Notes: Precautions, prospects, rotation battle

July 12th, 2020

HOUSTON -- Astros pitchers didn’t participate in Sunday’s workouts at Minute Maid Park while they await the results of COVID-19 testing, manager Dusty Baker said. Pitching coach Brent Strom and some other coaches and staff members weren’t at Sunday’s workout, either.

The Astros canceled their scheduled workout Saturday as a precaution after a staff member was potentially exposed to someone with the coronavirus, but that staff member was not Strom, Baker said. The staff member was assigned to the visitor’s side of Minute Maid Park, where the pitchers have been dressing. Baker was hopeful those who were kept home Sunday can return to practice Monday.

“You don’t like it, but you have to adjust and make the best of a potentially bad situation,” he said. “I’m proud of how the guys responded. I haven’t heard any complaining.”

Astros position players worked out as scheduled Sunday, and some of the younger arms who have been practicing at the University of Houston came over to throw live batting practice, including , and . The entire roster of players from UH worked out at Minute Maid Park later Sunday to escape the heat the artificial turf is creating at the UH site.

“We knew it was going to be a challenging season, and we’re up for it,” bench coach Joe Espada said. “This team has been through a lot, and we knew we could handle this. Our job as coaches and players is to understand our goals and stay together through this.”

On Monday, the Astros also canceled their workouts at Minute Maid Park and UH because of a delay in receiving the COVID-19 results from testing. The Astros began working out at both sites on July 3, giving them three weeks to prepare for the July 24 season opener against the Mariners.

Back of rotation remains a mystery
The Astros will open the regular season with a rotation led by Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr., all of whom have thrown in either a simulated game or live batting practice. How the rest of the rotation will fill out remains in question with Opening Day only 12 days away.

and , who were the favorites for the final two spots in the rotation, have yet to report to camp for undisclosed reasons. Newcomer and lefty came into camp battling for the fifth spot, as well, but their progress isn’t known. , who has bounced between the rotation and bullpen the last few years, is working out and could be a candidate to start again.

“Strommy has mapped it out,” Baker said. “We can’t say exactly what we’ve mapped out. It’s still a work in progress. There might be surprises, might be some changes, depending on if we need some extra bullpen guys or starters.”

Baker said the Astros are trying to stretch out some of the relief pitchers to throw two or three innings to alleviate some of the workload stress on the starters.

In addition to Urquidy and James, relief pitcher Joe Smith and designated hitter Yordan Alvarez have yet to report to Summer Camp for undisclosed reasons.

“James, to the best of my knowledge, has been working his butt off to try to get ready and stay ready, and hopefully he’ll be here in a couple of days, maybe even [Monday], hopefully,” Baker said.

Díaz aiming for full workout Monday
After being slowed by left shoulder inflammation early in camp, veteran infielder said Sunday he feels “100 percent” and will begin hitting on the field for the first time on Tuesday. He’s been swinging the bat and taking ground balls the last few days.

“With the time we’ve got left, I’ve got to be able to my at-bats and get my rhythm back,” said Díaz, who hit .271 with nine homers and 40 RBIs last year. He played in a career-low 57 games because of two stints on the injured list.

Díaz said he will try to wear a mask while playing in games to protect himself from coronavirus exposure. He said wearing a mask isn’t uncomfortable and it’s smart to use it.

“We have to be smart about this,” he said. “If I feel comfortable wearing a mask on the field, I’m going to use it.”