2 Houston Astros Will Enron Field be the same house of horrors it was in 2000? No way, Jose!

March 26, 2001

Jose Lima was already in mid-season form by late February. After
he struck out Carlos Maldonado to end the second inning of an
Astros intrasquad game, Lima pumped his fist emphatically,
skipped off the mound and glided into the dugout, his place in
the world once again secure. Never mind that Maldonado was a
Double A catcher last season or that the previous batter, Aaron
McNeal, another minor leaguer, had smacked an opposite-field home
run off him. Lima wanted everyone who witnessed the moment in
Kissimmee, Fla., to remember that it was only two years ago that
he was a 21-game winner. Lima Time, as he likes to call it, was
back.

Like his team, Lima, the flamboyant 28-year-old righthander, is
trying to regain the look of a winner. After winning three
consecutive Central Division titles, Houston finished last season
with its worst mark since 1991. Lima, who had 37 victories in '98
and '99, wound up 7-16 after losing 13 straight games between
April 10 and July 4, and allowed 48 home runs for the season, the
most in National League history. Against the Cubs on April 27, he
gave up four first-inning homers. "I know some people [in the
organization] are concerned, but that doesn't bother me," Lima
says. "One thing I've learned is that when I was playing well,
nobody said anything. Now people say I'm too emotional or I'm
trying to overdo it. But I know this: It's going to be a good
year for me."

In addition to being spooked in 2000 by the tiny dimensions of
Enron Field, the Astros' new ballpark, Lima had to confront
adversity off the field as well, as his father, Francisco
Rodriguez, battled throat cancer throughout the season. The
disease is now in remission. Lima's spirits were further
bolstered by his performance in the Dominican winter league,
where he corrected his habit of tipping his pitches; by dropping
his right arm a couple less inches during his delivery, Lima was
better able to hide his pitches. Astros coaches--still concerned
about Lima's propensity for giving up the long ball--have also
worked on getting him to rely less on his beloved changeup.

"It's human nature to go to your strength when you get in
trouble, and Jose was going to his changeup a lot," general
manager Gerry Hunsicker says. "People knew that, and they were
looking for it. He has to establish his fastball more."

Lima isn't the only Houston pitcher looking for a fresh start.
The Astros set club single-season marks for worst ERA (5.41) and
most home runs allowed (234) and blown saves (25). Those numbers
prompted Hunsicker to trade for catcher Brad Ausmus in a
six-player deal with the Tigers. Ausmus, who played in Houston in
1997 and '98 before he was dealt to Detroit, is a respected
clubhouse presence with a reputation for calling a good game.
"Brad will make you pitch inside," says reliever Doug Brocail,
who was also obtained in the trade.

Scott Elarton is solid at the top of the rotation. Then come the
question marks. Onetime ace Shane Reynolds missed the final two
months of 2000 with a lower back injury and then underwent
surgery after tearing the lateral meniscus in his left knee while
jogging in December. He won't be ready until at least mid-April.
The Astros brass is hoping for bigger things from Octavio Dotel,
who struggled with his control after coming over in the December
1999 trade that sent Mike Hampton to the Mets. "He can't pitch
constantly behind in the count and continue to have 90 or 100
pitches by the fifth inning," Hunsicker says.

The bullpen's performance last season mirrored that of the
starters. After saving 39 games and holding opponents to a .135
batting average in 1999, Billy Wagner blew nine of 15 chances
before undergoing season-ending surgery in June to repair a
partially torn flexor tendon in his left (pitching) elbow. In the
spring, however, he's impressed coaches with his velocity and
command. "Batters couldn't touch Billy's fastball in '99, but
last year they were connecting," manager Larry Dierker says.
"This year, I've seen people swinging and missing again."

That's a reassuring sight to the Astros' stacked lineup. "We can
score with anybody, but you can't win 10-9 every night," says
first baseman Jeff Bagwell, who bashed 47 of the Astros' National
League-record 249 homers in 2000. "On every playoff team, you
look at its ERA and its defense, and that's where you'll see good
numbers. If our bullpen and starters are healthy, we'll be
fine."

--J.C.

COLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN DUNN/ALLSPORT By not tipping his pitches and relying less on his change, Lima is eager to prove that last year--and not his 21-win season in 1999--was a fluke. COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL BIGGIO

[ENEMY LINES]
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Astros

They will contend. With all that power, their style is more that
of an American League team. It's a big change from their days
playing in the Astrodome....The outfield is a strength, with
Lance Berkman, Richard Hidalgo and Moises Alou giving them a lot
of power. They knew what they were doing a few years ago when
they let Bobby Abreu go and held on to Hidalgo. Three years ago
he was a rail of a kid. Now he gets bigger every year. He's
always had great bat speed, and he's still coming....They're
worried about the inconsistency of Julio Lugo. He still has too
much kid in him and can be erratic....Keep an eye on Adam
Everett, the shortstop they got from Boston in the Carl Everett
deal. He's getting bigger and stronger. Defensively, he can play
in the big leagues now....Coming off knee surgery, Craig Biggio
ran well in camp and should be 100% by season's start, but you
won't see the stolen base numbers he's put up in the
past....They have a lot of good young pitching coming; Wade
Miller, Tony McKnight and Wayne Franklin will all help. I'd rate
their young pitching right up there, a little bit better than
Atlanta's....Octavio Dotel's an interesting guy. He has a plus
arm and could go either way, to the front of the rotation or the
back of the bullpen....Jose Lima will bounce back and win 15
games. He was overwhelmed by the switch to Enron Field....The
key is how the guys in front of Billy Wagner turn out. Jay
Powell and Doug Brocail have some health questions with their
arms.

[THE LINEUP]
projected roster with 2000 statistics

2000 record: 72-90 (fourth in NL Central)
Manager: Larry Dierker (fifth season with Houston)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

2B Craig Biggio R 52 .268 8 35 12
SS Julio Lugo R 152 .283 10 40 22
1B Jeff Bagwell R 5 .310 47 132 9
LF Lance Berkman S-L 124 .297 21 67 6
RF Moises Alou R 29 .355 30 114 3
CF Richard Hidalgo R 8 .314 44 122 13
3B Chris Truby R 185 .260 11 59 2
C Brad Ausmus[1] R 158 .266 7 51 11

BENCH

OF Daryle Ward L 202 .258 20 47 0
IF Bill Spiers L-R 306 .301 3 43 7
C Tony Eusebio R 309 .280 7 33 0
OF Glen Barker S-R 362 .224 2 6 9
IF Jose Vizcaino*[1] S-R 370 .251 0 14 6

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Scott Elarton 46 17 7 6.4 1.46 4.81
RH Shane Reynolds 89 7 8 6.0 1.49 5.22
RH Jose Lima 181 7 16 5.9 1.62 6.65
RH Octavio Dotel 185 3 7 5.7 1.50 5.40
RH Kent Bottenfield*[1] 194 8 10 5.9 1.53 5.40

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

LH Billy Wagner 41 2 4 6 1.66 6.18
RH Doug Brocail[1] 115 5 4 0 1.40 4.09
RH Nelson Cruz [1] 229 5 2 0 1.27 3.07
RH Mike Jackson[1][2] 268 3 4 39 1.25 4.06
RH Wade Miller 275 6 6 0 1.39 5.14
LH Wayne Franklin 329 0 0 0 1.69 5.48
RH Jay Powell 341 1 1 0 1.78 5.67

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 156)
*Combined AL and NL stats
[2]1999 stats

"I'd rate their young pitching right up there, a little bit
better than Atlanta's."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)