Notes: Mendez visits; Tucker's struggles; injuries

March 4th, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Astros received a special message Wednesday morning from Rob Mendez, who gained national attention last year at the ESPYs when he won the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance. Mendez became a high school football coach despite being born with no arms and legs.

Growing up in the Bay Area, Mendez was a huge fan of the San Francisco Giants and their manager, Dusty Baker, and they met for the first time Wednesday through a mutual friend. Mendez, who has since switched allegiances to the Astros, spoke to the team before it took the field Wednesday morning.

“I wanted to get across to play with your heart and passion and truly appreciate yourself, don’t take it for granted,” he said. “Play with your heart. They’ve got a lot to prove this year. They’re in a unique situation. I think it’s going to be a good platform for them to really prove themselves this year again. I truly believe in them. I think they’re going to go all the way again.”

Mendez, 31, was born without limbs due to a rare disorder called Tetra-amelia syndrome. He learned the fundamentals of football by playing video games and became the manager of his high school football team and later served as quarterbacks coach. A career was born. He’s the head coach of the junior varsity team at Prospect High School in Saratoga, Calif.

“It was very inspirational,” outfielder Josh Reddick said.

Despite having delivered a moving speech on TV last year in front of millions, Mendez said talking to Major League players was nerve-wracking.

“When you first get to know people, it’s a little bit quiet, but after a while the questions start flowing,” he said. “They were asking me a lot about my video-game skills. I mentioned FIFA [the soccer video game] in there and one of the players gave me a challenge. I forgot who it was, but [Justin] Verlander was kind of being the instigator, so that was cool.”

Tucker’s struggles
Baker doesn’t seem too worried about the early-spring funk of outfielder Kyle Tucker, who was hitless in his first 16 at-bats of Grapefruit League play. Tucker seems to have a spot locked up on the big league club, and he will push for playing time in right field with Reddick, but there’s progress that needs to be made at the plate.

Baker said he sees signs that Tucker’s long left-handed swing is coming around.

“That’s why I’m trying to give him as much time to get ready as possible, because he’s a long-lever guy and the long-lever guys tend to take longer, just like older players take longer to get their timing and get warmed up,” Baker said. “The shorter-lever guys tend to have a shorter stroke, tend to get it quicker than the guys like him being a longer-lever guy.”

Baker said there’s still plenty of time for players to get their timing.

“Some guys need more reps than others,” he said.

Alvarez sits again
Baker said before Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Marlins that designated hitter Yordan Alvarez, the 2019 American League Rookie of the Year Award winner, will be kept off his feet for three or four days to allow a pair of sore knees to heal. Alvarez, who battled knee issues last year, was scratched from the lineup Tuesday with sore knees and won’t do baseball drills until the weekend, at the earliest.

“We’re trying to get that soreness to subside,” Baker said. “We’re going to take it easy on him in the three days at least.”

Meanwhile, catcher Martín Maldonado, who was also scratched from Tuesday’s game (sore left thumb), said he expects to be able to play Friday. Maldonado took a foul tip off the thumb while catching Sunday and aggravated it when he caught an errant fastball later in the game. Maldonado said he would be playing if it was the regular season.

“He’s a big part of this team, so we’re trying to make sure that’s right, but also get his work in at the same time,” Baker said.

Finally, All-Star second baseman José Altuve returned to workouts Wednesday after being sent home earlier in the week with an undisclosed illness. It was a similar illness to what sidelined third baseman Alex Bregman a few days prior. Altuve is expected to play Friday.

Up next
Right-hander Josh James, who's competing with Austin Pruitt and Framber Valdez to be the fifth starter, will make his second start of the spring when the Astros travel across the state to face the Red Sox in Fort Myers at 12:05 p.m. CT on Thursday. James threw two scoreless innings in his first start Friday against the Marlins. None of the Astros' core position players are making the trip to face Boston.