Garner chats with fans down the stretch
Astros manager maintains focus as Wild Card race heats up
Astros manager Phil Garner took time out from the playoff chase to sit down and participate in a live Web chat with fans. Garner answered questions about tweaking the rotation, September callups, and what it would take to lose the mustache.
Phil Garner: Hi everyone, this is Phil Garner. I'm ready to take your questions.
Erik_Hulse: Mr. Garner, how will you change your strategy/lineup in the playoffs with the possibility of Jeff Bagwell back at first base?
Garner: I don't presume that we're going to be in the playoffs. We have lots of baseball left. If, however, we had Bagwell in the lineup, Lance Berkman obviously goes to the outfield.
rcornitius: Hey Phil, why has there been no talk for Morgan Ensberg for MVP? He's putting up about the same numbers as Albert Pujols, Derrek Lee and Andruw Jones. And he's doing it for a team that the so-called experts picked to finish last in its division.
Garner: I would like to know that myself. I think he's being slighted so far, certainly in the national media, both print and electronic. We have been so focused locally on just trying to get our ship righted that we've not really singled out a player for individual appreciation.
dq01: Hello Mr. Garner. Any chance we'll see Brad Ausmus at shortstop again?
Garner: Possible. Although as rosters expand in September it makes it less likely. But Brad's skills allow him to be utilized in other areas as the case arises. Doubtful as a pitcher.
bearbryant: Scrap, outstanding job you're doing with these kids. Keep up the good work. Curious about your management style. Would you call it your own or is it influenced by others? Chuck Tanner perhaps?
Garner: Chuck Tanner is by far the most influential. I consider him my mentor. I find that over the years there are some things I've taken from each manager I was playing with, both ways. Some things I say, 'I will do that,' some things I say, 'I won't do that.' The final analysis is that my style is my own. Players can see right through phoniness.
lidge4prez: Hey Phil, with the Wild Card race so tight, how important has it been to win the games against the other teams chasing you (5-2 against Nationals and 3-0 against the Phillies)?
Garner: Those games are extremely important because they count almost like two games. If we beat someone not immediately behind us, obviously the other team can win also, and it's a wash. When you beat the teams that are close to you, it ends up being a two-game spread.
Enrique_Zebede: If the Astros make it to the playoffs they will have to face most likely the Braves and the Cardinals, two very offensive teams. What approach will you take to beat those teams?
Garner: What will carry us in the playoffs will be pitching, if we get there. Our pitching will need to be solid from starters, middle relief and closer. I think small ball may be a factor.
austin_mcclintock: First of all, I think it was a stroke of genius to put Ausmus at short in the ninth of that 8-0 beating. Very inspired move, Mr. Garner. My question is, are you at all concerned about Brad Lidge's recent lack of consistency? He clearly has phenomenal talent.
Garner: No, I am not concerned about Lidge. The reason it's even a question is because he was so dominating last year. I didn't expect him to be quite as dominating this year, so therefore I think he's doing fine. He can carry us, and he does.
chris_wall: Any relation to Jennifer Garner from the ABC show "Alias?"
Garner: She's my lesser-looking sister, not built quite as good as me.
barkenbabe: If the Astros win the World Series, will you shave off your mustache?
Garner: If that's what it takes, that's what I would do.
aggieastro: I just wanted to thank Scrap Iron for the work he is doing and wish him continued success. I love the way he manages and it seems like the team likes his style as well. To date, what has been your biggest surprise, in a positive way?
Garner: I have been very pleased with the way Willy Taveras has managed to be fairly consistent all year.
bigtruckg: Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt don't seem at the top of their game lately. Is it them or are the hitters they are facing good?
Garner: Pettitte has been at the top of his game lately. His last outing was not as dominating as his previous month, but yet he's still been exceptionally good. Roy's had three starts where he's not been dominating, but nonetheless he's been good in his starts. We're so accustomed to seeing zeroes from Roy that when he gives up a run, we're all surprised. Both are in good shape and poised to carry us through the last six weeks.
Jason_Eaton: Would Bagwell have a rehab stint in the Minors before rejoining the club?
Garner: If the timing works out, if he's able to begin playing before the Minor Leagues finish, it's a possibility. We don't know that yet, and won't know for probably another 10 days if Bagwell is going to be ready to do that.
ryan_wendland: Hey Scrappy, how soon do you go to a four-man rotation with the big three and possibly Wandy Rodriguez until Brandon Backe returns? Seems Ezequiel Astacio is not doing well.
Garner: It might not be a good idea to go to a four-man rotation unless offdays can be fit in so that our pitchers remain on a five-day schedule.
rlj012386: Bill Brown and Larry Dierker were talking about Mike Burns or Chad Harville possibly getting a start soon. Is this even being considered? I'd be interested in what Harville could do as a starter, but Burns was a pretty effective closer in Triple-A.
Garner: That has not been discussed.
dq01: Wandy pitched pretty decent last night. What was his and your reaction when he totally missed backing up third for Ensberg? Or can you expect these things to happen from time to time?
Garner: I yelled and screamed and threw my hat. The darn hat is always doing things like that. I don't think the hat will do it again in the near future. And, by the way, I did share my displeasure with Wandy.
astrology: What do you believe has changed the way Jason Lane has been playing over the last few weeks? Do you attribute it to his swing or do you think he has become more comfortable in the spot he is playing in now?
Garner: His swing is improving. Jason is working on some technical changes that, when he is able to lock in on it, he will become a much more consistent hitter.
dcastrofan: What kind of progress is Backe making with his injury?
Garner: Slow. It's a difficult injury that takes time. A reasonable time will be the first week in September.
ocean123456777: I was wondering why Orlando Palmeiro does not get more playing time? He seems to be a really good batter.
Garner: Correct. He is a good batter. Orlando's optimal use is to play part-time and be available on the bench part time. The trick is to not to play him so much that he wears down, but we optimize his abilities as a starter without fatiguing.
jeffbrm: Hey Phil, what's the deal with Willy T's shaky fielding?
Garner: It's partly learning at the Major League level. The game is much faster, balls are hit harder and there's an adjustment to that. Most of the troubles occur when he's running to his left and he and Cheo (Jose) Cruz are working on that daily. And I see improvement.
jeffbrm: Why do you think Craig Biggio has done so much better at home than he has on the road this season?
Garner: I think he's comfortable with the ballpark here. Other than that, I have no further explanation. I don't know.
ajnrules: What game would you say was the best game this season?
Garner: The 14-inning game in Washington because we had used all of the players, the importance of winning against a team we needed to beat, and we were running out of pitchers.
ryan_wendland: Who is being considered at this time for September callups? How many pitchers do you plan to carry in the playoffs?
Garner: We would like a speed guy, another catcher and if we have left-handed and right-handed hitters that we are taking a look at, candidates are Charles Gipson, Mike Coolbaugh, Danny Claussen, Luke Scott and a couple of different pitchers. I haven't determined what we need on the pitching staff on the playoff roster. We're not going there yet.
johnbzy: What team do you consider your biggest threat from keeping you out of the Wild Card?
Garner: All of them. I think Florida's particularly tough, and Philadelphia concerns me. Washington has surprised me that they've bounced back.
kswiss52: I was wondering who your favorite baseball player was?
Garner: Mickey Mantle.
ajnrules: What are the possibilities of bringing up Koby Clemens in the next two seasons based on his Minor League performances?
Garner: Probably not good. However, we're encouraged by the way he's started off. Don't forget that he's a high school player. He's very young. But he has gotten off to an exciting start.
gobraves91: In your opinion who is the best hitter in baseball?
Garner: Barry Bonds is still the best hitter. But Pujols is close.
pullthestring: Has Roger Clemens' continued success at the age of 43 prompted you to consider picking up a bat and pinch-hitting?
Garner: No, I'm enjoying managing way too much.
jeffbrm: Who would you describe as the clubhouse leader of the Astros?
Garner: I think we have a couple. I think Rocket's presence is felt, and Biggio continues to carry a lot of weight. Bagwell is very influential.
utastro: What is the hardest part about being a manager?
Garner: Cutting players.
Marc_Popkin-Paine: Looking at the upcoming schedule, will you be messing around with the rotation any in order to get our big three pitchers in for the important series against Philly and Florida?
Garner: We have a couple of offdays at the end of the month and when we get there we'll see what the possibilities are of altering the rotation.
david_luster: Was there anything done differently to spark the turnaround, or did the guys just finally get hot?
Garner: I think the players started to get hot offensively. I don't know that there is one event that sparked that.
ajnrules: If you manage to get to Game 7 of the NLCS, would you rather start Pettitte, Oswalt or Clemens in the deciding game and why?
Garner: You couldn't go wrong with any one of them. I would probably start Clemens. Seven Cy Youngs, he's been pretty dominating this year and he's pretty imposing on the mound.
colline: There is no question that Taveras has been a strong leadoff hitter this year, but you can't help but notice how few walks he has. Is this a concern and do you think that a better eye will come as he matures as a hitter?
Garner: He should improve. It does concern me. A .350 on-base percentage is a gray area -- .360 or better is what you strive for. Because he has done a pretty decent job and he's moved from Double-A to the big leagues, we have not tried to change much of his style. Typically you go down before you improve. Willy's been doing a decent job hitting, so we want to keep what we have.
M_Ochoa: Hey Mr. Garner, love what you have done with the team. I know that you are still young, but how much longer can you see yourself managing in the big leagues?
Garner: Not long, but as long as I'm having fun.
Garner: Thanks for all of the great questions! See you at the game ... go Astros!
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.