Astros pin hopes on Bag­well to help strug­gling of­fense

GM: Team needs to fig­ure out whether play­ers can im­prove

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Kristie Rieken

Alex Ro­driguez, left, and Derek Jeter of the Yan­kees are sure Hall of Famers, but there weren’t many oth­ers in Tues­day’s All-Star game. In 1972, there were 23 fu­ture Hall of Famers in the game.

HOUS­TON — Af­ter a poor first half, the Astros have turned to for­mer star Jeff Bag­well as their new hit­ting coach in hopes that the top slug­ger in fran­chise his­tory can im­prove one of the worst of­fenses in base­ball.

In his first coach­ing job, the for­mer first base­man in­her­its a team whose hit­ters rank among the bot­tom of the league in al­most ev­ery sta­tis­ti­cal cat­e­gory. Even stars Lance Berk­man and Car­los Lee are mired in slumps.

Berk­man, a ca­reer .297 hit­ter, and Lee, who’s hit .289 in his ca­reer, are av­er­ag­ing .255 and .240 re­spec­tively. Lee’s slump has been par­tic­u­larly tough on the team af­ter he hit at least .300 in each of the past three sea­sons.

The team’s poor hit­ting has left the Astros dead in the wa­ter at 36-53 as they pre­pare for the sec­ond half of the sea­son.

“It’s been dis­ap­point­ing, ob­vi­ously, ex­tremely dis­ap­point­ing,” gen­eral man­ager Ed Wade said. “We re­ally have never reached the point of con­sis­tency that we wanted to achieve.

“Com­ing out of spring train­ing, we thought we had the el­e­ments in place to get off to a good start, and it didn’t hap­pen.”

Al­though Berk­man and Lee, who are both 34, are far from the only Astros with prob­lems on of­fense, their suc­cess in the past has mag­ni­fied their trou­ble.

“I don’t think any­body could have pre­dicted we would have strug­gled of­fen­sively as much as we have,” Wade said. “All you have to do is flip the guy’s bub­ble gum card over and look at the num­bers on the back and see what the track record is to rec­og­nize why our ex­pec­ta­tions were higher.”

Hous­ton isn’t ex­pect­ing mir­a­cles from Bag­well, but Wade wants to see if the change can help his play­ers get back on track.

“We need to fig­ure out whether guys ac­tu­ally have the abil­ity to get bet­ter or not,” Wade said. “We’ve got play­ers who are un­der­per­form­ing. We know we’re not the ’27 Yan­kees, but we’re bet­ter than this. And if we’re not bet­ter than this, we need to use time re­main­ing to as­sess the tal­ent on the club and act ac­cord­ingly.”

Bag­well said he doesn’t have any mag­i­cal for­mu­las.

“We’re go­ing to work on some tech­ni­cal as­pects of hit­ting, but once the game starts, we’re go­ing to com­pete,” he said. “That’s re­ally all I can ask of the guys.’’

Hunter Pence, hit­ting just .263, is an­other who wel­comes a re­spected new voice from Bag­well.

“I think he’s def­i­nitely got a great amount of knowl­edge, ob­vi­ously with the cre­den­tials that he’s got and how well he’s played, and he def­i­nitely un­der­stands hit­ting,” he said.

Bag­well might be able to make a big­ger im­pres­sion on a grow­ing col­lec­tion of Round Rock Ex­press alumni: catcher Ja­son Cas­tro, third base­man Chris John­son and out­fielder Ja­son Bour­geois. The Astros want to find out whether they can be counted on as part of the so­lu­tion for next year and be­yond.

Kathy Wil­lens

Ed Wade says poor hit­ting has been sur­pris­ing.

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