Alvarez, Urquidy to report to Corpus Christi
HOUSTON -- Two players who could be crucial to the Astros’ success in 2020 have been cleared to resume baseball activities.
Slugger Yordan Alvarez, the 2019 American League Rookie of the Year, and right-hander José Urquidy, who was expected to be in Houston's rotation to start the season, have both been cleared to begin baseball activities Friday and will report to the team's alternate training site in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Astros manager Dusty Baker said neither was able to do baseball drills during the three weeks their teammates were working out Summer Camp, which puts them quite a bit behind. They’ll remain on the injured list, where they were placed on July 12 for undisclosed reasons.
“I know they’ll probably say they’re ready sooner than they are,” Baker said. “No matter what they tell me, I’ll still give them another couple of days. I know how players are anxious to get back. They missed a lot of time. It’s going to take probably almost equal time they missed to get back. We’ll be in constant contact with the people down in Corpus and we’re relying on their opinion of them and their progress.”
Alvarez burst onto the scene last year and hit .313 with 27 homers and 78 RBIs in 87 games, becoming a unanimous choice for AL Rookie of the Year. Urquidy, who is No. 2 on the Astros' Top 30 Prospects list, also debuted last year and went 2-1 with a 3.95 ERA in nine games (seven starts) in the regular season and put himself on the map by throwing five scoreless innings in his start in Game 4 of the World Series.
“These guys, we were counting on them,” Baker said. “You got one Rookie of the Year, one guy that pitched great in the World Series and was just getting his act together. They’re very important.”
Three other players -- right-handers Shawn Dubin and Ralph Garza Jr. and left-hander Cionel Pérez -- also have been cleared for baseball activities and will report to Corpus Christi.
United for change
In a sight duplicated around baseball on Opening Day, the Astros and Mariners on Friday showed solidarity in delivering a message in support of social justice by kneeling in unison on the field prior to the national anthem at Minute Maid Park.
Following a recorded narration by renowned actor Morgan Freeman that emphasized equality and empathy, players from both teams held a 200-yard black fabric as a sign of unity and then all knelt on one knee for a prolonged moment of silence. All players on both teams stood for the anthem, with six Mariners players holding a right fist in the air.
“I feel like over the last little bit of time, there’s been a great message out there and it’s brought people to ask the right questions and, myself included, to have conversations that maybe weren’t comfortable before and now it’s necessary,” Justin Verlander said after leading the Astros to an 8-2 victory. “You have to have those conversations, because I understand I wasn’t brought up a Black man and I understand I had some privilege to me, and that’s what’s hard to realize, to be honest.
“I think that’s what this whole message has been about, is to understand that even if you do everything the right way, that might not be enough. We can stand up and say ‘Hey, things need to change,’ and I think they should.”
Astros manager Dusty Baker, one of the few African-American managers in baseball, said pregame he was proud of how the young players in the league have united and stuck together.
“Quite frankly, I was a bit surprised because if you expect everybody to think and feel the same way then we’re living in a dream world,” he said. “But these guys have stuck together remarkably well throughout the league. I’ve got to commend the young people. We’ve still got a long way to go on some things and I was listening to Bob Marley today -- equal rights and justice. I was like, OK, that’s what we need. More equal rights and justice. We’ve got a long way to go but we’re on the way.”
Bregman seeking fast start
In a condensed season of 60 games, where one game is worth 2.7 times the production of what you’d normally have in a 162-game season, a slow start can derail your season. That point hasn’t been lost on All-Star third baseman Alex Bregman, who’s had a history of slow starts in his career.
“I have started slower than I would have liked to the last few years and I had to rally late,” Bregman said. “Normally, it’s a marathon, and now it’s a sprint. That’s why I treated Spring Training, and this Summer Camp as well, like it was the regular season. It was a shift in mindset. There’s no time for slow starts.”
Bregman, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 Draft, started his career in a 2-for-38 slump in 2016. In his first full season in ’17, he slashed .256/.338/.419 with 27 RBIs in 84 games in the first half and .315/.367/.536 with 44 RBIs in 71 games in the second half.
In 2018, he was 7-for-40 with no homers and three RBIs in his first 11 games and rebounded to lead the club in nearly every offensive category. Last year, he was 1-for-15 before making a run for AL Most Valuable Player.
Bregman said he came to Spring Training carrying the same amount of weight he normally would be at during the middle of the season. The goal was to be more mobile and to be able to move better and, ultimately, be more consistent.
“Also, I put a lot of pressure on myself in Spring Training and during Summer Camp to succeed,” he said. “I’m not going to be satisfied with anything less than doing well.”
McCullers set for return to mound
For the first time since he pitched against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in a World Series rematch on Aug. 4, 2018, Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. will start a Major League game on Saturday afternoon, for the Astros against the Mariners.
McCullers injured his elbow against the Dodgers and wound up having Tommy John surgery, which cost him the entire 2019 season. He was healthy and starting games in Spring Training in anticipation of starting the season in the rotation, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed his return to action by a few more months.
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“It’s been a long time since I had a start in the big leagues,” McCullers said. “I’ve been very happy with the way Summer Camp has gone. I was really happy to get that game in in Kansas City [an exhibition on Monday] and that gave me a lot of confidence towards the regular season. I’m going to do my best to throw the ball the best I can.”
McCullers went 10-6 with a 3.86 ERA in 25 games (22 starts) during the 2018 season. He pitched through his injury and delayed surgery until the end of the season so he could pitch in the playoffs in ’18. He appeared in three games against the Red Sox in the ALCS.