Springer hits leadoff in return; McHugh back
HOUSTON – The Astros moved a huge step closer to having their lineup back at full strength Tuesday by activating outfielder George Springer, along with right-handed reliever Collin McHugh, from the 10-day injured list. Springer, who had been out since May 24 with a strained left hamstring, was back hitting leadoff for Tuesday’s series opener against the Pirates.
“It makes our lineup even better than it already is,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “We did a really good job of being diligent with him to get him back at the right time, to get him back fully healthy. He went back and did virtually everything in the rehab we asked him to. He even got on base and stole a base. He went first to third. He hit a couple of homers. He played very freestyle, where he was flying all over the place like we expect him to.”
The Astros optioned relief pitchers Rogelio Armenteros and Reymin Guduan to Triple-A Round Rock, leaving the club with seven relievers (and no lefties in the bullpen).
By getting second baseman Jose Altuve back in the lineup Wednesday after he missed 35 games with a left hamstring strain/right leg fatigue, the Astros’ lineup is approaching full strength. Starting shortstop Carlos Correa (broken rib) and utility infielder Aledmys Diaz (strained left hamstring) won’t return until after the All-Star break, though.
The Astros went 15-12 without Springer, who had been an early American League MVP Award candidate. Springer was hitting .308/.389/.643, with 17 homers and 43 RBIs in 48 games prior to his injury.
“I’m glad to be back and excited to be here,” he said. “I feel great. I’m very, very happy with it. I’m happy to be back, and I’m going to go out there and play to the best of my ability.”
McHugh, who hasn’t pitched since May 14, will return to the bullpen after starting the season in the rotation. He made eight starts to begin the year, going 3-4 with a 6.37 ERA, before appearing twice in relief. McHugh landed on the IL with a sore right elbow.
“Obviously, it’s going to take a minute to be as sharp as I want to be,” McHugh said. “It was almost a month in terms of my recovery, but I was pleased with how my body reacted and how we went about our business.”
Hinch said that McHugh will fit back into middle relief like the club planned when they moved him to the bullpen from the rotation earlier in the year.
“We’re going to need a bridge,” Hinch said. “I’m looking for somebody to step up -- not necessarily be a right-handed specialist -- but to be really good against right-handed hitters and be a weapon. We put him in the bullpen, and as much as it felt like a demotion for him, it was more about using him as a weapon in the right spots with the right hitters.”