Astros all over the news lately. Spring training is in full swing, with a few positive signs. The WBC is also under way, with Japan and Korea advancing from Pool A. Those two will join the top two teams from America's pool (with Mexico, Canada and South Africa). Notable Astros playing: Lidge and Wheeler (USA), Carlos Hernandez (Venezuela), Taveras (Dominican), Gallo (Italy).
Berkman and Pettitte were on SportsCenter's The Weekend show on Sunday and were interviewed by Linda Cohn. Pettitte didn't have much to say about Clemens' possible return, but said that the team shouldn't bank on having him back — that we need to prepare to play the season with or without him. Berkman was a little critical of the WBC, suggesting it should occur every four years during the middle of the season, a la Olympic hockey. Not a bad suggestion; the U.S. needs as much help as it can get.
Spring training snippets
Friday: Houston 11, Cleveland 5. Bagwell actually led off at DH and scored a pair of runs. Chris Burke hit a triple and started at short, but didn't have to make any plays there. Lane went crazy with a homer and three RBI. Raul Chavez went 3-for-3 , Bruntlett drove in four, and Luke Scott started in center.
On the mound, Taylor Buchholz was brilliant, allowing one hit in two innings. Fernando Nieve got lit up for four runs on four hits and a walk in his two innings, though he struck out three. Jason Hirsh allowed one run on three hits in two.
Saturday: Atlanta 10, Houston 6. Ensberg homered and Preston Wilson went 2-for-2, beating out an infield single and lining a double down the left-field line. "We have a chance to be a really good ballclub," he said. "Hopefully, I'll help the team enough to get us to that next level." Biggio got a pair of hits leading off, and Bagwell went 1-for-3 at DH again. Burke played a couple more innings at short again, and Luke Scott hit a triple while playing center.
Oswalt started and threw 19 pitches in two innings — 15 for strikes. He gave up two hits with a strikeout, throwing only fastballs and curves. "It was nothing major," he said. "I'm staying with basic stuff until I get it going." He said he'll put off work on a changeup and slider until later in the spring. Last year, he tinkered with a split-fingered fastball, then realized his primary pitches had suffered. "I worked on that more than I worked on the basic stuff, so I lost the feel for the first few games of the season," he said.
Wandy and Qualls both got lit up for four runs, but Trever Miller looked sharp.
Sunday: Dominican Republic 12, Houston 8. Here was the lineup for the Dominican: Soriano, Tejada, Pujols, Ortiz, Alou, Beltre, Peña (Willy Mo), Encarnacion, Castillo. Them's good. We started Biggio, Bagwell (DH), Berkman, Ensberg, Wilson, Burke (SS), Palmeiro, Ausmus and Scott. Zeke started and gave up two runs on three hits and four walks. Sparks, Sampson, Muecke and Gutierrez didn't do much better. The big news: Burke committed a fielding error at shortstop and (I think) didn't convert another possible out, though it wasn't scored an error. He did, however, stroke a two-run double in the 5th. Willy Taveras pinch ran for DR (a role that he's perfect for) and scored in the 6th. But somehow he grounded into a double play in the 7th! And apparently Juan Gutierrez pitched the top of the ninth for the ASstros, changed uniforms mid-inning and threw the bottom of the inning for the Dominican! That's awesome.
Split squad: Philly 4, Houston 3. Wow. We actually lost to the Phillies. Good thing it doesn't matter. Not much here: Everett, Lane, Bruntlett and Quintero were the only major leaguers who played. We let a bunch of rookies pitch, and they all did pretty well: Borkowski, Paulino, Albers, Gothreauz and Estrada gave up only one run through 8 innings before Peguero gave up four in 1 1/3. Oh well.
Next up: Washington Monday, NY Mets on Tuesday, Toronto on Wednesday, Mets again Thursday, Washington again Friday. Bagwell should get some time in the field soon enough.