BALTIMORE -- Astros outfielder Justin Maxwell had a small cheering section in the stands at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which is about 45 minutes away -- "depending on traffic," he said -- from his hometown of Olney, Md., near the University of Maryland, where Maxwell starred for the Terps.
Maxwell's parents and in-laws were in the stands, along with some aunts, uncles and friends from Sherwood High School.
"I wasn't a diehard Orioles fan growing up," he said. "I watched the games and obviously Cal Ripken and Roberto Alomar and B.J. Surhoff and all those guys. I was always a baseball fan, and I would watch as many games as I could."
Maxwell was drafted by the Rangers in the 10th round in 2004, but opted to stay at Maryland another year. The Nationals took him in the fourth round in 2005 and he made his Major League debut two years later for Washington, which was ideal because he was also close to home.
Maxwell's father, Austin, retired from the Navy in 2002, at the rank of captain. His mother, Kathy, also spent 20 years in the Navy and retired as a commander. Austin Maxwell went into dental private practice in Virginia for four years when his military career was over, before leaving to work at the Pentagon providing dental care for members of the military, including two former Presidents.
Villar displays fearlessness with straight steal of home
BALTIMORE -- In his short time in the Major Leagues, rookie shortstop Jonathan Villar certainly hasn't been intimidated by anything that's been thrown in his path.
Villar's fearlessness was on full display Tuesday when he pulled off a stunning and rare straight steal of home in the third inning of the Astros' 4-3 loss to the Orioles.
"I play like that because I want to help the team win every time," he said.
Villar took advantage of Orioles pitcher Wei-Yin Chen's inattentiveness and easily stole home to give the Astros a 3-0 lead. Villar crept off the base as Chen stared toward first base from the stretch position and was two-thirds of the way down the line before even attracting his attention.
"Sometimes, the pitcher, he never looks," Villar said. "He watches first base. On his first move, I did a fake and he didn't move. I said, 'OK, I'm going to steal.' I was watching the manager and checking his face. He said, 'You got it.'"
Villar said he stole home plate eight times while playing in the Phillies system in 2010.
"He's a baseball player," manager Bo Porter said. "He's very intuitive to what's going on, he pays attention to detail and he's not afraid. He's not afraid to make a mistake, which also allows him to play the game at a really high speed."
"That was embarrassing and that's a lesson I need to learn," Chen said. "I looked down and I had no clue he was going to home. The only thing I was really concentrated on was home plate. So, that's why."
Porter to employ closer-by-committee approach
BALTIMORE -- With closer Jose Veras having been dealt to the Tigers in exchange for a prospect and a player to be named later, the Astros are going with a closer-by-committee approach for now.
The Astros are carrying seven relievers -- not including Lucas Harrell, who made a spot start on Tuesday in place of Bud Norris -- and five of those seven are rookies. Right-handers Chia-Jen Lo and Josh Zeid were called up from the Minor Leagues on Monday and added to the mix.
"I spoke to all of those guys and let them know they all should be ready from the sixth inning on and will be used in different situations based on the understanding of where we were in the ballgame and prior usage, as well," manager Bo Porter said.
None of the relievers in the bullpen have experience closing in the Major Leagues, though Lo was closing games at Double-A Corpus Christi and Zeid at Triple-A Oklahoma City when they were recalled.
Porter said he plans to throw them into the fire.
"I told them to be ready for any situation," he said. "It's a great opportunity for all those guys, and that was stressed to them again today. We lost our closer. At the same time, we have some guys who have been here and we are well aware of the bullpen roles of which we've had of late. It's an opportunity for the new guys that are coming and the guys that have been here to basically grab the bull by the horn and take the opportunity that's down in our bullpen right now."
Zeid, called up on Monday, went two-thirds of an inning, walked one and gave up no hits or runs in his Major League debut in Tuesday's 4-3 loss to the Astros. After the game, he was presented with the game ball and lineup card.
He faced two out of three All-Stars in Adam Jones and Chris Davis. On his first pitch, a 95-mph fastball, he retired Nick Markakis before walking Jones and retiring Davis.
"It was really cool," he said. "It's been a really good year for me so far and I've been fortunate enough to be put in the position to pitch in games against Major League Baseball players. It doesn't matter who you're facing, one through nine, you know you're facing the best 25 guys in that organization, whether it's two All-Stars in a row or two All-Stars out of three batters. You've got to give it your all. It was exciting and a little bit nerve-wracking today to do it in my first game."
Wright: Adversity will make bullpen stronger
BALTIMORE -- Veteran left-hander Wesley Wright and rookie right-hander Josh Fields are the only members of the Astros' bullpen that were on the team on Opening Day following the trade of Jose Veras and Hector Ambriz being designated for assignment.
Wright said the turnover isn't surprising when you consider the troubles the relievers have experienced this year.
"When you're in a good bullpen, you don't have that much turnover," Wright said. "We've been ineffective at times due to poor execution and youth, and I think it just shows in all the changes we've had to make.
"It's unfortunate, because guys have been giving a great effort, including myself. A lot of times, we've been on the short end of it. When you play so many close games, you're talking about one pitch here or one pitch there making a difference. When you're young, a lot of us are in situations we've never been in before, but you're going to make a few more mistakes than you would if you had an experienced bullpen."
Veras said Monday it took him a while to learn how to deal with adversity, and Wright says that will be the challenge for the bullpen now.
"I think the biggest thing for me this year is to learn you are going to fail and you can't take it with you the next outing," Wright said. "A lot of these guys have learned, just like I am. I think the future of this organization will be better off down the line because of the experience a lot of guys are getting."