Notes: Baker excited by team's young hurlers

Journeyman catcher Garneau dives headfirst into Astros' analytics

February 25th, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros manager Dusty Baker has been impressed with the young pitchers he’s seen throw in camp through four Grapefruit League games, and that included Brandon Bielak, Nivaldo Rodriguez and Enoli Paredes in Tuesday’s 7-4 loss to the Marlins at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Youngsters Cristian Javier, Framber Valdez and Bryan Abreu had solid starts leading up to Tuesday’s game. For Baker, this is his first look at some of the club’s upper Minor League arms.

“We got some guys that have some high velocity,” Baker said. “Rodriguez got a good breaking ball, Paredes got a dynamite arm. So we’ve got some guys that were throwing.”

Bielak, a starter who split time between Double-A and Triple-A last year, threw two innings and allowed three hits, including two solo homers. Rodriguez gave up one run in two innings, and the hard-throwing Paredes gave up one run and one hit and struck out two in two innings.

Bielak, who’s likely destined for the rotation at Triple-A, said he has to command his fastball better to the glove side but feels much more comfortable in his second year of camp.

“Having that experience from last year and getting to know the guys a little bit better coming in the locker room and building relationships with guys helps,” he said. “It’s good to be back out there again.”

Garneau learning the staff
Catcher isn’t a stranger to having to learn new pitchers, considering he was claimed off waivers last August by the A’s from the Angels. He’s also played for the White Sox and Rockies in his career and comes to Houston as the backup catcher behind Martín Maldonado.

“It’s been awesome so far, just trying to pick the brains of how the guys go about their business and [that] kind of deal,” he said. “I’m still not going to be overly talkative to them. I’m more listening and watching how they go about their business and when games start happening, that’s when the real process really starts.”

Garneau started Tuesday, catching Bielak and Rodriguez. Earlier in camp, he was impressed at what he saw from right-hander Javier during his bullpen session. Garneau has also raved about Josh James.

“Watching and listening to how he talks about his overall process going from a reliever to maybe a starting role and try to pick his brain and work with him is exciting,” Garneau said. “Other than that, everybody has been fun to catch. There are some serious arms.”

Garneau, 32, has been throwing himself into the analytics the Astros are providing, and he says it’s presented in a fashion where it’s easy to understand. He’s learned he had more hard hits last year than he realized and his throwing accuracy isn’t where he wants it to be.

“Apparently, some of the stuff they track is just the tip of the sword,” he said.

Odds and ends
• Abraham Toro was scratched from the starting lineup Tuesday with an eye irritation. Nick Tanielu started in his place at third base.

• Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. threw his first live bullpen session of the spring on the back fields Tuesday, facing George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick. Baker said he expects McCullers to pitch in a game for the first time since 2018 in the next few days.

Up next
Springer and Brantley are expected to make their Grapefruit League debuts when the split-squad Astros face the Cardinals at 12:05 p.m. CT on Wednesday at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. José Urquidy will start for the Astros. Meanwhile, Austin Pruitt will be on the mound when the split-squad travels to Port St. Lucie to meet the Mets at 12:10 p.m. CT. Pruitt, acquired in a trade with the Rays in the offseason, will be on the mound. Both games can be streamed on MLB.TV.