Notes: Brantley update; Castro gets start

April 4th, 2021

Astros manager Dusty Baker said Sunday morning he hopes starting left fielder will be able to return to the lineup Tuesday against the Angels. The Astros got a scare in the second inning of Saturday’s win over the A’s when Brantley was struck on the right wrist by a pitch and was removed from the game. X-rays were negative.

“He’s a lot better than he was yesterday,” Baker said. “When he’s coming back, it just depends on his body and how he heals. We dodged a major bullet by him having no fractures or broken wrists or anything like that. I’m sure his bone is bruised and whenever you have a bone bruise, different people heal at different time intervals. We’ve just got to wait and see on a daily basis without rushing him back.”

Brantley crushed the ball in the first two games of the season, going 6-for-9 with four doubles. Even his outs were hit hard. His average exit velocity was 101.6 mph on batted balls in the first two games and his hard-hit percentage was 87.5, which was in the top two percent of the league.

With Brantley out, rookie Chas McCormick made his first Major League start in left field Sunday. McCormick made his debut as a defensive replacement Thursday and came off the bench Saturday after Brantley left the game and went 1-for-3 with an RBI double.

“He’s still a younger player and still excitable, which he should be,” Baker said.

Castro finally gets his chance

In his first start of the season, veteran backstop Jason Castro hit a two-run home run in the top of the second inning Sunday. After starting on Opening Day for nine consecutive seasons, Castro took a back seat to Martín Maldonado this year as he returned to Houston, where he began his career after being taken in the first round from Stanford University.

Maldonado, who started 46 of 60 games for the Astros in the regular season last year, was behind the plate for Houston’s first three games of the regular season, with Castro getting the start in Sunday’s series finale in Oakland. Castro started on Opening Day for the Astros from 2012-16, the Twins from 2017-19 and the Angels last year.

“The last couple of years, I’ve kind of been part of a little bit more of a split [platoon], so I don’t think it will be something that’s not too outside of the norm,” Castro said. “Just collaborating and making sure I’m involved from a game-planning standpoint and working with the pitchers. … Even if I’m not catching that day, from the side and things I see, there’s always a way to contribute, even if you’re not necessarily on the field that specific day.”

Castro (803) and Maldonado (709) are one of two catching tandems in the big leagues with at least 400 games caught between them entering 2021. The other is Al Avila (902) and Yan Gomes (721) of the Washington Nationals.

Young arms get first fan experience

The Astros had 10 rookie pitchers make their Major League debuts last year, which came without fans in the stands because of the coronavirus pandemic. Pitching coach Brent Strom categorized it as a “soft landing,” and several of those young arms, including Enoli Paredes and Blake Taylor, have returned to the mound this season in a hostile environment in Oakland with fans.

“It’s still a learning process for them,” Maldonado said. “They’ve got to find a way to calm down a little bit more. It’s good we got them in early, especially in a long season. I feel like Paredes was trying to do too much because of the atmosphere. My job is to keep talking to them and make sure they understand the louder it gets, the calmer you’ve got to be.”

Paredes said he wasn’t nervous when he pitched one inning in relief Thursday in Oakland but was definitely excited.

“After that, I forgot about the fans and focused on the game,” Paredes said.