Altuve (3 hits) 'looked like he never left'

Astros leadoff man sparks club in first game action since COVID recovery

April 27th, 2021

HOUSTON -- When Astros second baseman showed up at Minute Maid Park on Friday afternoon once he cleared the health and safety protocols following a bout with COVID-19, manager Dusty Baker said it was like a bright light walking into his office.

So you can only imagine what Baker thought when Altuve returned to the lineup for the first time in nearly two weeks on Monday night and went 3-for-5 with two RBIs, a run scored and a stolen base to lead the club in a 5-2 win over the Mariners.

“Life sure is a lot better with Altuve back. Period,” the skipper said.

Altuve, who went on the COVID-19 injured list on April 14, returned to the leadoff spot and singled to center in his first at-bat. He stole second and scored on a Yordan Alvarez double.

In the fourth, Altuve’s two-run single to left pushed Houston’s lead to 4-1, and he added a single in the sixth. The Astros went 4-6 without Altuve, who raised his batting average to .347 with his first three-hit game since the second game of the season.

“I felt really happy to be back and a little nervous my first at-bat,” Altuve said. “All in all, I felt pretty good and happy we won this game.”

Altuve registered the second and third hardest-hit balls of Monday’s game behind Carlos Correa’s single in the fourth (109.4 mph). Altuve’s first-inning single was 108 mph off the bat and his sixth-inning single had a 108.6 mph exit velocity, according to Statcast.

“I didn’t know what to expect, to tell you the truth," said Baker, who moved into 13th place all-time with 1,903 managerial wins. “It was a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t completely surprised; none of us were. If you can hit, you can hit. You could tell he was working out. This guy works hard. He works hard at his craft and has tremendous concentration and desire. He looked good. He looked like he never left.”

The hardest-hit ball Altuve had during his disappointing 2020 season was 107 mph off the bat in a year when his hard-hit percentage was 36 percent and average exit velocity was 86.1 mph. Entering Monday, his hard-hit percentage was 46 percent and his average exit velocity was 88.0 mph, so those numbers are set to rise.

“The game looked a little fast in the beginning, but I had to slow down a little bit,” he said. “I got used to it. I’m happy to get back on the field.”

Altuve felt so fresh that he tried to steal third base in the sixth inning, but he was thrown out easily. His steal in the first inning was his first since last season.

“The pitcher was taking a lot of time to throw the ball and it seems like I had a lot of adrenaline today because it was two weeks without playing,” Altuve said. “I just decided to go, and I tried again and couldn’t make it. That’s part of the game.”

While he was out, Altuve took hundreds of swings on a tee in his backyard. He also watched all 10 games that he missed on television and tried to stay engaged in every pitch as much as he could to be ready for Monday’s return.

“It kind of helps you think about your approach, what you want to do when you come back,” he said. “I had a lot of [thoughts] going through my mind in the two weeks. I’m happy I had a good game, but tomorrow's another day and hopefully I keep swinging the bat to continue to score some runs for the boys.”

That would be just fine with Baker.

“That’s a life saver,” he said. “He came right back the way he left. He was on the base a lot, hit balls hard, stole a base, and we were a little worried about his wind and his legs, but he appeared to come out of this well. That was a big win for us to get us back to .500 (11-11), especially chasing one of the teams that’s in front of us.”