Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker, Jason Castro and Myles Straw will be among the players in the starting lineup for the Astros in their Grapefruit League opener against the Marlins at 12:05 p.m. CT Sunday at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, West Palm Beach, Fla. Brandon Bielak will be the starting pitcher and is expected to pitch two innings.
Astros manager Dusty Baker said Saturday the game will be scheduled for seven innings. This year, Spring Training games through March 13 may be shortened to five innings or seven upon mutual agreement of both managers. Games from March 14 until the end of Spring Training may be shortened to seven innings.
“It’s tough when you’ve got older players and you got younger players you want to look at, and also veterans you don’t want to risk injury,” Baker said. “These guys have been here less than a week, and you’re playing games already. That’s a tough assignment.”
Baker said playing time will be challenging this year because there are roughly 30 position players and catchers in camp, plus shorter and fewer games. Also, there is no Minor League camp for players to be sent to as March progresses, so the roster won’t be reduced.
“This is going to be tricky,” he said.
The Astros plan to play several “B” games this spring, which are essentially instrasquad games on a back field.
Improved throwing a point of emphasis for Altuve
Astros bench coach Joe Espada said he worked “a ton” with Altuve in the offseason to improve his throwing from second base. Altuve didn’t make a throwing error in the regular season but had four in the playoffs, including three in the American League Championship Series against the Rays.
In the ALCS, Altuve short-hopped a pair of throws to first baseman Yuli Gurriel and bounced a relay to second base that skipped away. The Astros were so concerned about Altuve’s sudden throwing problems that shortstop Carlos Correa moved to Altuve’s spot in shallow right field when they shifted against left-handed pull hitters.
“We did make a few adjustments to his throwing mechanics,” said Espada, who works with the infielders. “So far, his confidence level is up. I’m looking forward to getting him in there [Sunday] to see how those adjustments look.”
Espada said he and Altuve looked at the videos and noticed some flaws. Altuve insisted earlier this week that he changed “a few things” about his throwing, but he didn’t want to go into details.
“Those few ground balls in the postseason kind of exposed some of those flaws, and we went back and hammered those down,” Espada said. “He feels really good where he’s at. I just don’t think it was a big deal. He started thinking about some throwing issues, but right now he’s on track, and I’m excited to see [Sunday] how that looks in a game.”
Astros claim García
The Astros added some roster depth Saturday by acquiring infielder Robel García off waivers from the Angels. García appeared in 31 games for the Cubs in 2019, hitting .208 with five homers, two doubles and two triples in 72 at-bats.
García, 27, hit a career-high 27 home runs in ’19 in the Minor Leagues with stops at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, posting a .954 OPS. In his professional career, García has made starts at shortstop, second base, third base and left field.
To make room for García on the 40-man roster, the Astros moved pitcher Justin Verlander to the 60-day injured list. Verlander had Tommy John surgery at the end of last season and is expected to miss the entire 2021 season.
Veteran right-hander Zack Greinke joined Astros camp on Saturday after completing his coronavirus intake protocols, Baker said. The club will also soon welcome outfield prospect Pedro Leon, who has arrived in West Palm Beach and is undergoing his intake protocols. Also joining camp Saturday were right-handers Blair Henley and Peter Solomon, meaning Leon is the only player yet to step on the field.
“I met him yesterday and he seems like a fine young man,” Baker said of Leon, who signed out of Cuba last month for $4 million.
Right-hander Forrest Whitley, the lone Astros player on the MLB Pipeline Top 100 prospects list (41), was on the field working out with his teammates Saturday after showing up late to camp. Whitley said he was exposed to COVID-19 right before he took his pre-camp physical and had to be quarantined for seven days. He said he has tested negative multiple times.