Stubbs, Toro join Straw in quarantine

March 28th, 2021

Astros catcher and infielder have joined center fielder in quarantine for health and safety reasons, manager Dusty Baker said on Sunday morning. Straw was scratched from the lineup prior to Saturday’s game against the Mets.

Baker hoped to have all three cleared by Monday or Tuesday, but the situation could complicate the Astros’ attempts to finalize their 26-man roster ahead of Thursday’s season opener in Oakland. The Astros are scheduled to play their final Grapefruit League game of the spring on Monday against the Nationals in West Palm Beach, Fla.

“They’re in the league protocol and hopefully they’ll be cleared [by] Monday or Tuesday,” Baker said. “We’re just trying to be as cautious as possible.”

If the situation carries into Wednesday or Thursday, it will impact the Astros’ final 26-man roster decisions. Straw is the starting center fielder and Toro is competing for a spot as a utility infielder. Stubbs is the team’s third catcher behind Martín Maldonado and Jason Castro.

Earlier this spring, the Astros placed eight pitchers in quarantine, citing health and safety protocols. One of them was veteran reliever Pedro Báez, who tested positive for the coronavirus. Báez will begin the season on the injured list as he gets in shape to start the season.

Astros searching for outfield help

Baker said on Sunday morning the Astros are seeking outside help to fill their roster, as general manager James Click scours the waiver wire. As teams make their final cuts before Opening Day, an outfielder could become available who could be a potential fit with Houston. Baker said picking up an extra pitcher or catcher is also an option.

“There’s always some good guys available, but are they better than what we have already?” Baker said. “I don’t have a whole bunch of input because I don’t know a lot of these players. I know some players, but the fourth- or fifth-outfielder type from other organizations, I haven’t seen play very much. Somebody might try to sneak a pitcher through [waivers] or a catcher. You’re always looking for extra players.”

The competition for the fourth-outfield job has been uninspiring, with prospect and non-roster center fielder the top remaining candidates. Baker brought Bryan De La Cruz, also a non-roster player, into the conversation on Sunday, but said De La Cruz is dealing with a shoulder injury and had stitches following a collision in the outfield with Zach Daniels in a “B” game.

De La Cruz is 5-for-15 (.333) with five RBIs and five strikeouts in 12 Grapefruit League games. Siri is 6-for-30 (.200) with one homer and a whopping 15 strikeouts. McCormick is 2-for-24 (.083) with 11 strikeouts.

“De La Cruz has probably played better than any of them,” Baker said.

Ultimately, the decision could come down to who’s on the 40-man roster, which would favor McCormick. Baker would also like a true center fielder as his fourth outfielder, which could favor Siri. McCormick and De La Cruz have played mostly right field during their Minor League careers.

Work on back fields paying off for Pressly

After appearing in only two Grapefruit League games this spring -- the most recent on March 11 -- Astros reliever has been doing all of his pitching on the back fields at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, away from the fans and television cameras.

Pressly said the nature of the Astros’ 2021 Spring Training schedule, which included several off-days, just meant he wound up pitching the “B” games the Astros scheduled to make up for the extra off-days. That included Sunday against the Marlins, when Pressly struck out one batter in one inning.

“I’ve been getting my work done back there,” he said. “I’ve been facing good hitters, facing our hitters. It's been beneficial. You can kind of control your pitching back there.”

Pressly, an All-Star setup man in 2019, converted 11 of his final 13 save chances with a 2.08 ERA, 25 strikeouts and four walks in 17 1/3 innings in that span last year. He took over the closer’s role after Roberto Osuna went down with an injury and remains the likeliest choice to be the team’s closer this year. Pressly has battled injuries the past two seasons, including knee surgery in ‘19, but said he feels 100 percent better than how he did a year ago.

“It was difficult last year because honestly I felt like I was working on stuff every single day I took the ball,” he said. “It’s not like you can throw a bullpen and be ready that night. You kind of have to pick and choose when you can work on stuff. It was frustrating last year, and I worked very hard last offseason with people back home who could fix me and get me going more directional toward the plate and using their keys to keep me zoned in. Just really working hard this offseason in trying to get everything right and back to where I was in ’18 and ’19.”

Worth noting

Right-hander , who will start Friday night against the A’s in Oakland, said he threw 70 pitches over 5 1/3 innings in Sunday’s “B” game. Javier, who finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting last year, said he’s in a good spot to be able to throw five-plus innings once the regular season gets underway.