The big news today is Roger Clemens makes his Astros return against Francisco Liriano (who was 1 year old when Clemens made his first MLB start) and the Twins tonight. Clemens by himself won't automatically make us a great team, but if he can get his good buddy Andy Pettitte back on track, get the fans fired up, and pitches great, that will work.
We're making room for Clemens by optioning Chris Sampson to AAA, moving Fernando Nieve to the bullpen, and keeping Taylor Buccholz as the 5th starter. Garner's reasoning for the Nieve / Buchholz decision is that Nieve is better suited to be a reliever than Buchholz. Perhaps this is because he's a better pitcher in general:
Nieve, 2006: 65 IP, 4.71 ERA, 20 BB / 42 K
Nieve, June 2006: 18 IP, 3.00 ERA
Buchholz, 2006: 77.1 IP, 5.82 ERA, 19 BB / 47 K
Buchholz, June 2006: 19 IP, 6.63 ERA
Buccholz has had some excellent starts in the majors but he's also had some terrible ones. He's given up 8 ER or more in 4 different games!
Oh well. It probably doesn't matter that much, since Buccholz will be sent down when Brandon Backe returns. Still, I think Nieve is a better pitcher than Buchholz, for 2006 and beyond.
There has been some talk on Astros message boards about how badly Morgan Ensberg is slumping, etc. I mean, my god, he's only batting .249!
He also leads the team with 48 walks, and is 3rd to Chris Burke and Lance Berkman with a .381 OBP, and is 2nd to Berkman with a .541 SLG.
If his elbow is still bothering him, that's one thing, and we should let him rest. But to say we should bench him because he's not helping the club? Ridiculous.
The U.S. was bounced out of World Cup by a 2-1 loss to Ghana today. I'm disappointed, sure, but to be honest this wasn't a surprising result - Italy and the Czech Republic are both great teams, and Ghana is the best team in Africa. This was a brutal group to get out of. Expect better things in 2010.
One of the free agents that I wanted the Astros to go after this winter was Jason Johnson. Well, he was just released by the Indians after a 5.96 ERA in 14 starts. Johnson's main problem was that batters were hitting .341 off him, which is unlikely to continue - he's allowed a .282 batting average for his career. The Red Sox got him for cash and a PTBNL. I still think he can be a decent pitcher for the right team. He's getting an unbelievable number of groundballs this year, so maybe he just needs better infield defense.