Catcher J.R. Towles the fall guy for Astros' abysmal start

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j.r. towles.jpgJ.R. Towles had to know his margin for error was pretty slim at the start of the year. That he beat out 2008 first-round pick Jason Castro for a starting job was partly a financial decision — the Astros had quite a bit to gain there by sending Castro down for another two months — and partly a nod to the fact that, at age 26, he deserved one final chance to show the organization what he could do.
That chance figured to extend two months. After June 1, the Astros could call up Castro without fear that he’d be a free agent after 2015 or arbitration eligible after 2012.
But what no one counted on was the Astros’ 8-18 start. And since the team has so many expensive veterans locked into jobs, there was no easy way to get to the root of the problem. Becausee doing nothing was no longer an option, Towles was sent down on Tuesday and replaced by light-hitting veteran Kevin Cash.
It’s a ridiculous move designed only to show that GM Ed Wade isn’t asleep at the wheel. A change for the sake of making a change. Towles was hitting .191/.235/.319 this season, but it was just 47 at-bats. Despite starting only 13 of the Astros’ 26 games, he was third on the team with eight RBI.
Humberto Quintero, now the Astros’ starting catcher, has been worse than Towles, hitting .214/.250/.286 with three RBI in his 42 at-bats. The 30-year-old Quintero is a career .231/.273/.322 hitter in 590 major leaguer at-bats. Cash, 32, has hit .186/.248/.287 in his 527 at-bats.
When it comes to defense, Quintero is almost certainly an upgrade over Towles. Towles, though, had been far from bad this year. He was 3-for-11 throwing out basestealers, and he hadn’t allowed any passed balls. His catcher ERA of 4.55 was higher than Quintero’s 4.01 mark, but that’s due the fact that the Spanish-speaking Quintero was used as the personal catcher for Spanish-speaking No. 2 starter Wandy Rodriguez.
In the long run, it’s really not going to matter. Castro is the future, even though he’s been quite a disappointment while hitting .221/.369/.250 in 68 at-bats for Triple-A Round Rock. Quintero is just keeping his seat warm. Towles was likely on his way out of the organization even if he came through with a solid 2010 as a starter. Of course, any chance that he’d have some actual trade value now appears to be gone.

Evan Gattis undergoes surgery for hernia; recovery is 4-6 weeks

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Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle shares the bad news

One of the Astros’ big bats won’t be taking hacks when the Astros hold their first full workout on Feb. 23.

Astros designated hitter Evan Gattis recently underwent surgery to repair a hernia, the Chronicle has learned, taking away most of his spring training at a minimum. The recovery is four to six weeks but fortunately for Gattis and the Astros, the injury is not considered severe.

Gattis was working hard on his overall conditioning this winter, even telling MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart in late January that he had already dropped 18 pounds. It sounds like the big slugger might have gone a bit overboard with those workouts, and now he is in real danger of missing the first couple weeks of the 2016 regular season.

Gattis batted .246/.285/.463 with 27 home runs and 88 RBI in 153 games last season for the Astros. The 29-year-old is arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career and has a hearing with the Astros scheduled for February 16 to determine his salary for 2016. He requested $3.8 million and was offered $3 million when figures were exchanged a little over three weeks ago.

Suddenly the Astros’ front office might have a new talking point for those arbitrators.

Seung-Hwan Oh finally receives his work visa, will be on time for Cardinals camp

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At last check, new Cardinals reliever Seung-Hwan Oh was still awaiting a work visa from the United States Embassy in South Korea and there was some worry that he might not be able to arrive on time to spring training in Jupiter, Florida.

But that is now officially a non-story.

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Oh has recieved his work visa and is expected to report to Cardinals camp next week along with the rest of the club’s pitchers and catchers. Oh might even show up a bit earlier than the Cardinals originally asked him to, per Goold.

Oh saved 357 games in 11 seasons between Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization before inking a one-year contract with St. Louis this winter. He also registered a stellar 1.81 ERA and 772 strikeouts across 646 total innings in Asia, earning the nickname “The Final Boss.”

Oh is expected to work in a setup role this year for Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal.

John Lamb had back surgery in December, will likely get off to late start in 2016

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John Lamb was part of the Reds’ return package in last July’s Johnny Cueto trade and he had a strong showing at the Triple-A level in 2015. But the young left-hander posted a 5.80 ERA in a 10-start cup of coffee with Cincinnati late last season — his first 10 appearances as a major leaguer — and now comes word from MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon that Lamb will probably have to get off to a late start in 2016.

Lamb underwent surgery in December to repair a herniated disc in his back — a surgery that went unreported by the Reds until Tuesday afternoon. Reds manager Bryan Price acknowledged on MLB Network that Lamb is behind the team’s other starting pitchers and will likely open the coming season on the disabled list. The hope is that he might be ready by mid-April.

It’s a small but frustrating blow for a rebuilding Reds team that will be looking to establish some foundational pieces in 2016. Once he is recovered, Lamb will be expected to fill the Reds’ fifth rotation spot behind Raisel Iglesias, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan, and Michael Lorenzen.

This is going to be an ugly year for Cincinnati baseball fans.

Yu Darvish will report to spring training on time, hopes to begin mound work in March

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Rangers ace Yu Darvish missed the entire 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery last March 17. Most starting pitchers take 13-15 months to fully recover from that procedure, and the Rangers aren’t counting on Darvish until sometime this May.

His rehab so far has gone on without issue.

Darvish offered some very positive updates Tuesday to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram …

Darvish, 29, boasts a 3.27 ERA and 1.196 WHIP in 83 career major league starts. He can also claim a whopping 680 strikeouts in 545 1/3 career major league innings.

Texas has him under contract for $10 million in 2016 and $11 million in 2017.