The Houston Astros lost to the Cincinnati Reds 2-1 on Friday night when Jose Valverde surrendered a two-run, ninth inning home run to Ramon Hernandez. Valverde, who always looks wild and out-of-control to me, was even more wild and out-of-control than usual.
And after the game it was revealed that Valverde, who missed Thursday's game with Pittsburgh because of a bad back, was pitching on Friday night despite having a bad back. He was pitching because manager Cecil Cooper didn't know Valverde was injured.
On Saturday afternoon, despite the Astros being 3-7 on the season, Cooper was rewarded with a contract extension through next season. This despite the reports that he isn't competent on the bench, that most of the clubhouse doesn't like him, that the veterans don't respect him, and the bullpen doesn't trust him. But despite all of that, Richard Justice thought giving Cecil Cooper the contract extension was a good idea because Cecil Cooper shouldn't have to manage every game like his job is on the line.
To which I say, huh?
The Astros responded to Cooper's contract extension by losing two of the remaining three games of the series to the Reds. Games that were lost due to bullpen breakdowns, poor defense, and the continued inability of the Astros to hit in the clutch.
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So please, someone, explain to me why Cooper shouldn't be managing like his career is on the line. Sure, Cooper's not the one responsible for assembling a team that includes Kaz Matsui who, despite being the team's big free agent second baseman, usually can't play because of a bad back. Nor did Cooper go out and sign guys like Jason Smith -- who's yet to get a hit this season -- or Jason Michaels. But Cooper is responsible for putting together a lineup that can win, and it seems to me that a manager who should be managing to win a game in order to keep his job would make sure that, like on Sunday, he doesn't have three guys batting .000 for the season batting right next to each other in the order.
The Astros lost 4-3 last night because, once again, the bullpen couldn't get the job done. Then again, Mike Hampton was, like Felipe Paulino on Sunday afternoon, pitching a pretty good game and had the 3-2 lead. But because Hampton had reached the magic 100-pitch mark, he was pulled with a man on and one out in the seventh inning, to be replaced by Geoff Geary who got beat up by the Reds on Sunday. Geary proceeded to give up a single and load the bases on a walk. And Tom Byrdak then gave up a hit to Joey Votto that was just inches shy of a grand slam and scored two runs to put the Reds up 4-3. Cooper did this despite Hampton still pitching a decent game and despite the bullpen falling apart in the clutch for most of the season.
Maybe if he was managing for his job, Cecil Cooper might have managed to win the game. Then again, even when he was managing for his job, Cooper's decision-making was rather questionable. But guaranteeing his job sure isn't going to make things better. That said, I do like one thing Cooper has done. He's finally come to his senses and moved Hunter Pence to the fifth slot in the batting order, and unlike Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee, Pence is actually performing. And I did like his moving Michael Bourn back to leadoff since Bourn had been hitting, but he ruined all of that by moving Kaz Matsui back to leadoff last night.
The 4-9 and last place Houston Astros welcome the Los Angeles Dodgers into town tonight for a three game series which will feature the return of former Astros Randy Wolf, Brad Ausmus, and Mark Loretta. Russ Ortiz (0-0, 6.23) gets the start tonight against Clayton Kershaw (0-0, 1.50). Roy Oswalt goes on Wednesday night against Randy Wolf (1-1, 3.93), and Wandy Rodriguez (1-1, 1.85) -- who is turning into the ace of the staff -- pitches against Chad Billingsley (3-0, 2.84) to close out the series on Thursday night.