Tagged: Hot Stove

Sean Berry Answers Questions

Former Astros third baseman and current hitting coach Sean Berry was the Astroline guest tonight from Orlando, Florida.  Berry said the transition from player to coach was pretty difficult for him.  The hours are much longer and he now has to worry about how 25 guys hit versus just himself.  He loves his job though, even the long hours watching tape and making charts for each player. 

Berry was asked about his opinion on Jason Lane and Hunter Pence.  He believes Lane will bounce back because he’s worked hard this off season.  He said he wasn’t sure if Lane would get the majority of the playing time in right field or if he’d platoon with Luke Scott.  On Hunter Pence’s situation, Berry said right now, Garner and Purpura say he’ll start at Class AAA Round Rock, but cautioned that the situation can change suddenly.  Sean believes Pence is a special player and that’s one of the main reasons for being cautious with him.  He has incredible bat speed, even though his approach is a bit unconventional.  He runs well, has solid defense and speed to play center field at the major league level.  Hunter Pence will definitely be a part of the Astros long term plans.

I asked him what his strategy for keeping bench players productive was.  Berry said most managers try to get their bench players a start at least every ten days, more often if possible.  He said bench players need to be ready to be called into a game in a critical situation so they need to remain sharp all the time.  Some times, they won’t bat for over a week and other times, they’ll be getting an at bat every day for 4 or 5 days. 

A member of the audience asked if he advocates hitters going up the middle versus pulling the ball.  Berry said all the best hitters in baseball use the entire field, and try to hit up the middle of the diamond and opposite field.  He said he was very pleased with Adam Everett’s efforts in the 2nd half of 2006 and so far this spring training in trying to get hits up the middle of the field.

A Yankees fan from Virginia in the audience asked Berry where he thought Clemens would pitch this year.  Immediately both Milo and Berry said jokingly, "He ain’t going anywhere, he’s playing for us."  Then Berry answered the question more seriously.  He believes if Roger decides to pitch at all this year, he will pitch for the Astros.    Everything he’s seen so far seems to show that Clemens is leaning Astros.

Another Yankees fan asked Berry if he had to choose a non-Astros hitter as the best hitter today, who would he pick?  Without hesitation, Berry said Albert Pujols.  He added that Berkman and Pujols are among the most elite hitters today and Berkman, like his teammate Roy Oswalt is very underrated by the national media.

Asked about the Astros chances this season by a Detroit Tigers fan, Berry said the offense has improved tremendously with the additions of Carlos Lee and Mark Loretta.  There is no reason to think the Astros won’t be in the playoffs again in 2007.  The Astros are one of the most resilient teams around and their 3-4-5-6 guys in the lineup are going to be among the best in the National League.  Carlos Lee is a very good clutch hitter who takes what the pitchers give him in a tough situation just like Berkman does. 

Asked about what the most common rookie mistake he sees, Berry said too many rookies try to swing big for the homeruns too much–controlling the adrenalin is the biggest thing rookies can do to be successful in the majors.  The old cliche of not using all the hits up in spring training definitely is true.  Hitters don’t have to deal much with adrenalin in spring training so tend to be more relaxed and hit better.  When the regular season starts, the adrenalin starts pumping and younger players tend to try to do too much.  Spring training in Berry’s view is mainly for getting in shape. 

Final question of the evening was about steroid use in baseball.  Berry said he sees no use for them in any sport.  There is no place for steroids or HGH in baseball and the sport needs to be cleaned up.  He said in his 11 years in the majors, he never saw anyone use them, but he knew there were players who used them.  Eventually baseball and all sports will get rid of steroids and other performance enhancers like HGH.

I’ll bet on the 20 percent

Last night Roger Clemens held court during the grand opening of the Memorial Herman Medical Plaza, home of the Roger Clemens Institute for Sports Medicine and Human Performance.  KRIV, Fox 26’s Mark Berman caught up with The King of K’s and the latest in the retirement saga got another shot in the arm.

According to Berman, Clemens said, "Koby asked me last night when we were working out, he was doing more of the workout than I was. I still told him 80-20 that I wasn’t going to play. The teams that are involved, I think they’ve got really good clubs that are together, and if somebody stubs their toe and my phone rings in May I might have to think about it,"

This is how I interpret the Clemens-speak–if the Astros or the Yankees are red-hot starting out of the gate in April and early May, Roger will jump on the bandwagon and ride the wave to the playoffs.  If both teams falter, he’ll retire, because, as he stated earlier in the month, it’s a "waste of time" if he plays again and doesn’t get to pitch in the playoffs.

So, what makes Roger change the odds to 80-20 instead of the 50-50 he supposedly was at earlier in the month?  My guess is that Roger doesn’t really believe in the Yankee hype anymore and doesn’t believe they can get past the Red Sox.  The Sox, who are also in the running for his services, don’t really need him–they have a surplus of starting pitching as it is. 

A more telling example of Clemens backing away from the Yankees might be the fact that his close buddy Andy Pettitte only recently found out via some Astros players that Roger had pitched for nearly an hour straight at the Nolan Ryan Elite Pitching Camp at Minute Maid Park last month.  Pettitte reflected "He’s amazing," Pettitte said. "If I threw for an hour right now, I wouldn’t pitch for the rest of the year."

Gee, Andy, could that be one of the reasons The Rocket thinks you and your Yankee teammates won’t get to the playoffs in 2007?  Because Roger thinks your arm is about to fall off?

As for the Astros hopes of another Rocket Launch at Minute Maid Park, it does indeed hinge on how fast the Astros get out of the starting gate and the number of runs they score for the starting pitchers.  Even if the Astros are leading in the NL Central in May but haven’t been providing good run support, Roger won’t return.  If Ensberg, Lee, Loretta, and Scott are able to help Berkman significantly with run production and the Astros are leading the division, then you can almost count on Roger returning for one more half season complete with all his perks.

An evening with “Mr. Astro” Craig Biggio

Biggio_smiling_8 Milo Hamilton started the show with an update on the Nolan Ryan/Jeff Bagwell Elite Camp held at Minute Maid Park from 29 January to 2 February 2007.  Chris Burke, Chris Sampson, Woody Williams and The Rocket, Roger Clemens all were there to give tips to the young hitters and pitchers in addition to Ryan and Bagwell.  Roger Clemens, though only there for 2 days, threw an impressive 50 minutes of batting practice each day to the minor leaguers who included his son Koby.

According to General Manager Tim Purpura, Jeff Bagwell has turned out to be a heck of a coach and Bagwell instructed the young hitters to ignore his batting stance, but listen to his advice nonetheless.

Then, Milo turned the conversation towards the featured guest, Craig Biggio, who admitted the last two decades have gone by fast, especially the last 10 years, which have just flown by.  When asked by Hamilton about getting close to 3000 hits this year, Biggio said that obviously he wants it for himself and his family, but most of all, he wants to get to that magical number for the City of Houston and the Astros fans all over the world who have been so great to him over the years because he feels Astros fans deserve to be able to say that their team also has a guy who is on that short list of players who have had 3000 hits in their career–and in Biggio’s case, all 3000 will be wearing only the Houston Astros uniform. 

When asked about his FanFest attendance, Craig said he will be there on Saturday, 11 February from 10 AM to approximately Noon–he likes to be the first one there and as an aside, it is one way of making sure his kids aren’t upset with him.

Bidgesigning In response to a caller, Craig said he has always strived to play the game the right way with a healthy respect for the game and all the players.  He always tries to hustle every time he goes down the line to first base, be it a hit or groundout to short, because he truly believes athletes are role models and as a role model he tries to lead by example.  Milo added that as a result of the example set by Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell and others like them, the Astros locker-room has been mainly free of controversy.  Even players who had problems with other clubs don’t have issues in the Houston locker-room due largely to the leadership of Biggio and Bagwell.

When a caller asked about his favorite Astrodome moment, Biggio thought for a second and then with a smile reminisced about the last game of the 1997 regular season–it was the first time in 11 years the Astros had gone to the post season and the very first time for Craig and Jeff.  It was also the first of four NL Central Division Championships the Astros have won so far.  Craig talked about how cool it was when he and Mike Hampton rode their motorcycles up the ramp to the field and around the field in celebration, and the difficulties encountered while going off the field as there were a lot of horses there (HPD Mounted Patrol) and he ended up driving through some manure that he had to wash off later.

When Milo asked him how he felt to have finally played at Yankee Stadium as a major leaguer in 2003, he replied that going back to Yankee Stadium was great because he had grown up in the area and he took his two sons on a tour of "The House That Ruth Built".  He added that Yankee Stadium and other old stadiums have a great tradition that goes back many years, but not many cities can say their team has finished 1st or 2nd for the last 13-14 years like Houston can and with the additions of Jennings, Lee, Loretta and Williams this year, it will be a very competitive team that will keep the Houston fans excited all year long.

Houston Icon Jeff Bagwell at The Live Sports Cafe

Jeff Bagwell was the guest for Astroline, hosted by Hall of Fame announcer Milo Hamilton on January 24, 2007.  For the past three years, the live taping of Astroline has been held at the Live Sports Cafe, one of downtown Houston’s finest sports bars, located in a three storey building nestled in the heart of  Houston and only a few blocks from Minute Maid Park. 

I found The Live Sports Cafe to be a cozy and friendly place although the radio show was hard to hear in many parts of the bar due to the low volume necessary for a radio broadcast.  Ahmed, one of the owners said the shows with the Killer Bees are always the most popular and well-attended.  Biggio has garnered the most crowds so far.  He added that as a big Astros fan, it’s a lot of fun for him to host these Astroline shows.

Milo Hamilton started the show by saying the new faces of the Astros are now Berkman, Oswalt and Lee.  Bagwell agreed, adding he and Biggio can’t play forever and the lifespan of a baseball player is a lot shorter than golf or some other sports.  The Astros as a team have to make that transition now. 

When asked by a caller if he would like to someday manage a big league club, Jeff said he has no desire to manage a team in the near future–he is enjoying time off right now and the new job with the Astros will keep him very busy.  Brad Ausmus, on the other hand, would be a great manager.  According to Bagwell, Ausmus has almost been another guy on the coaching staff.  He cares very much about his pitchers. 

Responding to a question about his influence with the management due to his new position in bringing up players from the minors, Bagwell said he doesn’t think he has much pull with who comes up like Hunter Pence, but, Nolan Ryan was asked to evaluate players when he first took the personal services contract and Ryan singled out Roy Oswalt as a pitcher who should be in the majors–this about the time that Oswalt was being considered for a demotion to A ball.  Ryan’s glowing report led to Oswalt staying at Round Rock (AA at the time) and being called up to the bigs to stay the following year.  Bagwell added that he hopes he can be that kind of set of eyes for the hitters starting next week at Minute Maid Park and the Jeff Bagwell Elite Hitters Camp. 

Jeff then joked about being in the management means he is Ausmus and Biggio’s boss now and knows they have been very disrespectful towards the management, adding that such behavior will have to be addressed.

Bagwell’s one-time pool cleaner called in and talked about how great and humble Jeff is.  He wanted to know that now Willy Taveras is gone, where the speed on the base paths would come from.  Bagwell said the team is not going to be very speedy in 2007.  He mostly expects Berkman and Lee to be slugging; however, Burke and Everett both have speed and are good base runners and can be very effective. 

Jeff expects his new job to be mostly behind the scenes, traveling to Corpus Christi and Round Rock to evaluate talent.  When asked by a caller if he had played any other sports in high school or college and if there was a story behind #5 being awarded to him, Bagwell said he mostly played soccer a lot in high school.  He also skied and played some basketball.  He never did play any football in high school and is now glad he didn’t. 

As to how he got to wear #5, Bagwell said when he first got traded to the Astros by the Boston Red Sox, he found the clubhouse guy back then was from New England and decided to give the new guy from "back home" a low number almost as a dare to the organization saying "this guy’s going to succeed, even if you don’t think he will."

Milo Hamilton informed the listeners that Jeff Bagwell Day will happen in 2007 at Minute Maid Park and it will be one that the fans will remember for a long time.

Next week’s Astroline guest is slated to be Craig Biggio, barring scheduling conflicts.

Woody Williams Homecoming

Gregory Scott "Woody" Williams was the guest for the 17 January 2007 edition of Astroline. 

Woody started out by saying he was very, very glad to be home again and finally a Houston Astro–Woody as a youngster was an "Astro Buddy" and talked a bit about how great it was to be a member of the team he grew up cheering for.  Being diplomatic, he added that the Padres and Cardinals were also very good to him.  He praised Dave Duncan, the Cardinals pitching coach and in the process gave up one of Duncan’s secrets to success, namely, that he studies tapes and charts  a lot for every single pitcher on the roster and prepares his pitchers thoroughly, armed with the knowledge gained from that information.

When asked about how age is affecting his conditioning, Woody admitted it takes a lot longer for him to get in shape now–for instance, this year he started his off-season conditioning two weeks before Thanksgiving (and his signing with the Astros) to get ready for spring training. 

And as I had mentioned in my blog on November 23rd, Woody had indeed signed with the Astros before Thanksgiving–however, the team wanted to wait until that Friday to make it official.  Although puzzled at first, Woody admitted he was pleasantly surprised to see Carlos Lee at the press conference too. 

When questioned by a caller about being a fly ball pitcher and how that would affect him at a hitter’s park like Minute Maid, he said most of his fly balls tend to go dead center or center-right field and luckily for him, his new home park has very deep center and right fields so they should be routine outs.

Asked about the Jennings trade, (seems to be a hot topic for every Astroline guest in the past 30 days) Williams said he believes Jennings will be a good fit in Houston and he should have an easy transition to the Astros and Minute Maid Park. 

When another caller asked him about how he feels about umpires’ strike zones, Woody explained to the audience the types of pitches he is most comfortable with–fastball, curveball, cut fast-ball, and slider.  He said it’s basically "touch-and-feel" with the umpires and over the years he has learned many of their strike zones and he personally strives to pitch to the particular umpire’s zone.

Woody admitted that one of his greatest desires has always been to hit a home run at Minute Maid Park and hoped that he finally gets to do it in an Astros uniform in 2007.  He added that one of his greatest joys is to work with young pitchers and help them maximize their potential on and off the field. 

On the state of the Astros starting rotation, Williams said it stacks up better than people realize.  He believes that Oswalt should be the National League Pitcher of The Year and Lance Berkman is truly under appreciated on the national scene.  Mark Loretta is a perfect #2 hitter, but admitted he didn’t know what the Astros and Phil Garner plan for him.  He also praised Brad Ausmus for being a great catcher because he prepares the Astros pitchers thoroughly. 

I sensed that Woody and quite a few of the current and former Astros pitchers would love to see Ausmus transition to manager or pitching coach once his playing days are over.

Some Questions Answered

A few days ago I had more questions than answers, like why are the Astros so high on Richard Hidalgo?  The answer to that question can be found here (Click on Estadisticas at the top of the page).   Richard is batting a cool .400 with 4 doubles and get this–EIGHT HOME RUNS in the last 12 games.  Oh yeah, he’s also slugging an outrageous .960 for an ungodly OPS of 1.415.  This is the Venezuelan Winter League’s Round Robin playoff games and I guess Hidalgo is so happy and relieved at having gotten that contract from the Astros, he’s showing them he’s worth every penny of it.

Which is a lot more than Jason Lane can say about his VWL performance, yet he and/or his agent have asked for $1.375 million as salary for 2007–the Astros offered to double his 2006 salary of $450,000…I just can’t see Lane getting even that much based on his 2006 performance, leave alone more than tripling his salary!

The other pressing and puzzling question I had was why did they sign Loretta?  Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle speculates on that in his blog and I’m glad to see that I wasn’t the only one who was puzzled over the official version of Loretta as a bench player…

Besides Justice, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and The Rocky Mountain News have also reported that the Astros may be willing to trade Morgan Ensberg…now, The Rocky Mountain News may be quoting Rosenthal, but, Justice is closer to home and he doesn’t seem to be rehashing the Rosenthal rumor–he mentions something I didn’t know of–that Ensberg was on the block in November.  In fact, he talks about Ensberg being traded six more times after the initial mention in his blog article…to me at least, it sounds like Richard Justice may have some info that goes beyond regurgitating the Rosenthal rumor. 

Hidalgo Nearing Deal With Astros

12 Jan 07:  It’s Official!  Richard Hidalgo signed a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training earlier today.  Welcome back Richard!  And here’s a video of Richard in Winter Ball this year.

The Houston Chronicle and 790 AM are both reporting the Astros are close to signing Richard Hidalgo to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.  The Chronicle is reporting that a deal could be done within 48 hours.

This is a no-lose situation for the Astros, who have stated that Richard will have a chance to win the starting job at right field in spring training.  If he doesn’t win that job outright, the Astros could use Richard off the bench as a late inning defensive replacement in Right Field and possibly Center Field.  Al Pedrique, the head of Astros baseball operations in Latin America and manager of Richard’s Winter League team, was sufficiently impressed by Hidalgo’s efforts in 2006 to push for this signing.

Seeing Richard back in an Astros uniform will bring back many memories for Astros fans.

The Baseball Gods Must Be Crazy!

The St Louis Cardinals agreed to terms with Mark Mulder today–2 years, $13 Million!!  Yep, the baseball Gods must be crazy!!  Now, I have no problem taking a chance on the guy–the Astros did the same with Carlos Hernandez in 2003.  But, they weren’t crazy enough to pay him a multi-million dollar contract.(granted Hernandez was just a rookie at the time)  In fact, they passed on Wade Miller two years later…My suspicion is it was based on the failed Carlos Hernandez experiment. 

Carlos Hernandez, the Astros rookie phenom Lefty injured his shoulder on a freak play sliding into second base in 2001 (turned out to be a torn labrum, underwent surgery in 2002)…Wade Miller tore his shoulder up in 2004 (another torn labrum), underwent surgery, got non-tendered by the Astros after the 2004 season, signed with the Red Sox in 2005, was riddled with injuries that year, underwent another shoulder surgery, signed with the Cubs in 2006, was ineffective, underwent more surgery, and has now been re-signed for 2007…this story is so similar to that of Carlos Hernandez, who worked so hard to try to come back, but never could–In the end, the Astros finally cut him after the 2006 season.

Why the Cardinals think that Mulder who had the same surgery as both Hernandez and Miller will turn out to be different, befuddles me…medical statistics have shown that only 8 percent of pitchers who undergo the type of labrum surgery that Mulder has, ever recover enough velocity to pitch in the majors again…the only successful example that I know of is Chris Carpenter.

Do the Cardinals believe they can catch lightning in a bottle twice?  If so, more power to them.  However, a betting man (or woman) would guess that it is more likely Mark Mulder will end up just like Carlos Hernandez and Wade Miller–trying to come back year after year after year, finally to be cut by his team.

Wheels Up!

One of the best setup men in the National League more than doubled his salary today.  The Astros and Dan Wheeler reached an agreement for one year, $2.1 million dollars today, avoiding arbitration.


Wheeler, who was acquired on 27 August 2004 from the New York Mets for minor leaguer Adam Seuss, made an immediate impact in his very first game as an Astro by hitting Derek Lee of the Chicago Cubs in the back as retaliation for the beanings of Berkman and Beltran earlier in the game and indicative of the acrimony created by Michael Barrett earlier in the week.  That game also changed the fortunes of the Houston Astros and they were well on their way to their miracle 36-10 run which ultimately culminated in the Astros winning the wild card and the first playoff series in their history by beating the Atlanta Braves.

Dan Wheeler was an instant hero in Houston that day and over the past two years has certainly done nothing to change that perception.  In 2005, Wheeler had an impressive ERA of 2.21 with a WHIP of 0.982 in 71 games and 73.1 innings pitched.  In 2006, "Wheels" was one of the few relievers the Astros could count on, pitching in 75 games and 71.1 innings with an ERA of 2.52, WHIP of 1.150–this after skipping part of spring training to participate in the inaugural World Baseball Classic.

Brandon Backe Conversation and Update

Brandon Backe was the guest for a rare Thursday edition of Astroline on 4 January 2007.  Here are my observations and commentary about the questions he was asked by Milo Hamilton and fans.


Almost right after being introduced, Brandon was asked what he thought about the new signings.  He said he was thrilled to have Carlos Lee on the team and all additions made in the off-season were great pickups and a great job by the management.

When asked about his availability for the Astros FanFest in February, Brandon said he definitely will be there–so all you fans of Brandon’s good looks and purty blue eyes, better line up early for autographs!

The next question from a fan put poor Brandon in the rather uncomfortable position of playing GM…He handled it very well and diplomatically said the Astros had made good offensive pickups so far, including the Loretta deal, but, he believes the Astros still need another bonafide starting pitcher.

Backe then talked about Roger Clemens and the benefits of having him on the team for the past two years, citing that The Rocket has been a great mentor to him, teaching him many things and never shrugging him off–a sentiment echoed by Astros rookie pitcher Chris Sampson

A lighthearted question asked of Brandon brought smiles and grins from many–"Can you teach other Astros pitchers to hit ball like you?"  Brandon’s reply was that Roy Oswalt’s coming along pretty good; he even had a homerun in 2006.  He added that Brad Ausmus is just a great catcher and Backe gives a lot of credit to him for his pitching success. 

When asked about the 2007 spring training in Florida, Brandon said he is planning on being there because to him, competing is his favorite thing about playing professional baseball.  He admitted that at the present time, he’s not planning on adding on any new pitches and hopes to break sharper and throw harder on his current pitches and his batting will be just fine.

He then added that he has already started tossing to 45 feet for about 10 minutes at a time, not off the mound as of yet, but, he’s getting there.  According to Backe, the pitching and coaching staff is going to check on him in the next week or so–he mostly expects to work out with everyone in Florida for spring training and then continue working with the coaches and trainers at Minute Maid Park once the season starts.  Backe is hoping to be ready for the push to post-season in September.

As always, you can listen to all Astroline broadcasts here.