HOUSTON — A silent series against baseball’s worst pitching staff may have prompted a change Astros players have long desired.
Workers spent Friday afternoon adding more green paint to the right side of the batter’s eye at Minute Maid Park, an Astros spokesperson confirmed to The Athletic.
The spokesperson cited “player feedback” as one of the reasons for the enhancement, which comes two days after Houston lost a series against the 100-loss Oakland A’s. The Astros scored two runs and recorded nine hits across their two losses. Only one of those hits fell for extra bases.
A photograph obtained by The Athletic on Friday showed green paint covering a part of the previously-red Budweiser bar that runs along the right-center field wall. Last week, multiple players voiced concerns about the batter’s eye to The Athletic on the condition of anonymity — and one cited the Budweiser bar as a particular distraction.
“It’s like night and day,” one player said of the difference in hitting at Minute Maid Park and on the road, where Houston has an American League-leading .800 OPS.
On-record comments this week from general manager Dana Brown and bench coach Joe Espada reinforced what has long been whispered both inside Houston’s clubhouse and around the league: hitters find it difficult to see the ball at Minute Maid Park. The Astros have a .732 OPS and a negative-8 run differential inside Minute Maid Park this season. Only 11 teams have a lower home OPS.
“Guys have talked to us about the batter’s eye but, at the end of the day, this team has been good with the same batter’s eye last year and the year before,” Brown told KBME 790 on Wednesday during his weekly appearance.
“I think there could be one or two tweaks that we could make that we talked about, but I don’t think it’s anything significant. I do think there’s a minor adjustment in the view with a left-handed pitcher that we may have talked about. All in all, this team has been successful without making any adjustments to the batter’s eye, so I’m not too worried about that.”
As Brown mentioned, Astros players have said left-handed pitchers are particularly difficult to see inside Minute Maid Park, though the team does boast an .802 OPS and .270 batting average against southpaws at home. This week, though, A’s left-handers Ken Waldichuk and JP Sears teamed to throw 12 innings of two-run ball in Oakland’s two victories against Houston.
The current batter’s eye has been in place since 2017.
The work is scheduled to be completed prior to the team’s home game on Monday against the Baltimore Orioles, according to a team spokesperson. The Astros are 38-37 at Minute Maid Park this season and are guaranteed to finish with their lowest home winning percentage since 2016.
“The batter’s eye has been something that I’ve heard players talk about in the past. Also, visiting players when they come here to Houston, they have some difficult times seeing the ball here,” Espada told KBME on Monday.
“In the past it hasn’t been talked about as much. I think we need to look at our overall work here at home. We need to come in here with the same intensity, same goals … We need to press the gas pedal and continue to push forward. There’s been mention of (the batter’s eye) in the past, but I don’t think it’s the reason why our home record hasn’t been as good as our road record. We just need to continue to push forward.”
Asked whether players or coaches had brought concerns to the club’s higher-ups, Espada acknowledged it could be a possibility after the season is over.
“Maybe at the end of the year, maybe some of the players will think this is something we can explore and look at,” Espada said. “Maybe we could sit down and talk about it, but this is something that’s not going to get done in the next couple of weeks.”
Turns out it was a little ahead of schedule.
(Photo: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)