Astros' Max Stassi: Will be third catcher

Astros' Max Stassi: Will be third catcher

Stassi is third on the depth chart behind Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado, Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reports.

With McCann returning to the fold Saturday, manager A.J. Hinch outlined his strategy for divvying playing time among three catchers. He said he’ll ride the hot hand between McCann and Maldonado and “work Stassi in when I can.” That’s where Stassi has fallen after he looked like a Rookie of the Year candidate in the first half, when he slugged .457 while pounding left-handed pitching. He eventually lost the primary starter duties after Maldonado was acquired and will act as surplus catching over the final month of the season.

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Astros extend manager A.J. Hinch's contract through 2022

Astros extend manager A.J. Hinch's contract through 2022

HOUSTON – The Houston Astros on Thursday extended manager A.J. Hinch’s contract through 2022.

President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Jeff Luhnow announced the extension Thursday at a press conference at which several players attended.

“It’s hard to put into words what a day like today means to me,” Hinch said. “Jeff (luhnow) and Jim (Crane, Astros owner) have been tremendous to me, and this is the second time we’ve had contract discussions when we didn’t have to. That’s a lot of respect, a lot of appreciation, a lot of feelings for me of gratitude that we would get to this day.”

Hinch joined the organization in 2015. Since then, he has led Houston to two playoff appearances and the Astros’ first World Series title in franchise history. His 14 wins in the postseason are the most by any manager in franchise history.

Hinch was named Baseball America’s 2017 Manager of the Year.

Entering Thursday, Hinch’s 353-266 overall record gives him the best winning percentage (.570) of any Astros manager in franchise history.

© 2018 KHOU

World Series champ Astros keep manager Hinch through 2022

World Series champ Astros keep manager Hinch through 2022

Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch, pictured May 2018, who guided the Astros to their first World Series crown in 2017, was in the final year of a contract that had an option year for 2019 (AFP Photo/Norm Hall)

Washington (AFP) – The reigning World Series champion Houston Astros have extended the Major League Baseball contract of manager A.J. Hinch through the 2022 season, the club announced Thursday.

Hinch, who was in the final year of a contract that had an option year for 2019, guided the Astros to their first World Series crown last year, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in a seven-game thriller for the title.

“We’re thrilled to have AJ in the fold for multiple years,” said Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who hired Hinch in 2014. “AJ has played a key role in our team success and is one of the most effective managers in baseball.

“He is aligned with the vision of our front office, has made a great connection with our players, and has earned the respect of everyone in the clubhouse.

“Our goal is to win multiple championships. AJ is unquestionably the best manager to help us achieve this goal.”

Hinch has a 353-266 career regular-season record in four campaigns with the Astros, including two playoff appaearances and likely another this year.

“To be the manager of the Houston Astros means the world to me,” Hinch said. “Who wouldn’t sign up to be the manager of the Houston Astros? To the players who are in the back of the room: To be your manager is by far the best job in the world.”

The Astros are 82-51, the third-best mark in the major leagues behind the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, and lead the American League West division by 2 1/2 games over Oakland with a month remaining in the regular season.

“AJ has done a tremendous job since taking over our ballclub,” Astros owner Jim Crane said. “He knows the game extremely well, he knows his players and knows how to win. We have had a lot of success over the past three seasons, and AJ is a big reason. AJ has certainly earned this extension.”

Astros Balls & Strikes: Dallas Keuchel adjusts against A's

Astros Balls & Strikes: Dallas Keuchel adjusts against A's

Takeaways from the Astros’ 5-4 walkoff victory on Wednesday to take two out of three games from the Athletics:

Dallas Keuchel took notice of how the Athletics jumped on his cut fastball in the sixth inning of a 7-1 loss in Oakland on Aug. 18.

“I was kind of beating a dead horse there,” he said. “That’s not who I am as a pitcher, so I went back to the drawing board and I’ve got to pitch to my strengths more.”

The adjustments helped him navigate six hectic innings, long enough for Tyler White to hit a walkoff home run at Minute Maid Park.

Three consecutive singles in the third threatened to undo Keuchel. Defensive positioning betrayed him. The Astros shifted leadoff hitter Marcus Semien to the pull side. A glut of defenders crowded the left of the field. Semien shot a first-pitch single through the vacated right side.

Matt Chapman followed with a single past White. Semien scored when Jed Lowrie lined a ball toward Tony Kemp that, had it been caught, would have been the Astros’ highlight of the season. Instead it rolled out of Kemp’s glove.

Stephen Piscotty dealt Keuchel the most damaging blow. He cleared the bases with a two-run double that put the A’s ahead 3-2.

“I made necessary pitches when I had to,” Keuchel said. “Just one mistake pitch to Piscotty. He was being aggressive — I knew he was — and I still didn’t make the pitch, so that’s disappointing.”

Keuchel was pleased with the way he mitigated trouble. He was not effusive about the Astros winning two out of three games against the A’s.

He has been in the thick of pennant races before.

“There’s 20-something ball games left,” he said. “We can’t dwell on who’s in front of us or behind us.”

Osuna in the ninth: A day after Roberto Osuna lost the game to the A’s, manager A.J. Hinch put him back out in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s win.

“I didn’t really think twice about it,” Hinch said.

Osuna surrendered a double to Lowrie, but he struck out Chapman, Khris Davis and Piscotty for a dominant inning that kept the score tied and set up White’s walkoff home run.

“He doesn’t need any bounce-back confidence booster or manager appreciation,” Hinch said. “We wanted win the game. He’s going to pitch in games that we win.”

Still, Hinch acknowledged that this was a big moment for Osuna.

“The magnitude of the inning,” Hinch said, “we’re magnified in this situation against the A’s.”

Osuna has 13 strikeouts in 11 innings with the Astros.

Tight zone: Pitchers seemed upset with home plate umpire Mark Wegner’s strike zone.

The illustrated zone used by MLB’s Statcast suggests that Wegner called several pitches balls that were inside the zone, some of them clearly over the plate and above the knees.

“I don’t go there,” Athletics manager Bob Melvin said.

Chapman was issued a walk on a pitch Brad Peacock delivered well within the strike zone, according to zone charts.

Charts show Trevor Cahill lost out on seven pitches that could have been called strikes, but the hardest call for the righthanded starter to accept was with the bases loaded in the fourth inning.

Bregman passed on a high 2-2 sinker that appeared to knick the outer edge of the zone. Cahill bounced off the mound in frustration when Wegner called it a ball.

“I thought it was close,” A’s catcher Josh Phegley said. “Whether it was the right call or the wrong call, that was a really big pitch in the game.”

Cahill walked Bregman with the next pitch to drive in Max Stassi for a 5-4 Astros lead and end his outing at 3 1/3 innings pitched.

Davis a dud: Davis has 13 home runs and 32 RBIs in his career against the Astros, but he struggles to hit in Minute Maid Park. The Astros held him hitless in the series.

Davis is leading baseball with 39 homers, but he only has two hits in his last 27 at-bats.

“Sometimes you can press a little bit when you get to a certain number,” Melvin said. “He’s sitting at 39 now. We’ll get back home, and I know he’s comfortable there. He’ll break out of it.”

For Thursday: After holding the Angels to three runs in six innings in his previous start, Justin Verlander will face them again. He has gone 4-6 with a 4.46 ERA in 12 starts since June 25. His 229 strikeouts are his most since 2016 and rank second in the AL behind teammate Gerrit Cole (234).

Report: Astros to extend manager A.J. Hinch

Report: Astros to extend manager A.J. Hinch

Mark Berman of Fox 26 reports that the Astros will announce a contract extension with manager A.J. Hinch on Thursday. Hinch’s current contract includes a club option for the 2019 season. Specifics about Hinch’s extension are not yet known.

Hinch, 44, took over as manager of the Astros in 2015 and the club immediately found success, going 86-76 a year after the club went 70-92. He led the Astros to the franchise’s first ever championship last year, defeating the Dodgers in seven games. Overall, the Astros have gone 352-266 (.570) in four seasons under Hinch’s leadership.

Hinch had previously managed the Diamondbacks for two seasons in 2009-10. The Astros liked him for, among many reasons, his willingness to include analytics in his decision-making process.

After defeating the Athletics on Wednesday afternoon, the Astros are 82-51 and hold a 2.5-game lead over the A’s in the AL West.

Roberto Osuna: “Everybody is judging me for things they don’t know. I don’t like that.”

Roberto Osuna: “Everybody is judging me for things they don’t know. I don’t like that.”

Until Wednesday, Astros reliever Roberto Osuna hadn’t spoken publicly about the May 7 domestic violence incident for which he was arrested. Osuna accepted a 75-game suspension from Major League Baseball in June and served the entirety of it. The Blue Jays traded him to the Astros ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

Breaking his silence, Osuna spoke to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday prior to a day game against the Athletics. Osuna said:

No one knows what happened but obviously me. Everybody is quick to judge me and say all kinds of things about it. I’m just waiting for everything to come out so people can really wait to see what happened. I would really like the fans, and everybody else, (to) learn what the media says is not true.

The biggest thing for me, and it’s sad to me, (is) how people are free to say whatever they want. They can just judge you, and they don’t know you. Everybody is judging me for things they don’t know. I don’t like that.”

Osuna added, “Hey, if I’m guilty, you can say whatever you want.”

Osuna’s proclamation of innocence is interesting considering he willingly accepted MLB’s 75-game suspension. As Nightengale points out, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow also described Osuna as “remorseful” and as having “willfully complied with all consequences related to his past behavior.” Owner Jim Crane said to USA TODAY Sports, “We did as much homework on this as we could, and we felt the guy deserved a second chance.” If Osuna is truly innocent, as he and others claim, why did he accept MLB’s 75-game suspension without a fight? What is Osuna “remorseful” about, if not for the alleged abuse? What does he deserve a second chance for, if not for having blown the first on May 7? The words from the Astros brass and Osuna’s own acceptance of his punishment seem to indicate he is guilty about something.

The Astros tripped over themselves time after time trying to justify the acquisition of Osuna. But they’re happy with what he has done on the field so far, recording two saves with a 2.70 ERA and a 10/2 K/BB ratio in 10 innings. Some Astros went on record defending Osuna as well. Third baseman Alex Bregman said to Nightengale, “I think once the truth comes out, a lot of people are going to eat their words.” Bregman called Osuna “an unbelievable teammate, and a great guy.”

Starter Dallas Keuchel said, “You’ve got to really step back and remove yourself from the situation until everything comes out and the case is closed. I had to tell myself that as well. It’s not easy hearing about it, but you’ve got to be careful not to make a judgement until something comes out.”

Osuna is scheduled to appear in court in Toronto on September 5. If he is convicted, he could face six months in prison and a $5,000 fine, per Nightengale.