As I read the news, watch bits of ESPN ,and look at videos on the Internet, I see some parallels between Houston Astros pitching this spring training and one particular scene from the 1988 movie Tucker: the Man and His Dream .
The movie was about Preston Tucker, whose way-ahead-of-their-time cars featured futuristic designs (including seatbelts) that scared the Big Three and ultimately resulted in his demise. They were great cars, I'm told by both my Dad and Dad-in-law (both mechanics), but he ran into a brick wall against Ford, GM, and Chrysler.
The movie features one scene where Tucker's getting ready to show off a car to a crowd. While talking to the crowd, people rush behind curtains to prepare the car for display and handle some minor catastrophes (such as a fire that must be put out). Tucker stalls and finally shows off the car.
And as Tucker readied to make his car ready for production, the Astros are readying to get their pitching ready for the season. They need probably three more starters to go along with Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez. Oswalt must show he's doing better physically while Rodriguez is preparing to get into the swing of things.
In the bullpen, there are more holes to fill in both middle relief (including holders and Jesse Orosco-style lefthanders who specialize in sending left-handed hitters crying back to the dugout). The bullpen? Wow. Opening day is less than a month away and we have no idea who will be Houston's new closer.
Oswalt looked pretty good in his first spring training start against the Atlanta Braves on March 6. In 44 pitches, he yielded no runs and only one hit along with three walks. Maybe someone told Roy O to pretend it was game six against the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2005 NLCS.
* * *
Yesterday against the Florida Marlins, Houston lost 16-4 as the game seemed to be a microcosm of last season: Shaky pitching while Houston hitters appear to have taken a vow of not swinging their bats. Rodriguez, whose weakness has been giving up home runs, yielded back-to-back home runs in the first inning. Wandy also yielded four earned runs and six hits in three innings.
It's spring training, I know, and it sometimes takes time to work the kinks out. Countless players have had dazzling springs, only to flop once the season begins. Besides, considering Rodriguez will be a free agent this next off-season (whether restricted or unrestricted I can't tell), I'm sure his pitching will come around. He has this thing called incentive.
* * *
Looks like the Astros so far may have something promising with Taiwanese pitcher Chia-Jen Lo.
Brian McTaggart of MLB.com reports the most difficult thing Jo has had to do this spring training is deal with the language barrier . (For those interested in learning more about Mandarin Chinese, visit the website www.zhongwen.com . )
I understand Lo was successful in his ventures last year with Class A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi. That being said, Wade said in McTaggart's article he expects Lo to start the season at Triple A Round Rock.
Wade feels the Taiwanese right-hander has a good arm, good stuff, and something else he'll need against teams like St. Louis, Chicago, and Los Angeles—poise.
Lo's lack of understanding English may work very well in his favor: When he pitches on the road, the phrases "You suck!", "Your Mama's a [INSERT NC-17 insult]!", and "Go back to Taiwan!" will mean little to him.
Years ago, I studied Mandarin Chinese for eight months at the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey, CA. Taiwanese Chinese is a little different from Mainland Chinese (the Taiwanese also prefer to use the older, more complex characters rather than the simplified ones introduced during Mao Zedong's time). For Astros fans reading this, here are a few phrases you can shout at Lo during a game:
Bu cuo! (Boots-woe)!—Not bad!
Wo men ai Chia-Jen Lo! (Woe mun I Chia-Jen Lo)! We love Chia-Jen Lo!
If I can find a site with Chinese lingo for baseball, I'll try to post it.
No, I will not post translations of American profanity into Chinese.
* * *
Pitcher Matt Nevarez may be heading to the minors and may have some shoulder soreness to deal with, but it appears Houston likes what they see in him so far.
Actually, for Nevarez to head to the farm might be a good thing to help Houston replete its minor-league system. They say he can pitch in the 90s, but at this stage he's not ready yet. Besides, considering he had Tommy John surgery and had to sit out the 2007 season, perhaps it's best this way.
Nevarez's numbers so far in his minor league career definitely show promise: 139 K's, 71 BB's, and a 2.96 ERA in 115 2/3 innings.
* * *
On March 9, the Astros defeated the New York Mets 8-4. Always a good thing to get a win over the Mutts, even if it's a Spring Training game. I was relieved that Brett Myers and Matt Lindstrom, along with Sane Loux, all had good games for Houston on the mound.
Richard Zowie is a lifelong Houston Astros fan who's been e-mailing and calling an Astros star from the 1980s in hopes the slugger will give him an interview. Post comments here or e-mail email@example.com .