Pudge's landing in Houston immediately improves Astros

Updated: March 16, 2009

Doug Benc/Getty Images

It took some time, but Ivan Rodriguez got a job. He's headed to Houston.

I-ROD WILL HELP ASTROS

Ivan Rodriguez is a perfect fit for the Houston Astros, and I really expect this deal to work out for everyone involved. He wanted more of a role than the Marlins and Giants were offering, and I think he will get a good share of playing time in Houston.

The Astros had Humberto Quintero and J.R Towles on the roster, but the team needed more of a proven starting catcher and some additional offense. Pudge brings both those things to town with him. I like Quintero, but as a backup. I'm also not convinced Towles is going to hit at the major league level. I think Rodriguez probably will catch 100-120 games this season with the Astros. They can pick the right matchups for Quintero and get him in enough to give 37-year-old Rodriguez a break. Towles will be the odd man out on the major league roster.

As I mentioned last week in the Clubhouse, Pudge is committed to proving he can work with a pitching staff. He'll have his opportunities to do that in Houston. Other than Roy Oswalt, the team has kind of pieced together its starting rotation. Wandy Rodriguez has battled inconsistencies over the years; sometimes he's good at home, other times he's good on the road. Sometimes he's locked in, sometimes he's not. I think having a veteran such as Pudge to work with will benefit him greatly.

Brian Moehler, a veteran, knows how to pitch and just needs someone to guide him through the game. The Astros also have Mike Hampton, who is looking for a bounce-back season and is hungry in the same way Pudge is. This might be the last chance for both if they cannot perform or stay healthy. The Astros like their bullpen a lot, boasting a decent blend of youth and experience. Pudge's experience should really help the young guys and guide the veterans.

I think the World Baseball Classic meant everything to Pudge in his drive to play in the majors again. Had he not had the opportunity to showcase his abilities in game situations, I don't believe the Astros would have taken a chance on him. He certainly would not have received the kind of contract they gave him (one year, $1.5 million, with incentives that could push the deal to $3 million). I haven't heard officially, but there is discussion he might decide to leave Team Puerto Rico to join the Astros at spring training right away. It certainly would be a loss for Puerto Rico, but not a devastating one because of its depth at the position with Geovany Soto and Yadier Molina.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: March 15 | March 12 | March 11 | March 10 | March 9

BEST OF THE BLOGS

Each day, ESPN.com's contributors offer a wide array of thoughts and analysis in their blogs. Jayson Stark has been roaming around training camps, seeing who looks good and who doesn't:

For 2½ weeks now, an army of scouts has been pointing its radar guns -- and its eyeballs -- in the direction of spring training games. Here's a sampling of the observations so far.

STRIKE ONE -- THUMBS-UP DEPT.: First, some players who have looked better than you might think:

Brett Gardner, Yankees (.393, 6 SB): Gardner is involved in a center-field competition with Melky Cabrera. But even though Cabrera is hitting .375, it's Gardner's stock that continues to rise: "If he just does the things he's done down here, he'll help that team," one AL scout said. "They should just put him out there, let him run and inject some speed in that lineup."

Jason Donald, Phillies (.350, 9 runs scored): With Jimmy Rollins off on WBC duty and Chase Utley and Pedro Feliz recovering from surgery, Donald has gotten 40 at-bats already at second, third and short. And he has done nothing to dissuade the Phillies from thinking he might be ready to help them right now. "He really grows on you," an NL scout said. "I don't think I've seen him strike out yet. He reads pitches well. He squares up the ball consistently. I like him a lot. He's got some baseball player in him."

Phil Coke, Yankees (1-0, 2.25 ERA, 8 IP, 1 BB, 6 K's): Coke was the guy who almost got dealt to the Pirates in the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade in July 2008. But he's starting to emerge as a guy who could win a bullpen job right now. "I love that kid," an AL scout said. "He can help them. He shows no fear."

For the rest of this entry from Jayson Stark's blog, click here.


Keith Law offers up some impressions from the desert:

Notes from a recent "B" game and batting practice in Surprise, Ariz.:

• Kasey Kiker was the Rangers' first-round pick in the 2006 draft, going 12th overall in a bit of a surprise considering his short stature and the presence of a bigger high school arm in the Rangers' home state, Kyle Drabek. Drabek still has more upside, but Kiker has at least stayed healthy through three years of pro ball and survived the hitter-friendly Cal League in 2008 with good peripherals masked by a 4.73 ERA. Kiker's best attribute is his aggressiveness on the mound: He works extremely quickly and attacks hitters with stuff that is more above-average than plus. His fastball is 88-91 mph with a little sink, but not enough to make him a ground ball pitcher. His mid-70s curve has a short downward break, and his changeup has a hard fade away from right-handed hitters. With plus command, that's good enough stuff for him to be a starter in the majors, although the lack of a pure out pitch could lead him to the bullpen. Either way, he's a legitimate prospect in some role with that repertoire because of the command and the way he just pitches angry.

For the rest of this entry from Keith Law's blog, click here.


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SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

As Team USA prepares for its game against Puerto Rico, he takes a look at how the U.S. has done so far in this World Baseball Classic:

Team USA in WBC
Rank*
BA .298 6th
Runs per game 6.8 T-4th
HRs per game 1.8 4th
ERA 6.33 10th
WHIP 1.73 9th

*Out of 16 teams.

HOW WILL I-ROD IMPACT ASTROS

MONDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Tom GlavineTom Glavine made a return to the mound Monday, pitching in game situations for the first time since undergoing elbow and shoulder surgery. Glavine, who has 305 career wins, threw 38 pitches against some of the top prospects in the minor leagues.
WORST
Cole Hamels• Hear the gasp coming from Philadelphia? Cole Hamels is going to get his elbow checked. The ace lefty has been experiencing discomfort in his throwing elbow. "It's just been that kind of mild discomfort, something I don't want to have to deal with during the season," Hamels said. So much for the good news that Chase Utley made his first appearance of the spring.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Phillies ace Cole Hamels is feeling discomfort is his throwing elbow. The World Series MVP was a workhorse last season, pitching 227 innings, which put him second in the National League behind only Johan Santana.

Add in the postseason, and the left-hander pitched 262 1/3 innings -- more innings than he threw in his entire minor league career combined (He tossed 201 from 2003 to 2006). Arm trouble could hurt his changeup, which is one of the best in the majors. He threw changeups 29 percent of the time last season. The only starter to go with the change more often was Tom Glavine (35.7 percent).


Cole Hamels' changeup
Hamels MLB avg.
BA against .203 .260
Swing-miss pct. 38.4 28.1
Chase pct. 45.1 32.9
Strike pct. 74.8 62.3

Note: Chase percentage is percentage of time batter swings at a pitch out of the strike zone.

-- ESPN Stats and Information

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