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.

Report: Momentum in talks between Mariners, Jon Jay

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MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports that there is some momentum in talks between the Mariners and free agent outfielder Jon Jay.

Jay, 32, hit .296/.374/.375 in 433 plate appearances with the Cubs last season, which is adequate. He’s heralded more for his defense and his ability to play all three outfield spots.

The Mariners are losing center fielder Jarrod Dyson to free agency and likely don’t want to rely on Guillermo Heredia next season, hence the interest in Jay. The free agent class for center fielders is otherwise relatively weak.