Watch Out For Prince

The Houston Astros are not primed to make any sort of a serious run at the playoffs.  Alright, fine.  The only thing I ask is that the Milwaukee Brewers stay firmly out of the picture, too.  For years, the rest of the National League Central has been able to hinge their fortune and pride on being better than both Milwaukee and Pittsburgh.

Those of us who frequented the boards saw the results of a few paltry years of success by the Brew Crew.  They showed themselves to be every bit as insufferable as Chicago Cubs fans, with far less reason.

If the late mid-season has been frustrating for Astros fans, who have seen their team weave in and out of the playoff picture for the past 12 seasons, imagine how it has been for the Brewers and their fans.  Their quick four-game playoff appearance in 2008 was the team’s first since 1982 – when current Astros manager Cecil Cooper teamed with Robin Yount and Paul Molitor to carry the Brewers to a World Series Game 7.


The real Cecil Cooper only nods his head when asked if a
sacrifice hit is in order.

Back then, of course, the Brewers were in the American League.  Then, after five losing seasons behind the stewardship of former Astros manager Phil Garner, the Brewers’ owner (who just so happened to also be the commissioner of baseball) moved them into the National League Central.

The move created the only six-team division in baseball.  And between 1998 and 2006, only twice did those Brewers finish out of the bottom half of those six teams.  Not once did they finish in first or second.

Until 2007, when they surprised the rest of the division by coming in second, just two games behind their hated Chicago Cubs.  Of course, they were still 6.5 games out of the playoffs.  Then, in 2008, they secured the NL Wild Card, and promptly lost their first playoff series in 26 years in 4 games.

The point I’m trying to make is that they’ve been bad for a while now, and a taste of success has given them expectation.  With expectation, as folks in Milwaukee are starting to learn, comes frustration from not meeting that expectation.

And I’m convinced that that, my friends, is exactly what went on with Prince Fielder, who lost his freaking mind last night in Dodger Stadium.  After Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez was hit by a pitch earlier in the game, former Brewer pitcher Guillermo Mota, who cashes checks with the Dodgers logo on them these days, retaliated by placing 97mph worth of gas on Cecil Prince’s thigh.

His thigh.

Apparently incensed, surprised, and thinking he’s above the unwritten rules of baseball that dictate how ever other human being in the major leagues is treated, Prince took his fight to the streets.  Or, to be more precise, to the Dodgers clubhouse, where he was restrained by security and by Brewers teammates from tearing into the locker room and… well, I’m not really sure what he would have done once he got there.  Eaten their snacks, I suppose.

“Hey, Guillermo! I drink your milkshake.  No, literally.”

Milwaukee fans, welcome to August.  It’s a long, draining month.

Plenty of Moves

The Astros were quiet at the trading deadline, but that hasn’t prevented movement within the organization entirely.   Recently, they went out and signed Kirk Clark to a free-agent deal.    Clark, who had been with the Glacier Pilots of the Alaska Baseball League, has been assigned to the Tri-City ValleyCats.  He made his debut tonight (see “What Happened Was…” below.)

Jordan Parraz, who was traded to the Kansas City Royals for Tyler Lumsden, was feeling a bit saucy during an interview with the Omaha World-Herald. 

“I didn’t think Houston ever really gave me the benefit of the doubt,”
he said. “I played every day, but I never got a chance to really move
up or get a confidence boost. It’s a good organization, but I think
this one is a little better — especially for me fitting in.”

If this is your idea of fitting in, hitting a catcher who is giving you the plate during a play in the infield, then by all means, Jordan.  Go fit in there.

There is a very real chance that Parraz will spend some time in the major leagues for Kansas City this year, while Lumsden is working on inconsistency issues.  But I, for one, am happy to be rid of him.

When the Seattle Mariners optioned Roy Corcoran to Triple-A Tacoma, he thought better of it and refused the assignment, making him a free agent.  Today, the Astros signed him to a free agent deal.  He will probably make an appearance or two for Round Rock, and then be asked to fill in for the depleted big league bullpen.

Corcoran has pitched in parts of five seasons in the major leagues, with the Mariners and the Nationals/Expos.  He had a very good 2008 for the Mariners, posting a 6-2 record with a 1.390 WHIP, a 3.22 ERA, and a 3.81 FIP.  His 2009 has been a real disappointment thus far, but he could still be a key ingredient to the depleted Astros bullpen.

In another bizarre news story, recently-released Astros pitcher Russ Ortiz has been given new life – by the New York Yankees, who signed him to a minor league deal.    Look, I think Russ was misused by Cecil Cooper, and was fired prematurely after a shaky July that led many to overlook the fantastic June he’d had.  Mike Hampton would have been a better cut, in my opinion.

Ortiz will be lacing up now for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.  It remains to be seen what’s left in his tank.

No Justice At All

I like to poke fun at Houston Chronicle reporter Richard Justice.  He seems to change his mind hourly, get all of his Astros news by reading every third paragraph Alyson Footer writes, regurgitate Stats, Inc. stories, and generally just brood like the overpaid curmudgeon that he is.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he had never, in his life, seen the Astros play a game of baseball. 

Proving that even a broken clock is right two times a day, he wrote this week something that I’ve been saying since November: J.R. Towles should be playing catcher every day in Houston.

I take very little satisfaction from a blowhard hack agreeing with me, but I recognize the weight his voice often carries with the Astros fanbase in Houston, and I’m hoping this leads to a much bigger push to get Towles back into an Astros uniform once he’s off the Disabled List in Round Rock.

Towles, a twenty-five year old catcher, is hitting .287/.400/.457 in Round Rock this season.  Since his demotion after a disappointing 2008 in the majors, all he’s done is respond by going .292/.373/.471 between Round Rock and Houston.

What Happened Was…

Round Rock Express (AAA) – Yorman Bazardo‘s campaign to make the big league roster is not going particularly well at the moment.  Bazardo took the mound for the first time since his July 31st loss, and somehow managed to look even worse on the mound.  5.0 IP, 5 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 4 K.  He was particularly owned by Matt Tuiasosopo (yes, the brother to that Tuiasosopo).  Worse than that, however, was the dominance that Andrew Baldwin showed against the Express.  Baldwin threw a complete game shutout, lifting the Tacoma Rainiers (SEA) over the Express, 8-0.  One of the few bright spots was the campaign by OFs Reggie Abercrombie and Brian Bogusevic to replace Jason Michaels on the big league 25-man roster.  Each was 2-for-4, Abercrombie with a double.  And yes, okay, he had an error.  Shut up.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – The Hooks offense showed up today, putting together 16 hits in their 5-2 win over the San Antonio Missions (SDP).  Andy Van Hekken did exactly what a man of his age should do in the Texas League: Dominate hitters.  Well, okay, he didn’t exactly dominate them, but he did limit them to a single run in 7.0 innings.  Chia-Jen Lo had a rare bad outing, giving up a run in his sole relief inning.  OF Darin Erstad, in the second game of his rehab assignment, was 2-for-5 with a double.  But the story of the night was OF Drew Locke, who was 4-for-5 with a double.

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – 3B Ebert Rosario logged his first home run of the season, but pardon the Lancaster fans if the moment got lost in the excitement of a 25-hit outpouring of offense, leading the Jethawks to an 18-5 pounding of the High Desert Mavericks (SEA).  C/OF Koby Clemens, Rosario, and 1B Matt Weston all had three hits.  OF Brandon Barnes was 4-for-4 with a triple and 3 RBI.  And OF Jack Shuck was an impressive 5-for-6 with a double.  Everyone was piling on, beginning with a 5-run first inning and an 8-run second.  High Desert starter Mauricio Robles recorded only one out and gave up 5 earned runs before being pulled from the game, in favor Juan Zapata, who pitched only an inning himself, giving up 8 runs (7 earned).

Lexington Legends (A) – It was a familiar refrain for starter Jordan Lyles.  He went seven innings, gave up 7 hits, no walks, and struck out 6.  He allowed three earned runs, but the offense couldn’t back him up, and he earned the loss in the 3-1 decision to the Greenville Drive (BOS).  Greenville’s pitching duo of Fabian Williamson (a silent talent, now at 8-3 with a 2.10 ERA) and Jeremy Kehrt, didn’t strike a single Legend batter out, but still managed to keep them off the board.  SS Brandon Wikoff had a rare 0-for-2 performance, but also drew 2 walks. 

Tri-City ValleyCats (A-) – So far, so good for Kirk Clark, one of the newest members of the Astros family.  He pitched 2 innings in his debut, giving up a hit and striking out 2.  Recent GCL Astros callup Michael Schurz matched him, pitching 2 innings of his own, giving up a hit and a walk and striking out 3.  Mike Modica pitched an inning in relief, giving up one hit, striking out one, and keeping the offense off the boards, to lower his ERA to 0.93 on the season.  But none of it was enough to remedy the performance put in by Colton Pitkin, who earned the loss, 5-3, to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (CLE).  3B Jhonny Medrano hit his first home run of the season in the losing effort.

Greeneville Astros (R) – The only good thing about the 7 errors in this game was that three of them weren’t by the Astros.  Still, 2B Jose Altuve continues to struggle in the field, and C Bobby Williams didn’t inspire a lot of confidence with his two errors.  Still, it took until 5 runs between the seventh and eighth innings for the Bluefield Orioles (BAL) to down the Astros, 10-7.  1B Aaron Bray was 2-for
-4 with a double, and drew a walk.

GCL Astros (R) – A night off in baseball, especially minor league baseball, is a godsend.  The everyday grind really wears a lot of guys down, which is why it was wonderful that the GCL Astros got a night off tonight.  Less fortunate for them, however, is that their opponents – the GCL Marlins (FLA) – decided not to join suit.  5-0 Marlins, largely on the strength of a 4-run first inning.  Lefty Ricardo Batista steadied after his shaky start, but by then it was too late, as Marlins starter Saul Gonzalez was only a warmup to Ricardo Hernandez, who pitched four no-hit innings in relief, walking one and striking out 7.  Two solitary base hits by the Astros in this one: OF Geber Suniaga and 2B Pedro Feliz

DSL Astros (R) – The 8-2 final score isn’t really quite fair.  The DSL Astros and DSL Braves (ATL) were locked in a 2-2 score from the top of the third inning all the way to the top of the 11th, when the Braves tacked on 6 runs.  OF Jose Lopez was 3-for-3, and give SS Raymer Lopez credit.  At 2-for-5 with a double, he had the Astros’ only extra-base hit. 

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