Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Blogger Night at Minute Maid Park, Part 2

Last Friday, the Astros invited a few members of the blogging community to participate in a Blogger Night at Minute Maid Park. I wrote about our conversation with GM Jeff Luhnow here. But I was getting ahead of myself.

We actually started off much earlier in the day, hitting the field that afternoon in anticipation of speaking with Manager Bo Porter and "a couple of players." While we were waiting, we saw a familiar face saunter onto the field.

Craig Biggio - May 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Soon enough, Porter came out to talk with us. The first (and longest) part of the conversation was in response to a question about the use of lefty/righty matchups. Porter assured us that he is far less interested in matching up hitters and pitchers by handedness than he is in looking at a hitter's hot and cold hitting zones versus the opposing pitchers tendencies within the strike zone. He went into a really detailed explanation of his thinking. It is not as simple as lefty vs. righty or vice versa.

Bo Porter - May 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Similarly, there is more to his thought process and his approach on lifting starting pitchers than we might anticipate at first glance, particularly with rookie pitchers. He doesn't just look at pitch count. He looks at how many of those pitches come in high leverage situations. He equated 75 pitches in the minors to 55 in the majors due to the different intensity level. He also described dugout conversations with pitchers nearing the end of their night in which he outlines what he needs to see from them in the next inning, challenging them to control their own fate as to whether they will stay in the game or come out.

But one of the biggest factors with rookie pitchers is helping them to believe in themselves. According to Porter, "The quickest maturation in my profession is the big C - Confidence. The more quality outings a young pitcher's putting together, the quicker the mindset sets in, 'I belong here.' Let him leave on that positive."

We talked with RHP Josh Zeid a short time later and his words echoed Porter's philosophy. Asked about being put into the fire in his first appearance with the big league club last year, Zeid said, "It makes you feel really good. It makes you feel like they feel you belong. Because when I got here, you don't always think you belong. You know you did well in the minor leagues and you know you've had success, but it's a much different animal in here. Even coming in to the stadium, it's much different. You have to trick yourself. If they believe in you, you believe in you. I think that's the way I look at it. If they didn't think I could do it, then I sure as heck wouldn't be able to do it."

Josh Zeid - May 2014
Photo by Jayne Hansen

With Porter, it's a balance of helping the young pitchers succeed and yet challenging them and letting them struggle at times in order to see how they handle those struggles. Of Keuchel, he said, "If you don't allow Keuchel to struggle and live with the struggle, we won't have what we have today." Porter wants to find out what they're made of.

The afternoon wasn't all serious discussions of managerial moves and motivations, though. With Zeid, there was talk of high socks and stirrups, his friendship with Jarred Cosart and food. When someone commented that Houston is a food town, Zeid exclaimed, "Town?! It's a Food Metropolis!"

This was a sentiment shared by OF L.J. Hoes. When I asked him what he liked about Houston, he quickly responded, "The food. I love to eat. So many great restaurants. We've got good barbecue, crawfish ... I love the food." When I complimented him on having a great sense of humor when it comes to jokes about his name, Hoes said, "Growing up with the last name Hoes really helped me out. My friend's were pretty tough on me. My family would crack jokes on each other all the time. That really helped me out a lot."

I missed most of the bloggers' conversation with LHP Dallas Keuchel while I was talking with Hoes, but Keuchel's name also came up in conversation. Alas, he has no plans to change his name to Houston so fans will have to continue yelling "Go Dallas!" from the stands (which is exceedingly difficult for some of us) or use his last name which doesn't exactly roll trippingly off the tongue.

Amanda Rykoff, the Astros new social media director, did a bang up job in coordinating the event with help from Chris Hunsaker (who I will dub Marketing Guru because I don't remember his exact title). As an editorial comment, I think people are going to love the energy, enthusiasm and ideas that Rykoff is bringing to the Astros in her role. Plus she has a great sense of humor and the good sense to keep one particular Crawfish Boxes blogger confined behind the net.

Amanda Rykoff and Chris Perry
Photo by Jayne Hansen

I will leave you with a few final words from L.J. Hoes. He spoke of the 2014 Astros team thus, "We're doing good. We're improving. We're young so that's the big thing. We're all starting to grow and mature into our own type of player at the major league level. We're excited. We're really coming together as a team and we're starting to play well."

9-19 in April. 8-10 so far in May, having won their last two series. Yep. I agree. The 2014 Astros are starting to play well. As I've said before ... baby steps.

2 comments:

  1. would like to know what Mr. Luhnow and Mr. Rowin said about the young guys in the system. i mean Teoscar Hernandez ( who's been really hot lately) Carlos Correa, Tony Kemp( hitting .365), Domingo Santana(destroying the league), Roberto Pena( major league ready- defensively), Jon Singleton, Travis Ballew, Jandel Gustave, and all the young players that are putting good numbers in the minors.

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    1. I would have liked to have talked about that more as well, but we ran out of time before we were able to do more than simply gloss over a few of those players. :(

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