday and winning 5-1 on Thursday. Jordan Parraz, the Astros' third-round pick in 2004, had three hits on Wednesday. Parraz has struggled in his first two pro seasons at Greenville and Tri-City, but is off to a .347/.443/.480 start in 75 AB's this season. Christopher Salamida was the hero last night, allowing only one hit over five shutout innings to run his record to 2-1 and to drop his ERA to 0.81. Salamida was a 13th round draft pick out of Onenota State University this season.

Rookie: Greenville beat Burlington 6-4 on Wednesday night but fell 6-3 last night. Ralph Henriquez and Steve Brown each had three hits Wednesday night. SS Ronnie Ramirez had two more hits on Thursday to send him to .387/.433/.645 after 65 AB's this season. Anthony Bello pitched four scoreless innings, allowing one hit. Bello was the Astros' 20th round pick in 2006 out of Nova Southeast University.