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Monday's Three Astros Things

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Here are some things to talk about while basking in the glow of Houston's first road series win...

1) D'Andre Toney is the man - Kudos to everyone who guessed Toney would be the PTBNL, waaay back when it was announced there would be a PTBNL in that trade in the first place.

As I mentioned on the podcast, the thing I loved about this trade was that Jeff Luhnow not only turned two players who were older and didn't have starting spots on this year's team into two actual prospects. He also gave Houston the roster flexibility to pick up a guy like Justin Maxwell, who may be one of the Astros' three best outfielders right now.

Oh, and let's not forget that Luhnow appears to have been a man of his word when he said the PTBNL would be a key part of that deal. Toney certainly turns a good trade into a great one, potential, doesn't he?

Lots of talk about the toolsy outfielder already, but the general consensus is he can play center with decent power who hasn't yet played in full-season ball yet. That puts him a step behind a guy like Domingo Santana, but probably slots in pretty highly in the organizational outfield depth chart.

2) Injuries, injuries, injuries - Boy, these are cropping up like...something...aren't they? This is how Zachary Levine described it: fter a relatively healthy two months, the Astros’ roster continued its disintegration into widespread injury and illness this week.

The one thing I'd like to highlight is how Houston has used the 7-day disabled list with Fernando Martinez. It not only puts a player in position to come back from his injury slowly, which is important for head injuries. But, it also gives the Astros a chance to expand the roster. With all the injuries and players active but not available, Brad Mills must be feeling like he's got a pretty short bench right now.

So, Luhnow made a move to give Mills a bench bat in Matt Downs without worrying as much about replacing Martinez the outfielder. Downs can play outfield, but it's probably more important that he's used to being a bench bat. That gives him the edge over a guy like Mike Hessman (that, and his inclusion on the 40-man roster).

Hopefully, this rash of injuries calms down and Houston uses the off-day to quarantine all these flu-like symptoms and get this team well again.

3) What is Lucas Harrell? - Is he Wandy Rodriguez or Brian Moehler? Is he Roy Oswalt or Brandon Backe? Is he Andy Pettitte or Tim Redding?

All those are 10-game winners in the last 10 years for Houston. Harrell is now 60 percent of the way there with more than half the season to go. Even though he hasn't pitched like a front-line starter, Harrell has been effective at times and turned out to be a pretty solid back-of-the rotation starter for the Astros.

Okay, okay, so wins mean little about how good a pitcher has been, right? What's more interesting is that Harrell seems to be embracing his role as a sinker-ball specialist. His ground ball rate is up to almost 60 percent. Talking to him, his catcher and his manager, they all talk about pitching to contact with that sinker, trying to hammer down and in for those easy ground balls.

That can explain the drop in his strikeout rate, and should also be a reason why his walk rate has dropped. While his batting average on balls in play is lower than it should be, he's also given up more homers per fly ball than he might otherwise expect.

What does all that mean? I have no idea. It's really hard to project a pitcher like Harrell who may be making a fundamental change in how he pitches. We can't rely on his minor league numbers and we can't know if this is sustainable or not. In essence, we have to enjoy the good things he brings without expecting much in the future.

Which makes him more Brian Moehler, I guess.