Spring training questions: Houston Astros

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Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be looking at a few of the questions facing each team this spring.
1. Will the Astros get anything at all out of the catcher position while waiting for Jason Castro?
GM Ed Wade opted against spending any cash to upgrade at catcher over the winter, leaving him with ex-prospect J.R. Towles and career backup Humberto Quintero to battle for time behind the plate. Towles, who was a bust after claiming a starting job in 2008, was hurt for much of last season and didn’t show much in 14 major league starts at the end of the season. He has a 609 OPS in 234 major league at-bats. Quintero is at 600 in 548 career at-bats, but that does come with a nice defensive reputation. Ideally, Towles would impress in March, claim the starting job and play well enough to allow the Astros to keep Castro in the minors until September. Castro, though, figures to get plenty of work with the Astros’ starting pitchers this spring just in case he’s needed earlier. Maybe a lot earlier.
2. With Jose Valverde and LaTroy Hawkins gone, can the rebuilt bullpen hold leads at the end of games?
The Astros will have three returnees who pitched very well last season (Alberto Arias, Tim Byrdak and Jeff Fulchino), plus the emerging Sammy Gervacio, so the bullpen as a whole might be solid. However, the closer candidates inspire less faith. Brandon Lyon ended up undergoing minor shoulder surgery not long after signing one of the most criticized contracts of the winter (three years, $15 million) and Matt Lindstrom is a complete wild card. Lyon will probably be reliable, but with his modest strikeout rate, he’ll never inspire the kind of confidence that Valverde did, and it’s safe to assume that Lindstrom isn’t going to match the 1.71 ERA that Hawkins had in his year and a third with Houston. Gervacio just might prove to be the best reliever of the whole bunch.
3. Will the talented Felipe Paulino get a chance to show what he can do in the rotation?
The Lyon contract had nothing on Wade’s baffling decision to pick up Brian Moehler’s $3 million option for 2010. After all, Moehler is 38 and he had a 5.47 ERA last season. Odds are that he would have had to settle for a minor league contract on the open market. The stunning commitment suggested that Moehler would have to be penciled into the 2010 rotation. The Astros, though, later added Brett Myers, giving them three pitchers for the final two spots. Bud Norris should have a big edge for one based on his performance last year, so that leaves Moehler and Paulino for one opening. Paulino came out of last year 3-11 with a 6.27 ERA, but he had an impressive 93/37 K/BB ratio in 97 2/3 innings and he has the talent to take a giant leap forward. If the Astros are going to be a surprise contender this year, Paulino would likely have to be a big part of it. The Astros need to see what he can do and treat Moehler as a fallback.

Bartolo Colon hit a foul ball with 102 MPH exit velocity on Monday

New York Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon  adjusts his cap after giving up a base hit to Philadelphia Phillies' Cameron Rupp during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, April 9, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
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Everyone seemed to be able to hit Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz on Monday night. The right-hander served up three home runs to the Mets in the first inning, as David Wright, Yoenis Cespedes, and Lucas Duda each took him yard.

Even Mets starter Bartolo Colon wanted to get in on the action. Colon is not much of a hitter, as evidenced by his .089 career batting average and this swing he took two years ago.

Colon got a neck-high fastball from Foltynewicz and he was somehow able to make solid contact on it, sending a line drive down the left field line. It was foul, but it registered an exit velocity at 101.9 MPH via Statcast. Not bad for a guy whose hitting prowess is often the butt of a joke.

White Sox will designate John Danks for assignment

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher John Danks walks off the field after the third inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore, Thursday, April 28, 2016. Baltimore scored four runs against Danks in the third. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
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CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes reports that the White Sox will designate starter John Danks for assignment. He notes the move is not yet official. Erik Johnson is expected to draw the start on Thursday as a result, Hayes adds. Danks was scheduled to start on Wednesday against the Red Sox, but Carlos Rodon will move up a day and start instead.

Danks, 31, was off to a bumpy start to the 2016 season. He lost each of his first four starts, compiling a 7.25 ERA with a 16/11 K/BB ratio in 22 1/3 innings. The lefty showed promise early in his career, but put up an aggregate 4.79 ERA since the beginning of the 2011 season. Danks was never able to find his stuff again.

Once Danks’ DFA is made official, the White Sox will have 10 days to find a trade partner, otherwise Danks will likely be released and become a free agent. Expect the latter, as Danks is owed the balance of his $14.25 million salary for the 2016 season, the final year of a five-year, $65 million extension signed in December 2011.

Danks has been in the White Sox organization since they acquired him from the Rangers in December 2006.

Pablo Sandoval had successful shoulder surgery

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Pablo Sandoval underwent successful surgery today to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The Red Sox said afterward that he will be out the remainder of 2016 and that they anticipate him being ready for 2017. That’s the official word, of course, on what many reported last night. But it’s nice that it’s official.

It’s also nice that the surgery was “successful.” Of course it’s always “successful” the day of the surgery. No one has ever released a statement saying “Shlabotnik had knee surgery today. It was an unmitigated disaster. Like, oh my god, you don’t want to know and I can’t even with this.” If there are problems, they’re always revealed later.

Here’s hoping there are no problems for Sandoval.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Tuesday’s action

New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey (33) delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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We’re back to a full slate of games on Tuesday night. The game to watch tonight, especially if you’re a fan of mismatches, is Braves-Mets. The Mets easily handled the Braves on Monday night, winning 4-1. The club blasted three home runs in the first inning off of Mike Foltynewicz, which is nearly as many homers as the Braves have hit all season (five). The Mets went on cruise control from there. Bartolo Colon finished with seven strikeouts over eight shutout innings. Jeurys Familia gave up a run but was able to reach the finish line.

The Braves are now 6-19, a game ahead of the Astros and Twins for the worst record in baseball. It’s not particularly shocking since the Braves have embraced tanking in their final year at Turner Field. How low can they go? The Atlanta record for losses in a season is 106 by the 1988 club. The 1935 Boston Braves went 38-115. The Braves’ current .240 winning percentage would rank as the worst in franchise history — including Atlanta, Boston, and Milwaukee — if the season were to end today.

Tuesday’s pitching match-up features Matt Wisler for the Braves and Matt Harvey for the Mets. The two will square off at 7:10 PM EDT at Citi Field tonight.

The rest of Tuesday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Justin Verlander) @ Cleveland Indians (Josh Tomlin), 6:10 PM EDT

Chicago Cubs (Jake Arrieta) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Jon Niese), 7:05 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Luis Severino) @ Baltimore Orioles (Chris Tillman), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Martin Perez) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Marco Estrada), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Patrick Corbin) @ Miami Marlins (Justin Nicolino), 7:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Dodgers (Scott Kazmir) @ Tampa Bay Rays (Matt Moore), 7:10 PM EDT

San Francisco Giants (Jeff Samardzija) @ Cincinnati Reds (Jon Moscot), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Steven Wright) @ Chicago White Sox (Jose Quintana), 8:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Angels (Nick Tropeano) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Junior Guerra), 8:10 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Alex Meyer) @ Houston Astros (Collin McHugh), 8:10 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Aaron Nola) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Michael Wacha), 8:15 PM EDT

Washington Nationals (Tanner Roark) @ Kansas City Royals (Chris Young), 8:15 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Hisashi Iwakuma) @ Oakland Athletics (Sonny Gray), 10:05 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Eddie Butler) @ San Diego Padres (Andrew Cashner), 10:10 PM EDT