CLEVELAND -- Considering he didn't make the Astros' roster to begin the season, Tony Kemp's first career postseason start in Monday's Game 3 of the American League Division Series is a credit to his perseverance and determination. Kemp started at designated hitter, batting ninth.
"One of the most disappointing parts of the spring was having to tell him he didn't make our team," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "All he did was go down and outperform the league in Triple-A and wait for his opportunity. When his opportunity came, it was the first time that he had a legit chance to play and play pretty regularly. Maybe not every single day, maybe not every single opportunity, but there was something."
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Kemp, a fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2013, had appeared in 76 games for the Astros in the previous two years before was called up on May 26. He wound up playing in 97 games and providing quality at-bats, especially from the nine-hole in the order. By the time the playoffs rolled around, he was a no-brainer to make the ALDS roster.
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"What he did was come in and convince me and the coaching staff that he could be a valuable part of a really good team," Hinch said. "I'm really proud of the mindset that he took, for the patience that he showed and ultimately for the production. I mean, this guy came in and I don't know how many games this season he became a sparkplug for us or lead off an inning or get up and get a big pinch-hit and move them around the field a little bit. Great attitude, great approach. Really valuable player."
Marwin making mark in outfield
For an infielder, Marwin Gonzalez has forged quite a career as one of the Astros' top outfielder performers in playoff history. Gonzalez made his 20th career postseason outfield start in Game 3 of the ALDS, which is the fourth most in club history. George Springer, who started his 27th game in the outfield on Monday, has the most.
Gonzalez, who was acquired by the Astros only hours after Jeff Luhnow took over as general manager in December 2011, has played every position other than catcher and pitcher in his career. He started every game for Houston in the postseason last year -- all but one start in left field -- and hit the biggest homer in franchise history, a game-tying ninth-inning blast off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen in Game 2 of last year World Series.
"When I first got here in 2015, he was an early conversation that I had, because he wanted to know where he fit in," Hinch said.
Gonzalez had played only four games in the outfield in his big league prior to Hinch's arrival as manager in 2015, and with Jose Altuve entrenched at second base, shortstop Carlos Correa arriving in the big leagues in '15 and third baseman Alex Bregman coming a year later, the Astros shifted Gonzalez to first base. Last year, he became the team's left fielder down the stretch.
"It became a running joke," Hinch said. "He had an outfield glove, an infield glove, a first-base glove. We had him catch a couple bullpens. I told him all that mattered was he'd get an opportunity somewhere. ... It speaks to his baseball acumen and his athleticism, his value to us. He's the answer.
"It's no disrespect to him that he's not the primary reason that you play a position. But when Correa went down early in his career, Marwin can play short. When Jose went on the DL for the first time this season, Marwin can play second. When we needed him at first or third or left, he was there. I put him in center this year. I think I may have even played him in right field. He's a fantasy baseball dream and also a manager's dream. He's the answer for everything."
Hinch proud of Kratz
Brewers catcher Erik Kratz became the oldest player since 1905 to make his postseason debut on Friday in the National League Division Series against the Rockies, and he came up with a two-run single in Milwaukee's win in Game 2. Kratz spent 14 games with the Astros in 2016 and is most notably known for tripping himself while running onto the field during pregame introductions on Opening Day that season to settle a bet.
The Astros acquired Kratz late in Spring Training in 2016 when Max Stassi got hurt, but they released him two months later. He's since played with six organizations since leaving Houston, but Hinch is thrilled to see Kratz finally earn some spotlight for something other than his on-field prank with the Astros.
"I've texted back and forth with him like I do a lot of our players or ex-players," Hinch said. "I still remember him running out for intros and falling down to win a bet. I'll always remember that. But I watch almost every pitch that I can [of the playoffs]. I'm a baseball enthusiast, a baseball fan. … He was a proud Astro, so I'm happy when guys succeed when they go elsewhere."