10 QUESTIONS FOR JULIA MORALES

Ken Hoffman pitches 10 hard-hitting questions to Astros reporter Julia Morales

Ken Hoffman pitches 10 hard-hitting questions to Astros reporter Julia Morales
Photo via: Julia Morales

The 2020 baseball season will be different for Houston Astros color announcer Julia Morales, too. Join the club. The veteran Astros announcer, host of Astros Bases Loaded and former Pom at the University of Texas won't be able to interact with fans - there won't be any. She won't be able to hang out near the Astros dugout - MLB health and safety rules. She won't be able to do, well, many of the things that have made her a popular figure on ATT SportsNet Southwest telecasts of Astros games.

Entering her eighth season with the Astros broadcast team, Morales isn't complaining, not at all. She's just happy to be back in Minute Maid Park talkin' baseball with fellow announcers Todd Kalas (when he kicks COVID-19), Geoff Blum and the viewers at home. I caught up with Morales for 10 hard-hitting questions after the Astros whupped up on the Seattle Mariners during the season's opening series.

1. SportsMap: I've seen you walk by the stands before a game and talk with tons of fans, especially little girls. How much are you going to miss that this season?

Julia Morales: It's what I'm missing the most. There are so many regulars at Houston Astros games that they have become a second family for me. The ballpark is the happiest place on Earth (shh, don't tell Disney World). When you're here there is a different energy and vibe, and I feed off that every day. I walked out to the Crawford Boxes minutes before first pitch on Opening Day and it really hit me hard that the concourse wasn't packed and buzzing so loud you can barely hear yourself think. I'm really hoping we can all be back together sooner rather than later.

2. SM: How will your role on game broadcasts be different this year?

JM: How I gather information for the broadcast is completely different as we are relying on Zoom calls with players and coaches, and my walkoff interviews are now done from the visiting booth. We are missing the 1-on-1 time we usually get with different people in the organization to ask questions, confirm things and get ideas. The broadcast will be very similar to what fans have seen before. TK, Blummer and I will continue to call the games and bring you stories of your favorite players.

3. SM: Will you be wearing a mask during games? Will you guys be social-distancing in the broadcast booth?

JM: I have my own booth, haha! Gary Pettis called me a diva the second he saw me in my booth from the field. It is extremely safe at the ballpark. Sanitizing stations are everywhere and a camera is set up before I arrive. All I have to do is spin around and flip on a light to be ready for on-camera appearances. If we are not on the air, we must all wear masks in the booths and everywhere else inside of the ballpark. I'm learning disposable masks are going to work best after covering the inside of mine with TV makeup every day. Lipstick on the nose isn't a great look for television.

4. SM: Have you struck up a professional relationship with Dusty Baker like you had with A.J. Hinch?

JM: I was able to get to know Dusty a little bit in spring training before we were all sent home. He's been great and extremely entertaining. So many one-liners. We are going to have exclusive time with him each Friday when we hope to hear some of his many stories.

5. SM: The Astros announcers won't be traveling with the team on road trips. Which cities will you miss the most?

JM: I hope that Seattle and San Francisco know how much I miss them. We are spoiled to be able to cover a team in the AL West with some of the best cities to visit during the hottest days Houston has to offer. A 10-day trip to Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim in the middle of July is sorely missed. My morning runs are in crisp cool air, no humidity. See what I mean?

6. SM: Will fans watching at home be able to tell a difference between normal games and this year's games?

JM: I was watching exhibition games before we started and could definitely tell a big difference with the crowd noise MLB is mandating across the league. I think Kevin Eschenfelder (filling in for Kalas) and Geoff Blum have done a great job without the roar of the crowd we're used to feeding off at the ballpark. It will get interesting when we're calling road games from the studio. Calling a game across the country off monitors in a studio while being socially distant will be new for all of us.

7. SM: Will you be able to do personal interviews and features like years past?

JM: We will continue to have opportunities to talk to players and coaches whether it's on the headset or a separate Zoom call along with the Zoom interviews that are held daily for the media.

8. SM: You recently announced that you're having a baby - will that affect anything this season?

JM: Are due dates accurate? Baby girl is due September 28, the day after the regular season ends. As we are rounding third in this pregnancy, it will all be up to her and the health of us. Until then I will be calling Astros games!

9. SM: Since you'll be at Minute Maid Park for games, will you be tested for coronavirus every day?

JM: I am considered a member of the media, Tier 3, which means we have restricted access. I will not be tested like those who are in close contact with the team.

10. SM: Can you believe this is happening?

JM: I can't believe I got sent home from spring training. I can't believe we didn't have a baseball game in April. I can't believe they figured out how to get a season started. But we are here and I am so glad to be back doing what I love.

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The Astros are back in action Friday night against Seattle. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros were a season low 12 games under .500 (12-24) on May 8th but were able to turn things around and entered the All-Star break with a respectable 50-46 record.

The turnaround can be attributed to better performances on the field by a multitude of players, but there are still things that could be improved to ensure a successful second half of the season.

As it currently stands, Houston is only one game behind the Seattle Mariners in the American League West division race, and the Astros should have key players returning from injury to further bolster their playoff ambitions.

The return of the King

Kyle Tucker has been on the injured list with a shin contusion for six weeks now, and looks to return in the near future.

The Astros have done surprisingly well without their three-time All-Star outfielder thanks to contributions from guys like Joey Loperfido, Jake Meyers and Marcio Dubon in the outfield. Plus, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Yanier Diaz and Jeremy Pena carrying the offense while King Tuck is away.

Before getting hurt, the 27-year-old was hitting .266/.395/.584 through 60 games. Houston already has one of the best offenses in baseball, and adding Tucker back would give the Astros another high-quality bat to further bolster their lineup.

The latest update is Tucker has been playing catch and could start a rehab assignment soon if all goes well.

Fix the rotation

Starting pitching has been a major issue this season due to a multitude of injuries.

Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy and J.P. France have all been lost for the year with various surgeries and guys like Justin Verlander and Luis Garcia are trying to work their way back from their injured list stints.

Garcia was recently pulled from his rehab assignment and won’t pitch again until he is ready. Meanwhile, Verlander could be closer to his return and is throwing bullpen sessions as of July 14. Getting both of these pitchers back at some point this season will be a huge boost to this roster.

The current Astros’ rotation consists of Framber Valdez, Ronel Blanco, Hunter Brown, Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss. Although not a bad rotation by any means, the starting pitching depth is getting pretty thin and Houston can ill afford another injury to their staff.

Astros general manager Dana Brown has been vocal about his desire to add starting pitching, and could have some options heading into the trade deadline. Players like Jack Flaherty, Garrett Crochet or Yusei Kikuchi, just to name a few, could be low risk high reward pitchers the Astros could acquire to add depth to their rotation.

Another option would be to call up A.J. Blubaugh from Sugar Land. The 24-year-old has a 6-2 record with a 3.46 ERA in 71.1 innings pitched this season for the Space Cowboys and could be a necessary depth piece to add to the rotation.

Play Astros baseball

The Astros have been playing better baseball as of late and have won 18 of their last 23 games. With players like Kyle Tucker and Justin Verlander potentially returning soon, there is reason to believe Houston can make the playoffs for the 8th consecutive season.

The 'Stros will try to take sole possession of first place in their division from the Mariners when the two teams meet for three games at T-Mobile Park starting on Friday night.

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