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Correa 'free and easy, lighthearted and happy'

@RichardJustice
September 6, 2019

HOUSTON -- Carlos Correa was put through a series of baserunning drills on Friday, with manager AJ Hinch and his coaching staff watching closely. "I just wanted to see him under control and being a little bit explosive and pain-free,” Hinch said. “I wanted to see him laughing and joking

HOUSTON -- Carlos Correa was put through a series of baserunning drills on Friday, with manager AJ Hinch and his coaching staff watching closely.

"I just wanted to see him under control and being a little bit explosive and pain-free,” Hinch said. “I wanted to see him laughing and joking and smiling and happy again. He’s a very fun guy to be around when he feels good.”

And?

“I saw him -- the cliche everyone hates -- free and easy, and lighthearted and happy," Hinch said. "To me, that means he’s getting back in shape as opposed to trying to overcome a little bit of soreness or adversity. I think that’s a step in the right direction.”

Correa hasn’t played since Aug. 19, when he removed himself from a game after feeling his lower back tighten up. The Astros are cautiously confident he’ll be back for the postseason, but are taking a methodical approach.

Although Correa has taken some swings in the indoor cages, he has not taken normal outdoor batting practice or faced pitching. The Astros hope that happens next week.

“One step at a time,” Hinch said.

James put to the test

Hinch had hoped to work reliever Josh James back into a few low-leverage situations after James spent six weeks on the injured list because of a sore right shoulder.

Instead James has ended up in a pair of extra-inning games, earning a save in one and a win in the other, the latter Thursday's 13-inning, 11-9 victory over the Mariners.

James entered in the top of the 12th with the score tied at 8 and, after striking out his first batter, surrendered a home run to Kyle Seager. The Astros tied the score in the bottom of the inning, and James struck out the side in the top of the 13th before Michael Brantley’s two-run walk-off homer ended it.

“Just when you script out maybe a little soft landing, an easy inning for him, he ends up in a couple of extra-inning games and some high-leverage, high intense moments,” Hinch said, “and he’s come through. I told him today in my office, I’m really proud of [him] going out after giving up a homer -- really disappointed, mad -- and he ended up delivering a zero and we win it in the bottom of the inning. That has been the most impressive thing [about his return].”

Tucker wastes no time

Outfielder Kyle Tucker, the Astros' top prospect, made a second straight start in right field on Friday after he hit his first Major League home run in the sixth inning on Thursday and then contributed a game-tying single in the bottom of the 12th.

"It’s big for him to contribute,” Hinch said. “When these guys come up and they’re new, you want them to feel a part of what’s going on here. The only way they’re going to do that is by getting in there and contributing.

“Given how long the year was for him -- successful in the Minors, but no opportunity here -- he’s trying to make a push for more playing time and maybe a little more prominent role. Step up and deliver a couple of times and get to high-five some guys and celebrate with ‘em, that makes you part of the culture and part of the winning.”

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.