ARLINGTON -- The Astros bolstered their bullpen Friday by activating veteran right-hander Joe Smith from the 60-day injured list. Smith has missed the entire season after undergoing surgery in December to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon.
“It’s a big day for Joe Smith,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “Those of us that have been around appreciate what he’s had to do. Joe appreciates the work he’s had to do to get back on the field and the devastation with going down with that kind of injury to getting back on a Major League field, it’s going to be special for him to get in a game and be ready to go. It’s really bummed him out all year to not be a part of this team and not be an active member.”
Smith, a side-armer, compiled a 3.74 ERA and 1.01 WHIP across 56 appearances for the Astros in 2018 and will be used as an option against right-handed hitters in Houston’s eight-man bullpen.
“I consider him a weapon,” Hinch said. “He’s really tough on right-handed hitters. He’s been able to be better in the last couple of years against lefties than he has traditionally in his career. I like that part of it.”
Bregman avoids concussion
Hinch said All-Star third baseman Alex Bregman has avoided a concussion but he remained out of action Friday while he continued to get evaluated as part of the protocol for players who possibly suffered head injuries. Bregman received four stitches on his chin and left Thursday’s game in the third inning after a hard grounder off the bat of Shin-Soo Choo struck him in the chin.
Bregman was briefly dazed by the grounder, which led the team medical personnel to test him for a possible concussion. Hinch said all signs were positive and Bregman took batting practice and fielded some ground balls prior to Friday’s game.
“He’s going to go through what we hope to be the last part of this evaluation before we would deem him eligible to play,” Hinch said. “All things are good. He feels good. He got here at his normal time, he’s watched his normal video, he’s begging to play -- things you would expect from him. As long as he continues to move that way, he could be in there pretty quickly.”
The grounder, which had an exit velocity of 98.5 mph, skipped off the mound and took another bounce before striking Bregman, who was starting at shortstop in Thursday’s series opener.
Opener for Tuesday?
The Astros haven’t used an opener -- a reliever to start a game in a strategic move -- since it became vogue last year, mostly because their starting pitching has been a strength. They used five starters for most of last season who were All-Stars at one point in their careers, and this year have a solid 1-2-3 in Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley.
Without many viable options in the Minor Leagues, Hinch said he’s considering using an opener Tuesday at Anaheim to be followed by lefty Framber Valdez, who has an 11.57 ERA in the first inning of the five games he’s started this year.
“I think we have to look at it,” Hinch said. “We haven’t discussed it internally. The reason I’ve been reluctant is not because I don’t believe in it or I don’t see it as an option; it’s just we haven’t had a rotation that’s been built that we’ve needed. We had five starters pitch into August last year, all elite. We’ve had a very good rotation this season where we’ve tried to maintain that consistency. We’ve gone back and forth between seven relievers and eight relievers, and you really need an eight-man ‘pen in order to pull off the creativity it takes to pull off that kind of day.”
Injury and under-performance have hampered the end of their rotation in recent weeks, with Valdez unable to escape the first inning Thursday against Texas.
“We’ve got to get Framber Valdez back to being effective,” Hinch said. “Whatever that takes, whether it’s the bullpen work in between or the video work, whether it’s shaking things up and having somebody else get the first three outs, we’ll look at everything. The last few starts here at the Major League level, we’ve been three or four or five runs down after the first inning or two and that’s a tough hill to climb.”