Jose Altuve appears on track to return to the Astros lineup next week, perhaps as early as Tuesday. He missed a 10th straight game because of a right knee sprain on Saturday while also taking a big step toward returning.
“He's looking pretty good,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He hit today in the cage, and that's a great indicator. We were curious to see how he's going to be, you know, swinging on that leg. He looked pretty good.”
He was scheduled to do running drills before Saturday’s game, but as Baker said, “He’s in good spirits, good frame of mind.”
Altuve is eligible to return from the injured list on Monday, which is an off-day for the Astros, who begin a six-game homestand against the Rangers and D-backs on Tuesday. Asked if he expected Altuve -- and reliever Blake Taylor -- to return during the homestand, Baker said, “Possibly, yeah.”
Justin Verlander, sidelined with a sore elbow, was scheduled to do a bullpen session on Saturday, and if that went well, he’d pitch to hitters in the next step of his attempt to return before the end of the regular season. “We don’t have any reports on him yet,” Baker said. “He’s progressing well.”
The Astros also have no idea when or if Lance McCullers Jr. will return. He reported relief after receiving an injection to calm down an inflamed nerve in his right elbow. But he has not yet begun a throwing program.
“If that nerve has calmed down, hopefully get him back on the mound here soon,” Baker said. “Like he said the other day, 95 percent of [the problem] was subsided. Now it’s that last 5 percent that’s the hardest and most important.”
The Astros have used 15 rookie pitchers this season, including five rookie starters, three of whom are in the club’s rotation. Ten of the 15 rookies made their Major League debut in 2020. Before this season, the franchise record for rookie pitchers was 13 in 2011.