Jennings excited to be close to home
New Astros righty lives in Dallas, graduated from Baylor
HOUSTON -- Jason Jennings was having some difficulty defining his emotions after hearing he'd been traded from the Colorado Rockies to the Houston Astros on Tuesday afternoon.
"It's a strange feeling," Jennings said. "If this was my third or fourth trade somewhere, I'd be used to it, but for me and my family it's my first one. It's definitely exciting to play in Houston."
The Astros couldn't be more excited to have Jennings as their No. 2 starter. The right-hander is one the club had been eyeing for some time, especially Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr.
"We're very very excited about Jason Jennings coming here. He's the no. 2 starter we've been looking for," said McLane, who, like Jennings, is a Baylor University graduate. "Do I need to point out he's a Baylor graduate? He's one of the best players in the history of Baylor baseball. He's also a great hitter."
As a collegian, Jennings won the Golden Spikes Award as the top amateur player in America in 1999, and he was named the National Player of the Year in college baseball that season by Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball and USA Today/Baseball Weekly.
Jennings, who lives in Dallas, will be pitching a lot closer to home.
"It's almost like a breath of fresh air, a whole new beginning for me," he said. "I make my home north of Dallas, so it's pretty close to home. Obviously, I went to school at Baylor, [there are] a lot of Baylor roots there in Houston. It will be good to pitch in front of those fans, and hopefully I'll perform well for them."
The biggest adjustment for Jennings might be the change from pitching in the altitude at Coors Field to the humidity of near-sea level Minute Maid Park.
"It's going to be a different ballpark, not so much the dimensions, [but] as far as the grip and the action on my ball that will be the biggest difference," Jennings said. "Because the thin air in Denver definitely makes a difference when it comes to getting a grip on all your pitches, which is a big deal for me, and also the movement on your pitches.
"There were some nights in Denver you didn't know what kind of movement you were going to get, depending on the weather conditions."
Jennings' 3.78 ERA last season was the 12th best in the league.
"I think it's just I'm a little more mature on the mound," Jennings said of his improvement. "I threw my four-seamer a lot more last year, which opened up a whole new world for me. When I throw it like I need to and I want to, it has a little late cut on it. When you combine that with my sinking fastball, I can have two different fastballs going two different directions, and when I have that going, that was the biggest turning point for me last year."
Jennings was 9-13 with a career-best ERA in 2006, but he was victimized by a lack of run support. The Astros struggled to produce runs at times last season, yet figure to be better offensively in 2007 with Carlos Lee joining a lineup that already included slugger Lance Berkman.
"It will be great," Jennings said. "It was a little bit of a frustrating year last year, as far as the run support goes, so hopefully I can come in and pitch as well as I did last year and win some games and help the team get into the playoffs."
Jennings and Astros general manager Tim Purpura hadn't talked about a contract extension. The 28-year-old is signed through 2007 and will be eligible for free agency after the season.
"This is all so new to me. That's something I haven't really talked to my agent about," Jennings said. "[Agent Casey Close] is pretty well respected around the league, and I trust him when it comes to the business side of my career. I'm getting myself ready to pitch, and that's all I'm focused on right now."
"We barely had time to say, 'Welcome,'" Purpura said. "We haven't talked about it, we haven't thought about it. That's certainly something we'll take a look at a later date."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.