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Bregman back in lineup for Astros

@brianmctaggart
March 9, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- All-Star infielders José Altuve and Alex Bregman were on the travel roster for Saturday’s game against the Cardinals in Jupiter on Friday, but while Bregman was in the starting lineup, Altuve was a late scratch. Altuve, however, downplayed the injury Saturday. "I don't think it's

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- All-Star infielders José Altuve and Alex Bregman were on the travel roster for Saturday’s game against the Cardinals in Jupiter on Friday, but while Bregman was in the starting lineup, Altuve was a late scratch.

Altuve, however, downplayed the injury Saturday.

"I don't think it's bad at all," Altuve said.

Bregman left Wednesday’s game against the Marlins after one inning with back stiffness, and Altuve was scratched from the lineup prior to Thursday’s game with what the team called “general left-side soreness.”

“I felt a little tight, and I got scared,” Altuve said Friday. “I didn’t want to do anything stupid, but today I’m fine. No problem.”

Bregman and Altuve have both been eased into games because they were coming off surgery in the offseason. Bregman had surgery Jan. 11 to remove bone chips in his left elbow, and Altuve had surgery Oct. 19 to repair a broken kneecap.

James progressing toward versatile bullpen role

Hard-throwing right-hander Josh James, who suffered a strained right quad Feb. 24, is scheduled to throw a “full bullpen” in the next couple of days, which will start a progression in which he throws live batting practice and eventually gets into his first Grapefruit League game.

James came to camp in the running for the fifth spot in the starting rotation, but will instead be in the bullpen because the injury won’t give him enough time to build up his innings. When asked Friday about what role James could fill in the bullpen, Hinch said he could be a hybrid of a lot of things.

“I think he could be a back-end-of-the-game leverage reliever, I think he could be a multi-inning reliever or he could be stretched out to start,” Hinch said. “I think we’ll see him have a unique season based on what we need and where we see him best fitting.

“What he’s earned is us knowing we feel like he’s a part of a really good pitching staff. What we have to figure out moving forward is where that fits given the context of our team. He’s capable of doing any or all of those, and we’re fortunate enough to have enough depth we can absorb the variety of roles we could ask him to pitch in.”

Hinch said all of the relievers will be conditioned to pitch multiple innings. For Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly, Will Harris and Hector Rondon, that means being able to get the final out of an inning and work the next inning. Chris Devenski could be asked to throw two innings, with James and whomever wins the final spot in the bullpen (Brad Peacock, for example) also being built up to throw multiple innings.

“We have a very unique pitching staff that a guy could pitch the seventh inning of a winning game one day and be asked to throw 2 1/3 of mop up relief a week later,” Hinch said. “Versatility is my favorite.”

Up next for Astros: Right-hander Collin McHugh will make his second start of the spring when the Astros face the Cardinals on Saturday at 12:05 p.m. CT at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. McHugh threw one inning Feb. 27 against the Nationals before being skipped in the rotation because of minor back soreness.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.