By Will Martin
When you’re the new kid in town there is no blue print for what you are to do when making the infrequent visit to places once dreamed about due to the scheduling of interleague play and rivalries of a different sort for 51 years.
Astros fans will forever have memories of matchups and histories with the Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, even the Brew Crew.
Now the focus of in league opponents changes. Beginning with two of the greatest franchises in all of American League history.
Four games at historic Fenway Park and three at Yankee Stadium before Houston embarks on a ten game home stand (longest of their year) with the Tigers, Angels, and in-state rival the Texas Rangers.
One bright spot in April has now become the bugaboo. In one night I watched Philip Humber’s ERA jump from 2.89 to 6.62 with a horrific game with the Indians on April 20th. Erik Bedard, Bud Norris, and Lucas Harrell have had difficulty with working starts into six innings or more. Humber has been the victim of poor run support when pitching.
The middle relief has actually done okay with the efforts of Dallas Keuchel, Wesley Wright, and Rheiner Cruz. Their ERA’s are between 3 and 4. Late inning stoppages and fielding errors have caused more than a handful of losses to belie a 7-14 record.
Hector Ambriz, Brad Peacock, and Xavier Cedeno have been doing the closer by committee role late in games. This much we do know. Houston has a 4-2 mark when playing the Seattle Mariners. This is a good stat to have to offset what will undoubtedly be a rough stretch when meeting the Rangers 18-19 times a season.
Heading into the month of May the Astros are dealing with some bad news. Starting Center Fielder Justin Maxwell is now going to miss 4-6 weeks of action due to a broken wrist. Justin had started the 1st 20 games of 2013. Robbie Grossman now gets the call up from Oklahoma City while Justin is on the mend.
Bo Porter is ready to see this ride all the way through, even if it means an occasional hiccup. Like a Brad Peacock being moved to the bullpen.
“It more so has to do with us as an organization trying to put him in position where he could have some success,” Porter said. “We believe that he’s still a starting pitcher and you guys have witnessed it. We’ve had starters go down in the bullpen and pitch in long relief and they’ve had great success, and we’re hoping the same thing can happen with Brad Peacock.”
One stat that is slowly beginning to remedy itself is more patience at the plate? The ratio of walks to strikeouts. Houston had been swinging or caught looking at an alarming rate. For example quite a few of Houston Starters (Chris Carter, Carlos Corporan, Carlos Pena, Brandon Laird, Brett Barnes) have a ratio of strikeouts to walks from 2-1 to 5-1.
Poor Rick Ankiel has a 32-1 ratio with only1 walk. Take away the 43 the Rangers placed upon them Opening Week and the numbers are still way too high. Bo Porter will be hard at work to preach patience to this young squad of talent.
Chris Carter has been swinging a hotter bat and leads the team with six homers and 14 RBIs. Jose Altuve with a solid .333 batting average and over 30 hits for the month of April. 200 will be a very makeable goal for the crafty second baseman. Despite the strikeouts Ankiel is a close second with five taters and 14 driven in.
As April turns into May look for the Astros to strive for doing a better job at working pitch counts, not hitting bad pitches, fewer defensive mistakes, longer innings with lower pitch counts.
This 2013 season is a work in progress. The steps may be gradual but will lead to bigger and better things as the season winds down. Isn’t it tradition for Houston to come alive in the second half of seasons? That’s been the routine since 1999 or so it seems.