Ankiel Comes Thru in a Pinch


By now you have watched the game, read about the game, and seen the highlights. The game also has been summarized in this space. So instead of reiterating that, I am instead going to share three things that I liked and three that I did not like about last night’s game.

Rick Ankiel

(Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

We also must resist the urge to jump to too many conclusions, although with the off day today, there is no reason not to feel optimistic and to savor the opening night beat down of the overrated Texas Rangers. Also, if the 8-2 victory did not provide enough material, there is always the newly agreed upon 8 year and $120 million contract extension they just gave to Elvis Andrus. Personally, I’d rather not spend money at all, as opposed to spending it like that.

Three Things I Liked:

Rick Ankiel’s Pinch Hit Three Run HR: Facing a left handed starter last night in Matt Harrison, Brandon Barnes got the opening night start in right field. To me that signals that right field will be a platoon situation this season. On the days that Ankiel does not get the start, his left handed power bat is then on the bench available for use in late innings. In Bo Porter‘s second major in-game managerial decision, he made the right move by getting Ankiel up to the plate to face Rangers’ reliever Derek Lowe.  Ankiel then had the deciding blow in this game by hitting a three run home run to take the momentum back.

Brandon Barnes Speed: After walking in the fifth inning, Barnes’ speed was a contributing factor in the Astros third run of the game. Porter promptly put the hit and run on (likely a reoccurring theme this season), and Barnes scored from first on Ronny Cedeno‘s single.  Granted an assist goes to Nelson Cruz for his error in right field, but Barnes’ speed likely put pressure on Cruz as he scored without issue. For the Astros to have success this season, they are going to have to make things happen and put pressure on their opponents with their hustle.

Justin Maxwell‘s Performance: It can be argued that the center fielder is the leader of the Astros this season and the most important player. His spring training performance left a lot to be desired, but he quickly turned the page last night.  Maxwell is a player with clear 20/20 potential and his speed and power were both on display against the Rangers. Maxwell got the scoring started by driving in two with a triple to left field and then he added a second triple later in the game down the right field line. That led to an insurances run on a Matt Dominguez RBI and he also made a difficult warning track catch later in the game. Maxwell is going to be the key to the middle of the order, especially on a night when Carlos Pena and Chris Carter left a lot to be desired.

Three Things I Did Not Like:

Bud Norris Could Not Get Out of the 6th Inning: This is not to take anything away from Norris’ performance as went 5.2 innings for the win striking out five and giving up two runs. He only ran into trouble in two innings (after 26 pitches he got out of it in the 3rd) and provided a performance that was exactly what Houston needed. But I would have liked to see him get out of the 6th inning. Yes the Rangers are a tough team and it was his first start of the season, but Norris is going to be counted on to save the bullpen this season. The damage could have been worse as I thought Porter took a little too long to have a right-hander ready and to get Norris out of the game. It ended up working out well as Erik Bedard ended the threat and sealed the victory, but it was a little hairy.

Chris Carter & Carlos Pena Go 1-8 With Five Strikeouts: Yes we know Carter and Pena will strike out a lot. That is the trade off that goes along with their power. Pena did have a single and scored a run in his four at-bats and that .250 would be a considered a successful season. The problem is, that Matt Harrison is not really a strikeout pitcher and this could be a problem if the number three and four hitters consistently can’t put the bat on the ball.

The Umpires: I do not want to take a negative tone as the Astros did have a dominating 8-2 victory, but who knows what would have happened if Jose Altuve had been correctly called safe in the first inning. In order to be successful this season the Astros are going to have to put pressure on the opposition with their speed and any close calls could swing the game. Thankfully that call did not impact the outcome of the game, but the Astros have enough to worry about this season without worrying about the umpiring. In fairness, Jason Maxwell‘s trap was ruled a catch, so that must also be noted.