No one was injured

added 4/9/2002 by Todd Brody

During the offseason, I made a commitment (more to myself than to Ray or to anyone else here) that I would write a column each week and would try to focus on the games more than on particular transactions. Well, here we are after seven games, the Astros are 4-3, and I was dangerously close to missing my goal the first week - not a very good way to start the season. So rather than harping on any particular thing, I thought that I would give you my first impressions of the Astros performance in the 2002 season.

First, if this is what we can expect from the Astros bullpen, the Astros are going to be in a lot of trouble. Billy Wagner, Nelson Cruz, and Scott Linebrink were awful. Linebrink's performance, admittedly, is not such a big deal because he will be replaced by either Doug Brocail or Hipolito Pichardo when they come back from their injuries. Continued performance by Wagner and Cruz, however, will sink this team. Now everything hasn't been so bad. Ricky Stone has been a very nice surprise and quickly he has become a favorite of Jimy Williams. I believe that Stone's gutsy two-inning performance was largely responsible for the Astros single win against the Cardinals last week. And the Astros need relievers who can pitch more than one inning. Octavio Dotel seems to have picked up where he left last season. He pitched very well against the Rockies last night (again going more than one inning). And the best thing that can be said for T.J. Matthews that Jimy has been smart enough not to pitch him very much. Indeed, I can think of few sillier decisions made by Gerry Hunsicker than the decision to place Matthews on the roster immediately after signing him to a minor league contract (thus guaranteeing him payment) without having seen him pitch one spring training inning. With no apparent time table for Brocail and Pichardo to return to active duty, the Astros really need some improvement from the bullpen.

Second, I wonder how many starts Dave Mlicki will get before the noise to bring Tim Redding up from New Orleans becomes deafening. Mlicki is a notoriously slow starter and Redding's first game at AAA was very impressive (5 IP, 1H, 1BB, 0 Runs, 6K). Otherwise, the Astros starting pitching has been acceptable. Wade Miller was very shaky in his first start, but pitched well against the Cardinals. Roy Oswalt and Carlos Hernandez pitched well - not as well as they did last season - but I didn't really expect either of these two young and inexperienced pitchers to have Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling type years. Did anyone? (I guess so. Peter Gammons picked Oswalt to win the NL Cy Young this season). Why don't we give them at least one full season in the majors before we proclaim either as aces? Shane Reynolds's performance this season may be the difference between the Astros playing baseball or golf in October. The Astros don't need him to win 20 games, however, and if he pitches as well as he did in his first game, the Astros will be in a very good position to make the playoffs. The most interesting thing so far about the Astros starting pitching is Jimy's quick hook. Jimy has suggested that he is limiting the pitch count early in the season, which is a good thing (assuming the relievers can hold leads) and I guess that we will have to wait a while before we get a sense of how long he will let his pitchers go into games. I sense that his philosophy is quite different from that of Larry Dierker who let his pitchers work out of jams, often to a fault.

With respect to the position players, I feel that I have already seen to many different lineups this season. I don't like Geoff Blum starting at third. I don't like Julio Lugo starting at short. And I really don't like a Brian Hunter/{Darryl Ward} platoon in the outfield. Ward batted .308 against lefties last year with 4 HRs in 26 at bats. Why does Jimy think that he can't hit lefties? And finally, while I understand that Brad Ausmus is recovering from injury, if the last game is any indication of the defense that the Astros will see from Gregg Zaun, then Zaun should not get so many starts this season. An article at suggested that Zaun was going to get a significant number of opportunities this year. If this is the case, this represents a major change in the team's philosophy from last season. In my mind, Ausmus had a lot to do with the performance of the Astros young pitchers last season. Sitting Ausmus (with his defense and superior pitch-calling ability) is not a good idea. Yes, Zaun is hitting very well, but with a .294 average so far this season, Ausmus has not been chopped liver.

And one last thought before I go. In an interview printed in the Denver Post, Craig Biggio was quoted as saying that he hopes to play three more seasons after this year. Biggio's present contract lasts through 2003. I guess that this means that he wants a two-year extension from the team. An article in the Rocky Mountain News written by Gerry Hunsicker suggests that the Astros might resign Biggio after his present contract is over because they feel that neither Biggio nor Jeff Bagwell should ever play for another team. Unless Biggio is willing to play from substantially under his market value, I do not think that resigning Biggio is a good idea. Biggio is 36. A contract extension will take him nearly to 40. While some players can certainly play into their forties, I'm not sure that Biggio can. Biggio might always be able to find some way to get onto base, but his once-blazing speed disappeared with his knee injuries. He is an average to below average fielder at this point in his career. He strikes out too much. And the Astros have several major prospects at this position, including Keith Ginter who was tremendous during Spring Training and Chris Burke, their first round draft pick. If the Astros have to make the choice between giving their young pitchers contracts and resigning Biggio, I think the Astros must choose the former. While I would hate to see Biggio in another team's contract (in the same way that it was impossible to look at Jose Cruz wearing a Yankees uniform), I just don't believe that loyalty requires that you gut your team. The Rockets were wise not to resign Hakeem Olajuwon (they should have traded him the year before when they could have gotten something back in return). The Astros likewise should let Biggio go after the 2003 season. Or maybe they can just convince him to retire gracefully.

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