Here’s what we know on the Astros’ day off


The Astros have a day off and they’re a couple of dollars — or hitters, if you’d prefer — short. Thanks to the pitching and solid defense for the most part, Houston is in the thick of things. Yes, in the thick of things.

A few observations as you catch your breath from the first three series and enjoy the nice spring wind generated by a league high strikeout total from your favorite baseball nine (average 10/game).

The Astros are stalling.

Josh Fields — once spoken of in the spring as a closer candidate — is now languishing in no man’s land in Fresno. He’s essentially been lights out in his rehab from a groin injury, but there is no place in the Houston Inn (bullpen) for him. So much so that manager A.J. Hinch made this statement to reporters: “We’re trying not to make any judgments until we continue to get more information and evaluating that versus what we’re doing here.” Hmmm. Dan, may need your interpretation skills here, but is it possible the Astros are working on a trade, waiting for someone to show up at the park with a hangnail or blister or actually feel Fields needs one more rehab start?

Here’s what we know:

  • Luke Gregerson, Chad Qualls, Pat Neshek and Tony Sipp aren’t going anywhere.
  • Joe Thatcher, the second lefty in the bullpen, is likely in that group, so call him Group 1A.
  • Both Sam Deduno (the long man) and Will Harris — both Luhnow guys — have not only carried their weight, but they have been lights out. Harris has options, Deduno does not.
  • Why mess with what’s working, even if one of your best prospects is ready to go. Huh?

Gattis has turned the corner?

Yeah, yeah, I put a question mark behind the statement so don’t smoke up the keyboard just yet. But he looked better in the Oakland series than the first two. Has he made adjustments or is he just better against Oakland? We’ll see.

Here’s what we know:

  • The towering home run to center field Wednesday caught everyone’s attention, even if it was not a difference-maker in the game.
  • He struck out only twice in the three-game series and hit the ball hard in several at bats.
  • He’s not going to Fresno.
  • Apparently, Hinch is comfortable keeping him in the DH role rather than giving him a spot start or two in the field.
  • What does a DH do most of the game? Play cards? Watch the game? Shine shoes? Run a camera for Root Sports?

Details, details, details.

Hey, look, 25 years ago, most fans didn’t have so many stats at their fingertips. You knew the team record, the pitcher’s record and ERA and the hitter’s number of home runs, RBI and average. Beyond that, you were happy if your team was in the thick of it. Now we’re told how a batter hits when the moon is high, he’s standing on one leg, with one eye closed and wearing a team color or white top. Let’s go back a few years.

Here’s what we know.

  • Houston is 4-5. That projects to 72 wins, or a two-game improvement over 2014. Not good enough, but still 153 games to make it up.
  • Gattis (.094) and Chris Carter (.067) are horrible. George Springer (.147) also has not been great at the plate. Take away their (ahem) contributions and the team is hitting a respectable .254.
  • Problem is, the Astros need those three guys in order to be respectable in 2015. In fact, they need these guys hitting 3-4-5.
  • Most are confident Springer will get there. Many believe Gattis will also be decent. Some now wonder if Luhnow should have sold high on Carter at the end of last season.

The cavalry is still training.

Easy to say “Bring up Jon Singleton” or “How ’bout that Preston Tucker at DH?”, but it’s better if those players are on their own schedule, not to be bothered with the needs of the big club. At least not now. Incubation is critical. Progress is a must.

Here’s what we know.

  • Singleton and Tucker could be future factors for the Astros. Just not now.
  • Both are off to good, not necessarily great, starts in Fresno.
  • Singleton’s line is: .320/.452/.560. Tucker’s line: .357/.438/.714.
  • Not great, you say? Yes, it’s a good start…for seven games. Get back to me after 25 games and we’ll talk.
  • Both need the time, perhaps half a season at least and, gulp, their timeline should not be driven by how poorly either Carter or Gattis is doing. At least in April.
  • Believe it or not, if an emergency arose, you may see L.J. Hoes in Houston before Singleton or Tucker. At least in April.

Stars!

It doesn’t take one of NASA’s rocket scientists to tell you that Houston has found two stars in Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh. Interestingly, they’re about as much a secret these days as NASA is.

Here’s what we know.

  • It doesn’t get much better than Keuchel and McHugh.
  • They’re proof the draftain’tallit’s cooked up to be, that diamonds can be found after the first day (Remember,RoyOswalt is a 20th round guy himself.)
    • Keuchel was drafted in the seventh round, McHugh in the 18th.
  • What were the Mets thinking when the traded McHugh to Colorado, and what were the Rockies thinking when they put him on waivers?
  • If the Astros can find one more Keuchel or McHugh this year, it could get fun. Any candidates?

Enjoy the day off. We’ll stick with “A’s” this weekend, just Angels instead of Athletics.

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41 comments on “Here’s what we know on the Astros’ day off

  1. I may be making too much of this, but I thought yesterday’s win was the type of game that could signal a difference between last season and this season.
    In both 2014 and 2015 the Astros were 3-3. Both times they lost the next two games and were 3-5 headed into the 9th game.
    Lucas Harrell started the 9th game, pitched poorly and the team fell to 3-6. They then lost 21 of the next 30 games to hit 12-27 on the season and basically made a .500 season a pipe dream.
    This time Collin McHugh who was in the minors this time last season came out and led a solid effort in a 6-1 win over the A’s. The hope here is that this is the type of stopper game they can expect from at least McHugh and Keuchel, which should keep them from any death spiral losing streaks.
    Other thoughts:
    – I think you hit it right on the head – They are not likely to bring up Fields at all. He has potential, but the guys they have are either not going anywhere or are performing real well (Thatcher has been so-so but the lefty side of it protects him).
    – Gattis had been showing signs of busting out – Carter not so much.
    – 4 wins 5 losses is no great shakes, but when you look at the big doughnut in the middle of the lineup – to me it is encouraging. They should be able to win more when these guys start trending towards the middle.
    – Where the heck would we be without Lowrie and Marisnick’s production?
    – I love to watch both Keuchel and McHugh – very different, but very effective pitchers. They are fun that is for sure.
    – Altuve is starting to come on – which is good.
    – I don’t bury my head in my hands when they signal for the bullpen.

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    • Yeah – the MLB network guys were basically saying the same thing…that with no production from the middle of the order, the Astros are only one game under .500…and when they start to get that production, look out! I’m just concerned we will be too streaky to challenge, but still anticipate some great fireworks!

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  2. Josh Fields. Because of the off day the Astros are going into the weekend series with a completely rested bullpen. By Sunday night they will know where their bullpen stands, where Fields’s health stands, and where the team’s health stands for the nine-game west coast road trip which does have an off day after the third game. Sunday may be when we find out about Fields. But today is an OFF DAY!
    As far as a trade goes, I think the Astros are always working on a trade. But today is an OFF DAY!

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  3. Chip – regarding your earlier question on reporters, remember that the NFL draft is close…the paper probably cannot spare warm bodies as they are already ramping up for that!

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    • Devin, it was actually OP who raised the issue from a Drellich tweet. Back in the day, I can remember when there were always two beat reporters and a columnist (Justice) covering the Astros. Not sure if that’s a switch in philosophy, a result of dollars, a losing franchise for a decade, lack of interest or…as you suggest, just a temporary issue due to the NFL draft.

      It’s been quite a while since they’ve covered with multiple reporters, but then, times they are a changing and the covering of sports teams has also changed. It’s sort of like network news…used to be the source. Now there are so many other outlets and ways to receive news, you don’t have the Walter Cronkite or the Peter Jennings or Frank Reynolds.

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    • Devin, I think Drellich was struck that there was nobody from the entire city’s media that were covering the Astros on the last night of their homestand, but him.

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      • HMM Interesting so carter at DH and Gatiis um um um behind the plate cant be worse than cement hands Conger, right.

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      • I know you did not mention Gattis, Dan. But I wonder if the fact that he is a catcher by trade – the guy who captains the defense, plans every pitch and location, and is in a constant engagement with the pitcher and the umpire, if not the opposing batters – that makes it harder for him to adjust to being a DH. From being the most involved player in the game to being the most detached – that is quite a transition.

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      • Mr. Bill – On top of all that – if you are not hitting – like Gattis was not hitting – sitting there must be doubly tough – absolutely nothing to distract you.
        Though I’m not advocating sending the guy with really bad knees to catcher (wait a minute am I talking about Gattis or Castro).

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    • The Lancaster JetHawks opened the season with a seven game homestand. They had no home runs in that 3-4 homestand, with all those bombers and in that ballpark.
      Whodathunkit?

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    • The best example I can find to show how early it is to assume anything based on the year so far is this batting line:
      .476 BA, .577 OBP, .810 SLG, 1.386 OPS thru 6 games.
      That is the batting line for El Paso Chihuahua’s AAA THIRD BASEMAN, Brett Alexander Wallace.

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  4. OP, I think you need to have an entirely different discussion when it comes to players like Wallace. He has played 509 AAA games with this line: .303/.371/.485. Every player reaches a ceiling with his skills. For some, it’s little league. Others are incredible contributors in high school, but can’t cut it even at a JC. Same is true with pro players. The challenge is to identify as early as possible if they are a true major league prospect or just a filler. And, where they will top out.

    The skill and potential is also why Wallace has gotten so many chances.

    By the way, that entire 2008 first round is thin, in that 20/20 hindsight mode. I remember when many Astros’ fans were screaming when the team took Jason Castro over Justin Smoak. Now?

    But on the ceiling question, it’s the question that Luhnow must ask regarding every player in the pipeline, especially those like Singleton and Santana who have already sipped a cup of coffee.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m sure you all will find exceptions, but to me, the last 3-4 years every time we bring up someone that seems to be ready down on the farm, they really struggle. Now when i see other teams prospects come up , not so much. Anyone have a theory?

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    • Yes, most of the time they are too young. Altuve was the only only one with enough talent to overcome being brought up at too young an age.
      One more thing, being brought up too young to play on a really bad team with really bad managers, really bad PR and more fans for the opponent’s teams in your home park is not a recipe for success. I am not piling on, but I am just stating the facts as they have occurred over the last four years.

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      • Is our team philosophy/coaching maybe hurting. i see other not so good teams, bring up young kids and they just don’t look lost like ours?

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      • I agree. I’ve alway said that the fish stinks from the head down. J.D. Martinez might be a fair example. I didn’t think there was any real value left in the guy, but I’m not a paid baseball expert either. Did the environment in Detroit help him become so successful so suddenly? I think so.

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      • JDM retooled his swing attempting to emulate Miguel Cabrera. He was actually hitting a lot of solid contact in Houston before suffering some minor injuries. To me, he looked like MLB fastballs overpowered him. Wallace had the same issue. I don’t think Houston has had a hitting instructor who could help address such issues.

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      • There is a tremendous article in fangraphs about how JDM retooled his swing, and he has become one of the better “the other way” hitters in baseball. Fascinating look at his spray charts from Houston to Detroit.

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      • We all know he retooled his swing, but was anyone paying attention in Houston? And what made Detroit decide to pick him up? Maybe Ausmus? Maybe a more nurturing atmosphere? Maybe a bunch of professional people around him? A batch of excellent hitters already in the dugout?

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      • As I recall, Martinez “retooled” his swing late in his last spring training in Houston. It just hadn’t had time to manifest completely and the Astros gave up on him. That said, there was a much more seasoned environment around in Detroit…something the Astros still don’t have today. Remember when Bagwell, Biggio, Berkman et al were around. Much easier for a young gun to come up and have one of them take him under their wing. Right now, who does that? There’s a whole covey of birds in Detroit…

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    • Kevin, give us a couple of examples you’re thinking of. And, not Mike Trout. I’m going to springboard off OP’s response in that I don’t think you can use the last 4-5 years with the Astros as an example of what the youth will look like going forward. Many of the kids were pushed and we saw the negative result of, if you will, how not to do it.

      Other problems including not drafting well. That’s a huge reason some of the players failed.

      There are positive examples too: Keuchel. Altuve. Springer even (20 HRs in his rookie season isn’t shabby). Castro, to a lesser degree. You can argue Fields and McHugh developed somewhat in the Astros’ system.

      You can also use as examples some players who are no longer here: Cosart and Lyles, who have been successful. Cosart actually had success in Houston.

      To be sure, all teams struggle with the incubation process and, all too often, teams are rushed by the media, by fan expectations, by inflated minor league numbers or other outside forces. I know it’s not popular, but you have to respect the Cubs’ stance on Kris Bryant. Hopefully, the Astros don’t feel pushed/forced to rush Appel, Correa, Moran or any of the others.

      Let me rephrase: The Astros cannot afford to rush Appel, Correa, Moran and the others. If one of those three flame out, it could have far-reaching ramifications.

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      • Chip I don’t always have the time or resources to be specific thus why I ask you guys. . I will Give the Astros Kuechel and Altuve, then there is JD, Wallace, grossman, Springer and singleton. and maybe DDJ.They all just seem to come up and look very average at best, and I like Springer, but man they look so over matched at times.Then I watch the A’s, don’t even know half their guys this year and they look like they have been coached and have a plan at the plate. i don’t want us to rush anyone, just seem like something is missing in their development,

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      • Keuchel, Fields and McHugh did not find any success until they were past 25, Springer has not proven to be a decent major league hitter yet and they didn’t bring him up at a tender age. Lyles struggled for years because he was brought up too young. Paredes, JD Martinez, Villar, Singleton, Santana all brought into the majors too young and too soon. The only reason Cosart was in the majors at 23 was because we sold off everybody old enough to contribute, and because the Astros knew he was so hard-headed that he was not willing to fix his obvious delivery flaws, which hurt his command. Cosart’s trade looks good because of his personality alone.
        I think the Astros thinking on bringing up their top prospects is reflected perfectly by the additions of Lowrie, Valbuena, Rasmus and Fernandez, who give our top prospects more time to be ready and not to be rushed.

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      • OP, as I suggested, you really can’t use the past few years as an indicator or representation of the Astros, though I guess I violated my own “rule”. Though I mentioned a few players — and I still think you can count Keuchel and Springer — the jury is still out. Three managers — plus two more interims — and a new owner, a new GM and an entirely new staff inside and out certainly discounts what may have happened with lots of players here. Now, this current group is on the clock as I say and they’re in the position of can’t miss, at least not en masse. Luhnow and his group must get it right on Correa, Appel, Moran and, even to some degree, on Gattis, Conger, Marisnick and others. They’ve exhausted the margin of error, so to speak.

        Kevin, I do agree, it would be nice to see a couple of players come up the old fashioned way and just “get it”. Settle in, hit stride right away, make a run at rookie of the year and become a strong force for a decade.

        But the environment is a big part of it. I still think Springer is a good example, but even in his case, he’s had three managers since he’s been in Houston! Count ’em, three! And, outside of Altuve, really no supporting cast among the lineup. You don’t find many kids coming up who can immediately carry the weight of the team. Most teams give them time to gel.

        If you believe Epstein, he’s never put a rookie on an opening day roster. If you believe the Cubs, they make a habit of bringing up a player when the team is on the road. There’s a philosophy there. Does Houston have a philosophy? Dunno.

        You ask a good question. Not sure if there is a sure-fire, solid answer at this point.

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  6. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s waaay too early to give up on any player.
    With a stable manager, and a good clubhouse……these guys WILL start producing.
    Maybe having Jed on our team, the next time they play the A’s Qualls will feel
    better coming outta the pen…….good karma! Man, I hope Oberholtzer get’s back here soon……we need another lefty in the rotation. Who get’s to sit when he does get back???? Peacock pitched better than I thought he would this week, and
    Hernandez has had only one start., so I’m praying that when Fields comes back, Luhnow won’t send one of the pitchers down. I know someone who SHOULD be sent to *Russia*, but he won’t send that guy to Fresno. Drellich does NOT like Luhnow, and therefore he has very few good things to say about this team. Nick Mathews REALLY hated covering the Astros, and after a few heated words from he and I……..he passed the torch to Evan Drellich. I’m going to start calling McHugh the professor since he put on a clinic on pitching last year, and this year!
    I just hope Luhnow keeps Kuechel, and McHugh together when Appel get’s called up……..that’s a pretty dang good one two three punch in the rotation! I agree with you Chip, the young guns we have in Corpus and Fresno need to stay there until they are REALLY ready to get called up. There’s no one on the team who is blocking a guy in the minors.

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      • I *did*! I told him if he didn’t want to have one of the Chron’s writers write about the Astros………maybe he should find someone who DID. That’s how Drellich got the assignment. Luhnow told Drellich he didn’t appreciate the articles he wrote about the email leaks, and that’s one of the reasons Evan doesn’t like him. And so it goes..

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  7. Yesss! Quad Cities had their game suspended after 4 innings last night in Beloit. So a pitcher named Bryan Radziewski picked up the next four innings and was brilliant. No hits, no walks, 6 strikeouts and the win as Derek Fischer hit his third homer in seven games and also collected a double. Quad Cities moves to 6-1 and has another game to play tonight.

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  8. Mark Appel on the mound tonight for the Hooks in their home opener. Haven’t been able to determine his tandem partner for tonight.
    Roberto Pena rejoins the Hooks tonight and Brett Booth put on the temporarily inactive list.
    Tyler Heineman, catcher for CC has started the year off hitting .316 and has thrown out all four runners who attempted to steal against him.

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    • OP, this could be interesting. I’ve looked in all the typical places where CC lists the guy who will follow the starter. No one is listed. Appel went 5 last time out, throwing 63 pitches, which is a pretty good ratio. Could the tandem not necessarily apply to him?

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      • Luhnow said they’d use a modified tandem in CC. It turns out that is “GM speak” for Appel not having a partner. Appel threw five shutout innings again tonight allowing 2 hits to the same team he shut down last week and there have been two relievers that followed him. CC leads 5-0 in the 8th. Correa with 2 hits, Meredith with 2 more hits, Kemp with 2 walks and Nash with another bomb.

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  9. A question or two for those with “strong opinions.” Had you rather have Chris Carter – .067 or Albert Pujols – .188. Does your answer change because of $4.175 Million or $25 Million with another $140 Million to go?

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    • Yes – the contract matters. If it were only 2015 I would say Pujols, but the long term commitment is scary. It’s not my money, but it would be terrible to see the team not make moves because of such an albatross.

      In other news of expensive players off to bad starts, Cole Hamels…

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    • AC, good question, but no hesitation for me. Carter, for these reasons:

      * Age: Pujols is 35, Carter 28.
      * Commitment: Carter is year-to-year, Pujols actually has $24 million this year, then $160 million remaining plus a 10-year personal services contract that kicks in after his contract is completed.
      * Carter, umm, has more upside potential than Pujuols.
      * You can trade Carter. Pujols is untradeable.

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  10. ac45, as for me, I would much rather have Chris Carter right now. I am still hoping Chris will catch fire for about two months so we can unload him at the trade deadline. What I do not want is any high-priced albatross dragging this team down for years, whatever that albatross’ name or salary might be.

    I suppose it should also, in fairness, be pointed out that as bad as Pujols’ .188 BA is, it’s more than twice Chris Carter’s BA of .067 – and it comes with 5 BBs, 2 doubles, 2 HR and 5 RBI to compare with Carter’s 2 BBs and otherwise zeroes across the board.

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