Hinch eyes 12-pitcher staff on Opening Day

McHugh strong in spring debut; Bregman expected to play Saturday

February 27th, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros manager AJ Hinch said Wednesday that if his roster had to be set today, he'd lean toward carrying an extra position player instead of an extra pitcher. Hinch has typically preferred to carry 13 pitchers and 12 position players, but several factors are pushing him toward 13 position players and 12 pitchers for 2019.

First, the Astros will have four off-days in April, reducing stress and workload on the pitching staff, and specifically on the bullpen. Also, infielder Tyler White and outfielder Tony Kemp -- who were believed to be battling for the final position-player roster spot -- are both out of options. The Astros would risk losing either of them if they didn't make the big league club.

With both Kemp and White likely to make the club, the Astros will carry five outfielders (Michael Brantley, George Springer, Josh Reddick, Jake Marisnick and Kemp).

"We have a pretty good idea [of the roster] if we broke camp today," Hinch said. "Now, health is always going to factor in. We'll change things up a little bit until we know more info."

In addition to five outfielders, the Astros will carry two catchers (Robinson Chirinos and Max Stassi) and six infielders (Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Aledmys Diaz and White). Diaz, acquired in a trade with the Blue Jays in November, will also play some left field.

McHugh off to a solid start

Establishing a solid base to start his Grapefruit League season, Astros right-hander Collin McHugh allowed one run on two hits in one inning in Wednesday’s 14-8 loss to the Nationals at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

"I felt like the ball was coming out all right, for what it was, Day 1," McHugh said. "I threw a couple of good changeups, which is something we've been working on all spring. I threw strikes and threw some heaters up there. I don’t know what the board said, probably high 80s or something like that. We're right where we want to be for first time out for spring and hopefully move from there and start doing more specific things as camp goes on."

McHugh threw only 11 pitches and was originally scheduled to go back out for a second inning, but he decided against it because he's been dealing with a sore lower back. Also, there was a threat of rain throughout the day.

"We said, ‘Let's go ahead and get one under our belts and see how we feel after that,'" he said. "We're not going to push it on Day 1. Didn't want to get out there and [have it] start raining."

McHugh, who is back in the Astros' rotation after appearing in relief last year, said he's been dealing with back problems his whole career. Hinch wasn’t concerned.

"Obviously, it's unfortunate because we hoped to get 12 or 15 more pitches out of him. But the first time out, it's not that alarming," Hinch said. "We're to err on the side of caution. If this is a regular-season game, he's going to go back out there. It wasn't limiting as much as it was annoying."

Odds and ends

• Bregman, who underwent surgery in January to remove bone chips from his right elbow, is expected to make his Grapefruit League debut on Saturday against the Mets, Hinch said.

• The Astros will play their first split-squad game of the spring Monday, with a game against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista and in West Palm Beach against the Mets. Hinch said he will travel to watch the game against the Braves, a game that newcomer Wade Miley will start.

Up next

Brad Peacock, who's competing with Framber Valdez for the fifth spot in Houston's rotation, makes his first start of Grapefruit League play when the Astros face the Marlins at 12:05 p.m. CT Thursday at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Brady Rodgers, Cy Sneed, J.B. Bukauskas and Brendan McCurry are also scheduled to pitch.