Dusty to rest players early; Urquidy sharp

April 4th, 2022

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- That Spring Training mindset will last a little longer than the schedule indicates for Astros manager Dusty Baker.

With pitchers not receiving their full buildup, position players partaking in fewer innings than normal and some roles still undefined, spring will linger into the 2022 regular season.

“It will be still like Spring Training, but it counts,” Baker said.

The shortened Spring Training halved the number of Grapefruit League games for Houston.

In many respects, Baker approached spring as though the Astros were on a normal schedule. Placing an emphasis on health above all else, he held nearly all Major League position players out of the first four games, giving them time to acclimate their bodies to a baseball routine.

While the Astros will depart West Palm Beach without incurring any spring injuries to key contributors, Baker still intends to be judicious with playing time over the first few weeks.

“Early in the season, I'm going to have to give guys a rest when I wouldn't normally give them a rest,” Baker said. “They haven't played three or four games in a row, or nine innings, yet.”

Baker has also handled his pitching staff conservatively. Justin Verlander made four Grapefruit League starts this spring only because that fit with his recovery schedule from Tommy John surgery. The other four hurlers ticketed for the Astros' starting rotation have combined to make six Grapefruit League starts, working primarily on back fields throwing live bullpens, simulated games or in Minor League games.

“This is a very volatile situation that we're about to enter into, because if you get hurt early in April, you'll never get into shape or you'll be playing catchup the whole time,” Baker said.

Urquidy sharp in final tuneup
Making only his second Grapefruit League start, José Urquidy tossed five scoreless innings of four-hit ball in Monday's 3-3 tie with the Mets.

A couple of double plays, along with stellar catches by Yordan Alvarez and Chas McCormick, helped limit Urquidy's pitch count to 68.

“He's done good,” Baker said. “You don't worry about Urquidy.”

Urquidy is slotted in to start Sunday's game at the Los Angeles Angels, the Astros' fourth of the season.

Top of the order
Houston will leave Florida without a declared leadoff hitter.

Baker said earlier in camp that Jose Altuve would ideally bat second, but the 2017 AL MVP hit leadoff in the Astros' final spring contest, going 1-for-3 with a run scored. Shortstop Jeremy Peña, who saw significant time at leadoff this spring, hit eighth on Monday and went 0-for-2 with an RBI groundout.

“It could be a revolving thing between a couple guys,” Baker said of the leadoff role. “It could be who's hot, what's working.”

Blanco a bullpen piece
The Astros feel fortunate that rookie right-handed reliever Ronel Blanco is still with the club. Blanco would have been eligible to be claimed in the Rule 5 Draft, but the lockout prompted the cancellation of the Major League portion of the draft.

“So that saved it for us, I guess,” Baker said.

After five seasons in the Minor Leagues, Blanco, 28, will be making his first Major League roster.

Staying and going
Baker didn't have a final update on injured starter Lance McCullers Jr. (right flexor tendon), who hasn't thrown all spring, but Baker did say that McCullers will be flying with the team to Los Angeles. Jake Meyers (left shoulder) and Taylor Jones (back) will remain in West Palm Beach to rehab their injuries.