BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Since he turned 31 years old, Astros second baseman Jose Altuve is playing like the spry 27-year-old that won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2017. Altuve entered Saturday slashing .343/.429/.556 with seven homers and 17 RBIs in 26 games since he turned 31 on May 6.
Altuve entered his birthday in a 1-for-24 slump that he endured on the heels of a stint on the injured list with a positive COVID-19 test, though he said Saturday he suffered no symptoms. He broke the slump with a go-ahead, eighth-inning home run off Chad Green in Yankee Stadium on his birthday. Now, he ranks second in the AL in multihit games (20) and seventh in batting average (.302).
“I think the first five, six games after COVID were tough for me,” he said. “I feel OK the way I’m playing right now. I feel like I still can do good things for our team. I feel like it’s early to talk about numbers overall. I think we’re going to be good.”
Altuve has flourished since moving into the leadoff role this year with the departure of George Springer, who spent the weekend catching up with the Astros at Sahlen Field while he remains on the injured list. The Astros were 27-20 with Altuve leading off entering Saturday.
“It’s actually different,” Altuve said of leading off. “Sometimes you go out here and swing at the first pitch, but sometimes, I feel like I need to take pitches and let the boys see what the [pitcher] has. The main thing is trying to get on base. I have too many good hitters behind me. Right now, I don’t feel like I have to do a lot -- just get on base and they’ll do the rest.”
Altuve, the longest-tenured member of the Astros and one of five remaining from the Astros’ World Series championship team, will be curious to see what his club does at next month’s Trade Deadline. Houston is in the market for bullpen help, and a move or two could solidify it as a World Series contender.
“It’s going to be interesting to see,” he said “I’m not really good at analytics. I always think I know what the team is going to do, but they always surprise me. There’s a bunch of smart guys that are working day in and day out to get the team the way they want it to, and I know they’re going to do a good job trading. If they don’t trade, it’s because they think the team is good.”
Castro getting close to return off IL
Veteran catcher Jason Castro, who was placed on the 10-day injured list retroactive to May 25 with left Achilles’ soreness, did some drills on the field Saturday for the first time since he got hurt. He ran sprints and took batting practice, but the real test will come Sunday when he catches a bullpen session.
“It’s kind of the next step,” he said. “I ran on the field today, [took] BP and [had] no problems. I think we’re still kind of playing it by ear, but definitely getting close.”
Castro said there wasn’t one play or event he can point to that was responsible for his injury. He said he felt it during the team’s series in Arlington against the Rangers two weeks ago. That was the same series outfielder Michael Brantley injured his left hamstring, something the team says was a result of playing on artificial turf.
“It wasn’t one thing,” Castro said. “I was playing in Texas and waking up one of those days, it got really irritated. I don’t know if it was from the turf or something, but I irritated the bursa behind the Achilles. We’ve kind of gotten rid of all the inflammation, and it feels really good. It probably shouldn’t be too much longer.”
Castro, who has started 13 games this year, is slashing .271/.397/.479 with two homers and eight RBIs in 48 at-bats this year as the backup catcher.