Notes: Ausmus to start every game
Regular catcher enters postseason with stamina, hot bat
ATLANTA -- Brad Ausmus was the regular catcher for every starting pitcher except for Wandy Rodriguez for most of the season, so it comes as no surprise that, barring injury, he will start every game of the postseason for the Astros.
Houston will likely use four starting pitchers throughout the playoffs: Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt and Brandon Backe. Rodriguez moves to the bullpen, and his personal catcher, Raul Chavez, will play a limited role as Ausmus' backup.
"Brad will catch the whole way through," manager Phil Garner said prior to Game 1 of the Division Series in Atlanta on Wednesday.
The good news is that Ausmus' stamina level is higher than most catchers this time of year. In fact, although historically his second-half numbers are always good, he may have had his best one yet this year. Ausmus hit .301 in July, .310 in August and .286 in September.
Throughout his career, Ausmus has a .272 batting average after the All-Star break.
So playing in up to 19 more games shouldn't be a problem for the 36-year-old catcher.
"There are a lot of off-days during postseason play, so it's not a big deal," Ausmus said. "Adrenaline keeps me young."
To close or not to close: Temperatures are expected to drop this weekend in Houston, with highs reaching only the low 80s under sunny skies.
Still, the Astros are leaning toward keeping the roof closed for the two Division Series games they are scheduled to host, beginning Saturday at Minute Maid Park.
"My guess is it will probably remain closed, just from a TV point of view," general manager Tim Purpura said. "There's a preference there. It's up to us, but we haven't talked about it much."
The roof was shut for most of the regular season, likely at the request of uniformed personnel who prefer to play under the controlled atmosphere of indoor baseball. But the roof was opened for the first two games of the all-important Cubs series last weekend, because the grass needed sunlight after having none during the Hurricane Rita scare.
The Astros lost both of those games, and some players suggested the humidity may have affected the pitchers getting a good grip on the ball.
The roof was closed for the final two games, and the Astros won both.
Manager Phil Garner hopes the roof is closed this weekend, for only one reason: noise.
"It's an advantage," he said. "You hear the electricity in there. You hear what it's doing for our team, when they're cheering like that. It's absolutely deafening. I love it.
"When it's really hot and sweaty, it makes a difference on gripping the ball for some of our pitchers. I know Pettitte, his uniform was drenched. [Brad] Lidge might have had trouble gripping the ball somewhat. They made adjustments, but because we're not in [hot weather] all the time, it took him some time to do it. But the biggest reason for me is the noise factor."
Palmeiro gets the nod: Garner doesn't use hitter-pitcher matchup history a lot when he's filling out a lineup card, but in some instances, he'll start a backup player who has terrific numbers against a certain starting pitcher.
That's why Garner started Orlando Palmeiro in right field in Game 1 on Wednesday. Palmeiro, who played for the Angels for eight years, has 12 hits in 29 at-bats against the Braves' Game 1 starter, Tim Hudson, a former Oakland Athletics pitcher. That's a .414 batting average, including two doubles, five RBIs and only one strikeout.
"He has quite a few at-bats against [Hudson], and he's had success against him," Garner said. "It has some meaning. You go 3-for-4 against a guy, that's probably not a good sample. You have 25, 30 at-bats against somebody, that's a good sample."
Sold out: The Astros announced on Wednesday that this weekend's National League Division Series games against the Braves are sold out.
The Astros and Braves meet Saturday, Oct. 8 at Minute Maid Park for Game 3 at a time to be determined. Game 4, if necessary, will be played Sunday, Oct. 9. Sunday's game time is also to be announced.
To accommodate those picking up playoff tickets, the Texas Avenue Box Office at Minute Maid Park will be open until 9 p.m. CT on Thursday and Friday.
Testing, testing: To ensure they don't have another episode of "Phonegate" this year, Garner and his troops made sure to check the bullpen phones at Turner Field prior to Game 1 on Wednesday.
Last year, controversy emerged in the seventh inning of Game 2 when Garner walked onto the field to talk to home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi, apparently because the phone connecting the dugout to the bullpen was not working.
Brandon Backe, who was not pitching that game, raced down to the bullpen, apparently to let coach Mark Bailey know who Garner wanted in the game. Braves manager Bobby Cox, unhappy with the delay of the game, informed the umpiring crew he was officially protesting, contending Garner fabricated the story about the bullpen phone not working in order to give Lidge more time to warm up.
Cox dropped the appeal when the Braves won that game, but Garner hasn't forgotten how insulted he was by the direct shots at his integrity.
"I was insulted by it," Garner said. "It wasn't Bobby necessarily, it was the whole thing. Those folks don't know me, but I don't play those kinds of games."
Still, he can draw some humor from the incident.
"I was really ticked the people would question my integrity on that, so we're going to have a secondary plan," Garner said. "We're going to have smoke signals. We're going to build a fire down there, have a blanket and send them up."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.