NOW it’s official: Pudge Rodriguez is an Astro. And I am very happy. I made no secret around here of my desire that the Astros sign Pudge; I think it makes all kinds of sense from the team’s standpoint, once the price was finally right. I already covered my thoughts on that, so I won’t bother repeating myself. What I haven’t talked as much about is my personal standpoint as a fan.
Growing up in Houston, the Astros were always far and away my favorite team, but I also kinda liked Texas’ other team, the Rangers. Nolan Ryan was my favorite player back then, and I liked Texas more after he joined them in 1989. Two years later, in 1991, the Rangers brought up a young catching prospect that started turning heads, much like Craig Biggio had done for Houston in ’88. That young catcher was Ivan Rodriguez. I’ve always been partial to catchers, because that’s where my granddad played, so this Ivan Rodriguez quickly became a favorite of mine. I was 11 years old.
The Rangers finally made the postseason in 1996, and I cheered them on a year before I finally got to cheer my Astros in October ’97. I cheered for Ivan (eventually “Pudge”) and the Rangers again in ’98 and ’99, when both Texas teams played in October. Pudge departed Texas as a free agent following the 2002 season, but I got to cheer him again in the postseason with the 2003 champion Florida Marlins. I cheered for Detroit in the ’06 Series because of Pudge’s presence, too.
I know he’s old now, at least in baseball years. I know he’s not the MVP he used to be. I know he’s a prime suspect for past steroids use, and I don’t like that; it’s tarnished his legacy for me and everyone else. But I’m 29 now, and he’s one of the few guys still playing that I cheered as a kid. The Astros’ old guard is officially gone this year, with Brad Ausmus out in L.A. to finish his career close to home. Biggio and Jeff Bagwell are both retired. So are Ryan, Mike Scott and all the Houston stars from the era before that, and three of those childhood heroes – Darryl Kile, Ken Caminiti & Dave Smith – have already passed on. I love Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, but there’s something special about the guys you grew up watching that can never be replaced. Pudge brings some of that back with him. So really, no matter what kind of year he has… no matter what kind of year Houston has… and even if this is the only season he ever plays in an Astros uniform… it’s a Good Year from the very start. It’s all the things that make us love baseball, more than winning and losing, and that’s what matters the most anyway.
I’m also excited about Russ Ortiz pitching again today; I still want to see him succeed. I’m also excited that Jake Peavy is tapped to lead Team USA against Dice-K and Japan on Sunday, because I love Jake Peavy, but I selfishly want our boy Roy on the hill for the championship game.
It’s the first official day of spring, and it’s Friday. All the losses and frustrations don’t matter. It’s a Good Day.
EDIT: So it’ll be Oswalt for Team USA on Sunday, not Jake Peavy as originally reported. Oh well – Oswalt versus Matsuzaka will be one heck of a pitching matchup. And also, ASTROS WIN! Ortiz looked brilliant, Berkman homered, every Astros regular reached base at least one, and the winless streak is gone. It’s still a Good Day.
photo credit: https://www.beckett.com/images/pgitems/1072320101.jpg
March 17 brings another grand baseball tradition, where all the players look like this:
I’ve always liked the green jerseys, so I think it’s great fun. I’ll probably buy one of these eventually.
Astros return to daytime action shortly against Detroit, which makes me happy at work. I’ll refrain from another Pudge entry here until the signing is official. But I will say I’m doubly pulling for Team USA tonight in the WBC, because 1. I’m American and I want our boys to win, and 2. I want Pudge free to finalize his deal and get in camp with our pitchers.
It’s a good day.
How in the blinkin’ heck did that happen?!? I can really only claim to be “American mutt,” our bloodlines are so varied and we’ve been here for so long – as long as any Europeans, at least. But my last name is Holland, so I have more claim to Dutch than anything besides that. And now the overwhelming underdog Netherlands have knocked off what may have been the strongest team in the tournament, not once, but TWICE. They’re moving on and the Dominicans are going home.
It seemed like things were unravelling around Astros camp this weekend – three embarassing losses, four injuries, bad pitching, bad hitting, bad defense, one closed-door tongue-lashing from Coop, and our car broke down. Houston is officially worst in BOTH the Grapefruit & Cactus Leagues right now. No, it’s NOT time for Astros fans to panic, because there have still been bright spots in the clouds. Most of these losses have fallen on the shoulders of minor league players and pitchers. But when everyone else is looking at their youngsters right now too… it just gets discouraging.
At least Team USA looked great over the weekend, even if our Roy didn’t do so well himself. I caught about half of yesterday’s Dominican Republic vs. Panama game on TV after our car left us stranded, and the WBC is just as much fun as ever (at least to me). Panama is done, so Carlos Lee should be back in Kissimmee soon, but that was pretty much expected. Miguel Tejada, Oswalt and LaTroy Hawkins are likely to be gone a few weeks more yet. Unless lighting strikes the Netherlands twice.
Of the aforementioned injuries, Brandon Backe’s hurts the worst. Or hurts him the worst, rather. It seems he’s already lost ground to Russ Ortiz, Jose Capellan and Bud Norris in the battle for the #5 spot; losing time likely only hurts his chances more. Clay Hensley’s eye-catching 23.63 ERA has probably signed his ticket to minor league camp.
And for Let’s Add Pudge ’09 – I’m still behind it. No new news on that front. But Alyson Footer put words to my thoughts after Pudge’s Puerto Rican explosion on Saturday – as fun as it was to watch, I almost wish he hadn’t done quite SO well. If he’s available in a Backe-like $1.5 million range, I think we’ve got a shot at him. But if he keeps hitting even half as well as this, his price easily jumps over $2-3 million again, and he’s probably Met$-or-bust. Let him hit those homers after he’s signed, thanks.
Wait, so the games against WBC teams don’t count with the rest of the spring training stats? Well, that’s not confusing at all. Coop said the stats should count, and I agree. Eh, whatever.
Another tie today versus Team Venezuela, but the Astros bats showed considerably more life today (against arguably better competition), so that’s encouraging. Brian Bogusevic went 2-for-4 with an RBI as his bat continues to warm up from a slow start. Another steal for Michael Bourn. Aaron Boone finally managed a hit. Kaz Matsui was 1-for-2 with an RBI and a walk, and Reggie Abercrombie was 1-for-3 with a walk and a steal. The star on the mound today was Jose Capellan, one of the longer shots for Houston’s fifth rotation slot, but three innings of scoreless, one-hit work today certainly helped his case.
That one hit off Capellan went to Bobby Abreu, who finished 2-for-4 with a walk for Venezuela. Even as an opponent, it was great seeing Abreu again, who has remained a favorite since starting his career with the Astros back in 1996. He’s the second-best product of Houston’s now closed Venezuelan Academy (why closed???), behind only Johan Santana. But the Astros lost Abreu to Tampa Bay in the expansion draft following the ’97 season, and lost Santana to the Twins via the Rule 5 draft after ’99. Of course it hurts now to see the ones that got away, but I don’t resent the organization for it… Abreu had hit .248 for the Astros in 74 games across two seasons, but they left him exposed to the draft in favor of protecting Richard Hidalgo, who had just hit .303. Doggy went on to have about three really good seasons for Houston, so it wasn’t a total loss, but Abreu immediately turned into one of the most consistently solid hitters in the game. Santana was a rather unimpressive 15-18 with a 5.05 ERA in 54 games spread across three seasons of Rookie and A League play, then wobbled through two seasons with Minnesota and got demoted to AAA in 2002 before he hit his stride later that year. You never know quite how young players will turn out.
…but dang, Santana/Abreu/Oswalt/Berkman would have made a killer core! Ah, well.
Manny finally signed with the Dodgers – much to no one’s surprise, except that it seemed it would never happen. I’m glad, because I think it’s a mutually good fit between him and LA. But I’m also glad because I’m ready for the drama to be done. Just play ball, boys!
Team Panama tomorrow, and this one is interesting as the Astros face Carlos Lee. It’s also interesting for me, though, because my wife used to live in Panama… so I’m probably cheering for them after Team USA come the WBC. Which starts… tomorrow, come to think of it. Japan vs. China. And Brian Moehler goes for Houston. Huzzah!
Not a good weekend around Astros camp. Cecil Cooper is getting tired of the losses, and I don’t blame him. The consolation is that most of the regulars haven’t been playing much yet, so losing now isn’t as worrisome, but yesterday’s game was ugly, any way you slice it. There are still bright spots, but a win over the Yankees today would be even better.
Oh, Wandy. Pitched on Friday, but now you’re not playing. And we need you to play – oh, Wandy! …Bad Manilow rewrites aside, Saturday’s news on Wandy Rodriguez is the worst from Camp Kissimmee so far. Let’s hope that “precautionary” really means just that… he’s one of Coop’s top four, and the club needs him healthy and at least as effective as last year in order to contend, barring pleasant surprises from the field of #5’s.
LaTroy Hawkins is soon off to join Team USA in Joe Nathan’s stead, which is cool. I’m not sure exactly when he’s out of camp, but I know Roy O and Tejada are already gone. We get our last pre-WBC look at Carlos Lee today. Games start for the Asian teams on Thursday. Good stuff!
Other unofficial Astros ups & downs:
Bad – Disastrous day on Sunday for Clay Hensley. You can’t count anyone out after only one outing, but given the positives shown already by Ortiz, Backe, Capellan, Norris and even Nieve, he’s put himself in the position of having to gain significant ground on the rest of the pack. That would probably require bad results from most or all the rest, which is bad for the Astros, so I almost wish it not to happen. Which I hate to say… Hensley is a hometown guy and I still want him to do well. If he doesn’t make the cut, I hope at least that Houston sends him down to Round Rock, so he’ll have a chance of helping out later in the year.
Good – Jason Castro earned his first hit yesterday and is now 1-for-3, and Coop is well pleased with him behind the plate too. I’m sure I’m not the first to say this, but who else envisions all the “Houston Castros” signs and headlines in a couple of years if Jason turns out to be the star everyone hopes he’ll be?
Bad – Besides Castro, Astros catchers are 1-for-14 through six games. (The “1” belongs to J.R. Towles, an encouraging .200 so far.) Toby Hall’s shoulder hurts Houston pretty badly right now. Too soon to bring back the “P” word again (and I don’t mean “Palmisano”), but these guys need to pick it up.
Good – Michael Bourn is at .300 so far with two steals. That’s an encouraging start; it means good things for Houston if he can rejoin Kaz Matsui atop the lineup card.
Bad – The Blum/Boone platoon is a cumulative 1-for-16 so far. These are both veteran guys and I expect them to round into form, but they haven’t helped the Astros 1-4 start.
Good – Chris Johnson and Drew Sutton both continue to impress. Unfortunately for them, they’re each stuck behind a pair of veterans at the big league level (Blum & Boone for Johnson; Tejada & Matsui for Sutton), and I’d rather see young guys play everyday at Round Rock than only spot start in Houston. If they keep this up, though, I expect to see both of them in Astros uniforms before too long.
Bad – Randy Wolf threw two perfect innings in his Dodgers debut on Thursday. Okay, this isn’t really bad for the Astros, but it made me cry inside a little. Wolf is one of my favorite players and I’ll miss him.
Good & Bad – Reggie Abercrombie is still .444 so far. Jason Michaels is .100. I’d give Abercrombie the edge for the fifth outfield spot right now.
Good – Miggy may be gone for now, but he left a great impression before he went (.429, with a homer yesterday). That’s a GOOD sign for Houston. They need him to join Berkman and Lee (and Pence) as bashers in the middle of the lineup.
So… Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz get turn #2 today. I still think these two are the biggest keys for the Astros, so I’m excited any time they pitch, even if the Yankees aren’t bringing most of their regulars. About 10 minutes to first pitch, so time to tune in…
So Miguel Tejada has John-Kerry’d and now he’s back in the Classic again. Okay, fine – as long as he’s ready for the season, I’m all for the WBC. From what I understand, Miggy is just about the most popular player in the Dominican, so it’s only fitting that he should represent his country, as long as he won’t be there and stuck on the bench (or out of position) the whole time. I guess Felipe Alou assured him that won’t be the case, so it’s all good. This actually helps out Cecil Cooper anyway, as it gives him more available innings at shortshop to split between the six or seven candidates auditioning there.
Yesterday’s Braves win made my wife happy; she went to high school in Savannah, GA, so she supports my Astros addiction except when they’re playing Atlanta. I love Milo Hamilton, but he was going on after the game about the “tough loss,” at which point I tuned out. A loss like this would hurt after April 6, but I was still encouraged by most of what I saw yesterday. Roy O was sharp in his spring debut, save for one bad pitch to David Ross. Brandon Backe returned serve to Russ Ortiz with two scoreless of his own. Erstad and Berkman both further showed that their “injuries” are fine; Tejada and Lee got on base and scored too. Chris Johnson continued his strong start to spring. It was a disastrous day for youngster Sergio Perez, for now saddled with the infamous infinite ERA, and also a bad start for Rule 5 pick Gilberto de la Vara, who is going to have a hard time cracking the Astros bullpen anyway. But even for them, this was only their Day 1, so no one is lost yet.
Jason Michaels is 1-for-6 so far and Reggie Abercromie is 2-for-3. Michaels also hit .228 last year and Abercrombie .309. It’s way early yet, but if that trend continues, can Houston really afford to give Michaels the bench nod and send Reggie down? This may be another duel to watch.
Wandy Rodriguez is on the hill now for his spring debut. I don’t know who else we’ll see today, but Backe and Ortiz have set the bar high for Clay Hensley and company. Eager to see Brian Moehler too. Intrigue! Intrigue!
EDIT: Quick game today, at a shade over two hours, and an unremarkable day for the Astros bats, but both clubs had arms on display. Wandy did alright – neither great nor terrible – but Jose Capellan and Bud Norris impressed in particular, throwing their hats in the rotation ring. I would have liked to see a second inning from Bud, but oh well. Jason Castro also debuted behind the plate and went 0-for-1. Moehler starts tomorrow, but I’m likely out for the weekend, so I’ll be back Monday.