2010 MLB PLAYOFFS;NLCS NOTEBOOK;Astros set with Mills;Ex-Sox coach gets Oswalt’s approval

PHILADELPHIA – After getting traded to the Phillies on July 29,
right-hander Roy Oswalt had a new situation in a new city with
which to be preoccupied. But he never stopped peeking at box scores
to monitor how his erstwhile team was faring.

And Oswalt could tell the Houston Astros were in good hands with
rookie manager Brad Mills.

Mills, the longtime bench coach and close friend to Red
Sox manager Terry Francona, steered
the Astros to a 76-86 record, which doesn’t seem overly impressive
until you consider they opened the season with eight straight
losses and were a season-worst 19 games under .500 (40-59) on July

In the last 63 games, even after trading Oswalt to the Phillies
and veteran first baseman Lance Berkman to the New York Yankees,
the rebuilding Astros went 36-27. After the season, Mills was
rewarded with a contract extension through 2012 with a club option
for 2013.

”Brad’s great at what he does,” Oswalt said yesterday. ”He
has a great pitching coach with (Brad) Arnsberg, and I think
they’ll end up turning the organization back around. You go through
that period where you’re good for a period of time and you have a
little rough stretch and try to rebuild, and I think they’re in
good hands with the coaching staff they have over there in place

Mills, 53, was Francona’s teammate at the University of Arizona
in 1978-79 and with the Montreal Expos from 1981-83. He served as
Francona’s bench coach with the Phillies before joining his staff
with the Red

DH? No thanks

Think it’s easy to be a full-time designated hitter like David
Ortiz? Pat Burrell is here to tell you that isn’t the case.

A left fielder for nine years with the Phillies, Burrell agreed
to a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays before the 2009
season and immediately was installed as a DH. He never adjusted to
the role, batting .221 with a .682 OPS last season before batting
.202 with a .625 OPS this season until getting released in May
after 24 games.

The problem, Burrell said, was keeping himself occupied between
at-bats. He hit in the cage, rode a stationary bike, and even tried
to mimic playing the outfield by putting the game on television and
moving with the pitches. Nothing worked.

”I pretty much covered the spectrum,” Burrell said. ”I
couldn’t find anything that made me feel like I was in the game. If
given a choice, I wouldn’t have preferred (being a DH), but you
have to remember, I was a free agent and I signed up for it. No one
forced me to do it.”

Good call

When center fielder Aaron Rowand left the Phillies and signed a
five-year, $60 million free agent contract with the Giants after
the 2007 season, he predicted San Francisco would soon return to
the playoffs because of a young starting rotation that featured
right-handers Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Sure enough, the Giants
had the lowest team ERA in the majors (3.36) this season en route
to winning the NL West.

”I look like a genius now, don’t I?” Rowand said with a

One problem: Rowand’s role has been diminished. With the
emergence of Andres Torres in center field, Rowand is a highly paid
spare outfielder.

”For me, it’s just about being here and trying to contribute in
any way I can,” said Rowand, who won a World Series with the
Chicago White
Sox in 2005. . . .

Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies’ usual leadoff hitter,
continued to bat sixth as he recovers from a strained calf. . .

Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime Phillies fan, was expected
to attend last night’s game.