By Evan Brunell
The Opening Day starters at first and third base for the Astros are back after being demoted to Triple-A, but Chris Johnson and Brett Wallace (pictured) aren't reclaiming their starting spots, as Carlos Lee and Jimmy Paredes have impressed in the interim.
“Those guys have been playing pretty well,” manager Brad Mills told the Houston Chronicle. “They deserve to get the bulk of the time. That’s not saying that CJ and Wally aren’t going to play. At the same time, those guys are doing a real good job.”
Johnson, son of Red Sox first base coach Ron Johnson, grabbed the third base job in Houston on the strength of a strong 2010 but couldn't keep the good times going this year, struggling with a .245/.286/.373 line before being demoted. Johnson wasn't a heralded prospect prior to his ascension to the majors, but expected more of himself after slashing .308/.337/.481 with 11 homers in 362 plate appearances last season.
“It was the first time of my life getting sent down playing baseball,” Johnson said. “It was definitely tough. I just basically told myself I’m not going to let this one bump in the road ruin my career. So I got back on the horse, worked hard, worked on some of the things I needed to work on, and now I’m back.”
In lieu of Johnson, Paredes is the man at third. A former Yankee who came over with Mark Melancon in the Lance Berkman deal, the 22-year-old is hitting .308/.348/.452 in 113 plate appearances. He wasn't a highly-regarded prospect, but is playing like it so far.Meanwhile, Wallace, who was hitting .318 at the end of May before sinking to .268 prior to demotion, won't regain his job with Carlos Lee anchoring first. Lee can play left field, but the Astros have a J.D. Martinez - Jordan Schafer - Jason Bourgeois trio they aren't eager to switch up. That leaves first base for Lee and his bloated contract, which isn't up until after 2012. It says a lot of what the Astros think of Brett Wallace that they're allowing Lee and a motley crew of outfielders to stand in the way.
Wallace was a former first-round pick who was traded once upon a time for both Matt Holliday (St. Louis to Oakland) and then to Toronto as part of a satellite deal when Roy Halladay was dealt to Philadelphia. He was part of another satellite deal in Toronto that landed him in Houston as part of the Roy Oswalt move to Philly. Throughout all this, Wallace was considered a good hitter for average with solid pop, but he hasn't come close to reaching his potential in the majors. Wallace is staying patient, though, and hoping his chance will eventually come again.
“As a competitor you want to be out there every day,” Wallace said. “I think my job is just be prepared whether they need me late in the game defensively or to pinch-hit or a spot start or whatever they might need. I can’t control how much I play or how many at-bats I get. I’m just going to work hard and be ready to go when I get called.”As part of the September callups, catcher J.R. Towles, outfielder J.B Shuck and pitchers righthanders Jordan Lyles, Lucas Harrell and Enerio Del Rosario were called up. Harrell made his Astros debut on Friday in an eventual loss.
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