Alvarez in a 'funk'; 'pen searches for answers

May 23rd, 2021

ARLINGTON -- Astros manager Dusty Baker said Sunday he briefly considered playing designated hitter Yordan Alvarez in the outfield against the Rangers, but instead decided to give him a day off. Baker wanted to get veteran outfielder Michael Brantley off his feet for a day and wound up putting him at DH, with Chas McCormick making his second consecutive start in the outfield.

Alvarez hasn’t played the outfield since the 2019 season and underwent surgery on both knees last year, which has made Baker even more hesitant to put him in the outfield. Still, when the Astros travel to a National League park and lose the DH, they would like a way to keep Alvarez’s bat in the lineup.

Alvarez is 3-for-21 on the road trip with four RBIs and eight strikeouts and is hitless in his last 10 at-bats heading into Sunday.

“He’s in a funk,” Baker said. “He’s a little bit lost right now. He’s late on fastballs and early on breaking balls and that’s a funk. … Today’s a work day. We’ve got to get him right.”

Baker searching for bullpen combination

The Astros’ bullpen had blown saves in four of the team’s previous six games prior to Sunday, including the losses to the Rangers on Friday and Saturday. The struggles of the bullpen are a growing concern for the Astros, whose key bullpen winter acquisition -- Pedro Báez -- has yet to appear in a game because of COVID-19 and a shoulder injury.

Astros relievers have posted a 5.96 ERA in the team’s last seven games prior to Sunday, allowing 22 hits, 13 walks and hitting two batters in 22 2/3 innings in that span.

“It’s real tough, but nobody feels sorry for you, so you can’t feel sorry for yourself,” Baker said. “We shot ourselves in the foot a few times, especially with bases on balls at the wrong time.”

Right-handers Enoli Paredes and Andre Scrubb, who were among a group of young relievers who flourished in their Major League debuts last year, have battled injuries and inconsistency so far in 2021. Paredes has walked 10 batters in 3 1/3 innings and Scrubb has walked four in 10 innings.

“We got quite a few guys doing their jobs well, and we’ve got a few guys scuffling,” Scrubb said. “If this game was easy, everyone could go out there and get your three outs and walk off the field. … We’ve got each other’s backs, and we’re going to be better and better every time out.”

Injury rehab updates

• Saturday’s rainout at Triple-A Sugar Land has forced the Astros to push back the rehab stints of their two starting pitchers who are there. Left-hander Framber Valdez (broken left ring finger suffered March 2) is scheduled to throw about 65 pitches or four innings in a rehab start Sunday and right-hander Jake Odorizzi (right pronator strain) will throw 75-80 pitches in his second rehab outing in the first game of a doubleheader Monday.