08/26/10 7:15 PM ET
Overworked bullpen concerns Mills
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
"It's touchy, there's no doubt about it," Mills said. "There's no way we want to put anybody in harm's way. Are we getting close to that with the guys in the 'pen? Yes. Is that a concern to me? That's a drastic concern to me. It really bothers me, but at the same time we don't have an off-day for another week."
The Astros used six relief pitchers Tuesday, four of whom threw more than one inning. Closer Brandon Lyon wasn't available, because of a heavy workload, and Mills said starter J.A. Happ was next in line to pitch had the game dragged on.
On Wednesday, Mills made three pitching changes in the seventh inning so he wouldn't put too much of a burden on any one pitcher. Wilton Lopez and Tim Byrdak each faced one batter and threw three pitches, and Mark Melancon threw only five.
"We probably need to give some guys a rest today," Mills said. "[Jeff] Fulchino should be fine, and [Fernando] Abad and [Gustavo] Chacin for sure should be fine. Melancon is OK. It's going to be tough to mix and match like we'd like to."
Johnson taking rookie success in stride
PHILADELPHIA -- Rookie third baseman Chris Johnson won't have enough at-bats to quality for the batting title, but he could be putting himself in the running for National League Rookie of the Year Award consideration with his strong second half.
Johnson, who became the starter when he was called up from Triple-A Round Rock on June 22, entered Thursday's game against the Phillies hitting .342 with six homers and 36 RBIs. He leads the NL in hitting since the All-Star break (.376) and ranks second among all rookies this year in batting average.
"It would be pretty cool to be mentioned in that area, but right now I'm just trying to establish myself with the team and show them I can play third," Johnson said.
Johnson is trying to not pay attention to his eye-popping numbers, which is difficult considering family members frequently remind him of his success. It's not that he's superstitious, but he's trying to focus on finishing the season strong.
"I try not to look at stats," Johnson said. "I know I'm hitting and that kind of stuff, but I don't look at what I've been doing lately, because then I start thinking about that, and when you start doing that you end up going the wrong way. I'm aware I've been hitting pretty good."
Keppinger cleared for baseball activities
PHILADELPHIA -- For second baseman Jeff Keppinger, who has been on the disabled list since Aug. 16 with a toe injury, his return to action is now only a matter of time.
Keppinger has been cleared to do all baseball-related activities and has begun running wind sprints, fielding grounders and hitting batting practice without any pain. Keppinger, who's hitting .285 with five homers and 46 RBIs, can be activated Sept. 1.
"I'm basically waiting out the time now," Keppinger said. "If there was a seven-day DL, it would have been better."
Keppinger injured his toe on Aug. 16 and was diagnosed with sesamoiditis, an inflammation at the ball of the foot that's common with active people. He will use the next week to stay in shape, while hoping the painful injury doesn't return.
"That's really my main concern," he said. "I don't want it to linger around or have problems with it in the future. In that aspect, I'm glad I can get it taken care of and get it worked out."
Figueroa receives special gift from Halladay
PHILADELPHIA -- Astros relief pitcher Nelson Figueroa, who was with the Phillies when Roy Halladay pitched his perfect game on May 29 at Florida, was given a luxury Swiss watch by Halladay on Thursday as a token of appreciation for being a part of his memorable night.
Not that Figueroa had any impact on the game, but Halladay purchased about 60 watches to commemorate the perfect game and gave them to his teammates, as well as the coaching staff and some team personnel. The watch came in a brown box with the inscription: "We did it together. Thanks, Roy Halladay."
"It was sitting in my locker when I got in from batting practice," said Figueroa, who was claimed off waivers by the Astros earlier this year. "It showed an unbelievable amount of class to even think about your teammates that way. Not only to give it to the team, but all the personnel he came in contact with just this year, and he included them.
"He left no one out. No one was more important than the other person, and you just tip your cap to somebody like that in that kind of situation and what it means to him personally. I have all the respect in the world for Roy Halladay, even without the watch."
Veteran infielder Geoff Blum is expected to rejoin the team Friday in New York after having his sore neck examined Thursday in Houston. "He had some treatment and it went really well," manager Brad Mills said. "We don't know if he's going to be able to be in the lineup, but we're anticipating he'll be ready to play tomorrow." ... Third-base coach Dave Clark left the team Thursday to attend to a family matter in Memphis, Tenn. Bench coach Al Pedrique coached third, with bullpen coach Jamie Quirk working the game in the dugout. Bullpen assistant Stretch Suba handled the relievers in the 'pen.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.