The Astros got an assist from the broadcast booth yesterday

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The Astros have a secret weapon. But he’s only really needed once a year.

Former big league pitcher Steve Sparks is a radio broadcaster for the Astros. Sparks also happens to have been a knuckleballer. The Astros faced current knuckleballer R.A. Dickey last night so yesterday Sparks tossed knuckleballs in BP to Astros hitters to prepare them. It worked too: the Astros got five runs on six hits in seven innings off Dickey and won the game.

This is the second time Sparks has provided this service for Houston hitters, doing so before they faced Dickey last season. They roughed Dickey up then too — five runs on seven hits that time — even though they ended up losing the game thanks to their own pitching staff’s follies.

Would that everyone in the broadcast booth could be so helpful. Last night Chipper Jones showed up as a guest during the broadcast of the Braves-Mets game. During his visit he broke down B.J. Upton’s hitting problems in highly technical terms. Which was great, actually. Far more detail than one normally hears from any analyst. He also helped Upton during batting practice. I’d like to say it helped — Upton did go 1 for 4 which, as of late, is an improvement — but I think I’ll reserve judgment.

The Giants are interested in Evan Longoria

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Bob Nightengale of USA Today says that the San Francisco Giants “have keen interest” in Rays third baseman Evan Longoria.

Longoria is coming off his worst season as a major leaguer, having hit .261/.313/.424 with 20 homers in 2017. He’s also still owed $86 million through 2022. Which, back when the deal was signed seemed like quite a bargain for the Rays — and likely has been over the duration of the contract — but now seems somewhat steep for the 32 year-old third baseman. That said, the Giants currently have Pablo Sandoval penciled in at third base on their depth chart, so Longoria would definitely be an upgrade, even if 2017’s dip wasn’t just a blip.

Nightengale says that for the Giants to take on Longoria, the Rays would have to take on a high salary veteran such as Denard Span or Hunter Pence. Span is owed $9 million in 2018, with a $4 million buyout on a $12 million option for 2019. Pence is owed $18.5 million in 2018 in the final year of his contract and has a full no-trade clause.

If he stays with the Rays, Longoria will achieve 10-5 rights — full no-trade protection due to being a ten-year veteran with five years of service on the same club — so if the Rays are going to move him, it’ll be much easier this offseason, not once the 2018 season begins.