Altuve (fractured thumb) to have surgery, 'no timeline' yet

March 19th, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- For the first time in more than a decade, won’t be starting at second base for the Astros on Opening Day.

Astros general manager Dana Brown said Sunday the star second baseman will have to undergo surgery in the “upcoming days” for a fractured right thumb suffered when he was struck by a pitch in the World Baseball Classic on Saturday night. Brown said an MRI and X-ray diagnosed the break. Altuve was seen by team doctors upon arriving at the team’s facility at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Sunday morning.

“It’s a massive blow,” Brown said. “Right now, there’s no timeline because the doctor’s got to go in and get this deal done. It’s unfortunate that it is a fracture that was revealed by the MRI and he’s going to have to have surgery on it.”

Altuve exited during the fifth inning of Venezuela’s game Saturday against the U.S. after a 95.9 mph Daniel Bard fastball struck the eight-time All-Star on his right hand. Altuve said he knew right away the injury was severe. Phillies star Bryce Harper missed two months last year with a broken thumb, but each injury is different.

"Obviously, nobody wants to get hurt and start the season on the IL," Altuve said Sunday. "I want to control what I can control, and that's recover fast and get back to the team."

Altuve, entering his 13th season with the Astros, is coming off a terrific season in which he hit .300 with 28 homers, 57 RBIs, 18 stolen bases, 103 runs scored and a .920 OPS in 2022, helping the Astros win their second World Series title in six seasons. Altuve is a career .307/.362/.468 hitter and won American League Most Valuable Player honors in 2017.

“He’s one of the best players in the world, a leader for this team,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I’m super sorry for him. I think he came into Spring Training in great shape. He was playing great. In the WBC, he was on base all the time. I know he’ll come back stronger from it, and he’ll be ready to help us as soon as he gets back.”

The loss of Altuve not only leaves a hole at second base, but also at the top of the Astros’ batting order, where Altuve was a mainstay. He hit leadoff 137 times last year, with Jeremy Peña and Chas McCormick having the second-most leadoff starts (eight). Altuve’s loss reverberates through the entire lineup.

“We’ve got to put our heads together and find out what we can do and who we can do it with, and for an extended period of time,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “That’s a big loss. We have to come together as a unit and pick him up. I’ve lost some players in the past -- a few of this magnitude. I’ve got to put my thinking cap on.”

The Astros will first turn to utility players and , who started at second base in Sunday’s 5-4 loss the Marlins. Dubón has 30 career starts at second, and Hensley has started at second 78 times in the Minor Leagues. , claimed off waivers from the Cubs in December, has 123 starts at second in the Minor Leagues. Non-roster invitee Dixon Machado is in the mix, as well.

“We’re going to look internally first,” Brown said. “We have a good, core group of guys here. No matter who we go out and get it’s going to be a lesser Jose Altuve because he’s such a great player. We’ll exhaust what we have here in the organization because we do have some good players and we’ve always been interested in depth, and sometimes to acquire that depth you have to go outside the organization.”

Venezuela was trailing, 5-3, at the time of Altuve's injury, but rallied later in the frame to erase the deficit. The USA rallied back in the eighth inning, when Trea Turner crushed a grand slam to send his squad to the next round with a 9-7 victory, handing Venezuela its first loss of the tournament.

Altuve showed up to the Astros' facility Sunday morning, trying to manage a smile through his pain.

“We were having a great time, we were playing for our country and excited about it,” Altuve said. “I got hit and I’m going to miss some time, but you just focus on the recovery and get back to the field as soon as you can and go from there.”