Notes: Alvarez feeling better; Hughes’ game face

March 10th, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- , who has been sidelined for more than a week with the same knee soreness that hampered him toward the end of last season, could be nearing a return to game action.

"I've been working hard, been resting it and I'm feeling better now," Alvarez said through an interpreter.

Alvarez last played on March 1, when he went 0-for-2 in a home game with the Cardinals. He’s missed seven games since, including the Astros’ 2-1 win over the Tigers on Monday. It was believed that Alvarez’s next at-bats could arrive as early as Wednesday, but manager Dusty Baker said on Tuesday that Alvarez would not play then, adding that he was uncertain as to when Alvarez will return.

Alvarez admitted earlier this spring he was hampered for much of the 2019 season with the same knee pain. That discomfort has apparently lingered and seeped into his preparation during Spring Training.

"It's very similar to the same pain I was feeling last year," he said.

For now, Baker doesn't foresee the lengthy layoff affecting Alvarez's chances to be ready when the regular season begins, but that could change as Opening Day gets closer.

"We're hoping he's ready," Baker said. "But if he's not ready we'll have to go in another direction until he is ready. But right now, we're planning on getting him ready the next two weeks."

From the pitching side, reliever Brad Peacock is also nearing a return to the field.

The right-hander has been limited to bullpen sessions this spring while working through neck soreness, but Peacock estimated there would be enough time for him to make around three Grapefruit League appearances -- plenty to be ready for the season.

"I feel great so far," he said. "As long as it feels good, I'll be fine."

Comic reliever
is well-known for his friendliness and sense of humor, the latter of which can come in handy this time of year. Spring Training tends to become a little monotonous for ballplayers who have been doing the same thing, every day, for nearly a month, and having someone to provide some chuckles is often appreciated inside the confines of a Major League clubhouse.

Example A -- Hughes spent a good portion of the early-morning hours on Monday signing his autograph cards for teammates, personalizing each one, and handing them out as players filtered in and went to their lockers.

It was sort of the ballplayer's version of passing Valentine's Day notes to classmates.

"This is the face I made when I first saw your curveball," Hughes wrote to .

By around 10 a.m. ET, about a dozen lockers were adorned with a photo of Hughes. His posed expression is the hook. He's not smiling. But he's not really frowning, either. He's just trying to look ... intimidating.

The pictures used for players’ autograph cards are taken each year on Photo Day, and distributed to scoreboard operators throughout the league. They end up everywhere, including on the main scoreboard during player introductions and when a reliever runs in from the bullpen.

That’s why Hughes wears such an unhappy expression when he poses -- his goal is to mask his nice guy-ness to opponents when he sprints to the mound. To let everyone know he means business.

"This is kind of my thing," Hughes said. "Everybody knows me as a nice guy. So I want to switch when I'm on the field. I don't want anyone to know that I'm not a nice guy."

But this plan sort of backfires. Hughes doesn't look menacing in the photo as much as he looks like a nice guy trying unsuccessfully to look menacing.

He'll keep doing it, though.

"If you look back in the day, no one smiled for photos," Hughes said. "We're doing it now. A hundred years down the road, people are going be like, 'That guy had it figured out.'"

Roster trimming
The Astros sent two pitchers and two position players to Minor League camp before Monday’s game. Infielder Taylor Jones and right-handers Enoli Paredes and Nivaldo Rodriguez were optioned, while catcher Chuckie Robinson was reassigned. There are now 48 players remaining in Major League camp -- 22 pitchers and 26 position players.

Up next
The Astros are slated for split-squad action on Tuesday, with half the team heading to North Port, Fla., to face the Braves and the other half staying at home to host the Mets. Right-hander Josh James, a rotation candidate, gets the start against Atlanta, with righty Mike Soroka taking the mound for the Braves. In West Palm Beach, Astros lefty and rotation hopeful Framber Valdez will face the Mets, who will counter righty Rick Porcello. Both games are slated for 1:05 p.m. ET. Listen live on Gameday Audio.