Astros Grounded So Far This Spring
But when it gets to an extreme, as has happened with the Houston Astros, results might mean something.
The Astros go into Friday night's game 1-11 in Grapefruit League play. They have been outscored 101-43 and out-homered 18-6, with a .223 team batting average and 6.44 ERA.
"I try not to have a panic button," general manager Ed Wade told FanHouse, "but I certainly didn't pack it to bring it to Kissimmee."
The Astros aren't just sitting on their hands. According to a major-league source, they placed right-hander Fernando Nieve on waivers this week, probably hoping to sneak him through unclaimed and outright him to the minors. Nieve, 26, throws 95 mph, and had a shot at the No. 5 spot in the Houston rotation, but has an 11.57 ERA this spring. Teams are wondering why the Astros are risking losing a live arm after putting in the effort to get him back from Tommy John surgery.
Nieve, of course, isn't alone in having a poor spring.
"Houston's pitchers are just throwing the ball right down the middle of the plate," said a scout who has seen the Astros.
"They're not very good," the scout said. Then he cautioned, "The thing is, last year in Spring Training, Philadelphia looked brutal (the Phillies went 12-18). They couldn't score any runs. ... (The Astros) always seem to be fine."
The Astros last year went 42-24 after the All-Star break, best in the NL, so they're used to digging out of holes. But when spring began, Wade and manager Cecil Cooper told the team they needed to get out of the gates better and not count on a second-half rally.
"You want to win all the time," Wade said. "Everybody's competitive by nature. It's been frustrating, but we try to put it in some perspective."
While Wade maintains an even keel, the losing still gnaws at him, Cooper and the coaches.
"I hate finishing .500 in an intrasquad game," Wade joked.
" 'Coop' is frustrated, and the staff. There have been fundamental mistakes."
As another scout pointed out, with the WBC taking away stars and lengthening spring training, more Double-A and Triple-A players than usual are getting playing time this late in March. Wade said the most disappointing thing in the Astros' start is their minor-leaguers haven't played well; that reflects the consensus that Houston's system is weak.
Miguel Tejada and Carlos Lee have returned from the WBC, bolstering the Astros lineup.
"There's 20-something games left," Wade said. "We'll begin to see more regulars and that will bring things a little more into perspective."