Bregman “tweaked” his hamstring early in camp, and he is being brought along slowly. He tweeted last week that he would be playing if this were the regular season. Bregman missed 17 games last season with right hamstring soreness, and he has been hitting on the field all spring.
Alvarez, meanwhile, is also being eased into action after undergoing surgery on both knees last year. The 2019 American League Rookie of the Year Award winner, Alvarez was held to two games in '20 because of a pair of bad knees. He underwent surgery in August to repair a slight tear of the patellar tendon in his right knee and a routine cleanup was performed on his left knee.
“Bregman appears to be ahead of Alvarez right now,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Breggy’s looking pretty good. Alvarez is running good and swinging great.”
Meanwhile, the Astros are still awaiting a second opinion before they determine a course of action for left-handed pitcher Framber Valdez, who fractured his left ring finger in Tuesday’s game against the Mets. Valdez, 27, was a breakout performer for Houston last year, going 5-3 with a 3.57 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP in 11 regular-season games (10 starts), with 16 walks and 63 hits allowed.
Bielak and Cishek bounce back
The Astros got promising bounce-back performances from right-handers Brandon Bielak and Steve Cishek in Friday’s 1-0 loss to the Marlins in Jupiter, Fla. Bielak, who allowed the first four hitters he faced Sunday to score, was a strike-throwing machine in relief Friday, retiring all nine hitters he faced. He threw 29 of 33 pitches for strikes.
“He had a real good changeup today,” Baker said. “Hitters had trouble recognizing it, especially this early in the spring. His fastball was 94, 95 [mph], which is plenty, and he located it well. It’s the best he’s thrown in a while, especially after the rough outing the first time. It’s a tribute to him to put that behind him.”
Bielak said he was too fastball-reliant in his first outing and wanted to rely on and command his offspeed pitches more. With Valdez out, Bielak will be pushing for a spot in the rotation. He has now retired 15 consecutive batters this spring.
“First off, I hope [Valdez is] doing well and he gets back soon,” Bielak said. “He’s a big part of our team. Coming into Spring Training, I was coming in to try to win a spot anyway. I’m just going to do whatever the team wants me to do, and that’s the plan moving forward.”
Baker said Bielak will be given every opportunity to win a spot.
“It’s going to be hard to replace Framber, but if [Bielak] throws like that, that’s more than adequate, especially if he can get us deep into the game,” Baker said.
Cishek, a non-roster invitee to camp, struck out all three batters he faced in his second outing of the spring. The side-armer gave up back-to-back-to-back homers in his first Grapefruit League outing Monday.
“It was fun,” he said. “There were fun nerves leading up to it, and I wondered what the heck was going to happen, but it was a good time.”
Smith opted to sit out last season to be with his mother, Lee, who was in the final stages of her battle with Huntington’s disease. Smith’s mother died on Aug. 6 at age 61 in Ohio, where Joe had spent the summer with her instead of Houston.
Smith returns to the Astros' bullpen as baseball’s active leader with 782 games pitched and is coming off a strong second half of the 2019 season. He expects to make about seven or eight more Grapefruit League appearances before the start of the regular season.
“I threw a lot more prior to camp, especially off the mound, than I would normally have without playing a full season last year,” he said. “Everything feels pretty good. It’s felt pretty good from the onset because I’ve got a lot of mound work in. Now just getting into a game and seeing guys and their swings and getting back into that mentality to read people and keep them off-balance will be good.”