Get Dusty's 'picks: HOU can relax protocol

May 10th, 2021

HOUSTON -- Astros manager Dusty Baker is looking forward to being able to chew on his trademark toothpicks once again. Catcher Jason Castro welcomes the chance to play cards with teammates in the clubhouse. Shortstop Carlos Correa is thankful he won’t have to wear a mask in the dugout anymore.

Monday was the first day the Astros were able to enjoy relaxed coronavirus protocol restrictions after they officially hit the 85 percent vaccination threshold for Tier 1 individuals, which includes players and staff on the Major League club and Triple-A Sugar Land. Gone are masks on the field and in the dugout, along with the tracking devices players have been wearing all season.

“Live a normal life once again,” Correa said.

Almost. The team still must wear masks in the clubhouse, training room and weight room, as well as on the team plane and bus -- any time they’re indoors -- but restrictions have been loosened in regard to indoor dining and how often players are tested, among other things.

“This will make it easier for communication,” Baker said. “The only thing is, the umpires can tell who’s yelling at them now.”

Baker said perhaps the biggest perk is that players will be able to spend more time together away from the ballpark, especially on the road, whether it’s grabbing a cup of coffee in the morning or a drink after games.

“That’s where I do a lot of my bonding with the players and getting to know the players,” he said. “It’s away from the workplace. … There’s certain things you can say or do away from the ballpark to really get to know somebody.”

Correa back in lineup, seeking better results

Correa returned to the starting lineup for Monday’s series opener against the Angels looking to shake off a woeful start to May. Correa was 1-for-27 -- his only hit a home run on Friday that broke an 0-for-19 slump -- in the first seven games of the month before taking Sunday off.

“I’ve been feeling pretty good,” Correa said. “I don’t feel lost at the plate at all. I know the numbers haven’t been great in the month of May. I’ve been hitting some balls hard right at people, battling with good at-bats. It’s only a matter of time. My swing feels good right now, and if I go out there and keep competing, eventually they’re going to fall.”

In his 0-for-4 performance on Saturday, Correa hit a groundout that had a 106.5 mph exit velocity and a lineout at 98.1 mph. With an average EV of 91 mph, he’s second on the club to Kyle Tucker (91.3) and ranks 35th in the Major Leagues.

“He’s hitting the ball a lot harder than his stats show for it,” Baker said. “I don’t see anything wrong with him. You can’t guide the ball. All you can do is get a good pitch to hit and hit it hard, and after that it’s out of your control. As long as you don’t get frustrated by the fact you’re hitting it hard and you [wind up making] a whole bunch of other changes.”

Worth noting

• Left-hander Framber Valdez might throw a bullpen session at Minute Maid Park later this week before heading out on a rehab assignment, Baker said. Valdez broke his left ring finger on March 2, in his first start of the spring.

• Right-hander Jake Odorizzi is scheduled to throw to hitters on Wednesday, Baker said. Odorizzi, who’s been out since April 24 with a strained right pronator muscle, threw 37 pitches in the bullpen on Saturday.