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News » Houston Astros Inside Pitch 2009-03-29

Houston Astros Inside Pitch 2009-03-29

Houston Astros Inside Pitch 2009-03-29
If the Astros have learned anything this spring, it's that veterans Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz still have something in the tank.

Offense still appears to be the Astros' strength even though they ranked last in the NL in batting average through March 27, but their ERA this spring was sixth. That fact is even more impressive considering ace Roy Oswalt and top setup man LaTroy Hawkins had been away with Team USA during the World Baseball Classic.

The bullpen is the strength of the team, led by closer Jose Valverde, who topped the NL in saves the last two years. Right-handers Hawkins, Doug Brocail, Geoff Geary, Chris Sampson and left-handers Wesley Wright and Tim Byrdak all return.

The hitters had a rough spring, but manager Cecil Cooper is optimistic because of the track records Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, Miguel Tejada and Hunter Pence have had in the majors.

The Astros received a major boost when 14-time All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez was signed, bringing veteran leadership to a team that was considering starting Humberto Quintero, who has yet to last a whole year in the majors.

Fans should pay close attention to center field, where Michael Bourn must prove he can hit. If he falters, Cooper has said he'd turn to Darin Erstad or Jason Michaels in center, but don't be surprised if prospect Brian Bogusevic is ready by May.

Right-hander Bud Norris, the Astros' top pitching prospect, also is extremely close to the majors and likely will be at the back end of the bullpen by August.

THE ASTROS WILL CONTEND IF ...: RHP Roy Oswalt maintains his excellence, LHP Mike Hampton remains healthy and RHP Russ Ortiz contributes. If Hampton and Ortiz can each give the Astros at least 25 starts, this will be a good season. The Astros also need for SS Miguel Tejada and 2B Kaz Matsui to remain healthy and fresh, which is why manager Cecil Cooper plans to rest those players often.

PRIMED FOR A BIG SEASON: LF Carlos Lee was set to be the Astros' MVP last year before he suffered a season-ending fracture to his left little finger when he was plunked by the Reds' Bronson Arroyo on Aug. 29. At that point, Lee already had 100 RBIs, and he's hungry to make up for all the time he lost last year. Lee still regrets that he wasn't chosen as an All-Star, so look for him to try to prove something.

ON THE DECLINE: SS Miguel Tejada was an All-Star last year, but his power numbers took a tremendous dive after the break. He hit only three home runs in the final three months of last season, never more than one in a month from July through September.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: March 29, 2009

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