Notes: Alvarez arrives; James update; rest plan

February 15th, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros designated hitter , the 2019 American League Rookie of the Year, arrived at camp Saturday and made a very quick impression on new manager Dusty Baker.

“He walked up to me and I didn’t know if he was a two-guard or what he was,” Baker said. “He’s a man.”

The 6-foot-5 Alvarez made a huge impact last year with the Astros, hitting .313 in 87 games with 26 doubles, 27 homers, 78 RBIs and 52 walks. Alvarez’s 1.067 OPS was the best for a rookie in Major League history. Alvarez said he spent the offseason working on agility with hopes of playing more outfield this year and not being limited to DH.

“They haven’t really told me I’d be playing a lot more outfield, but I felt good today," he said.

Alvarez struggled in the playoffs last year, hitting .241 with a .668 OPS and one homer in 58 at-bats, which came in Game 5 of the World Series. He’s anticipating ups and downs in his first full season in the big leagues, too.

“I think in general, during the playoffs, I was trying to do exactly what I did during the regular season, but there were times offensively I wasn’t where I needed to be,” he said. “I kind of make some adjustments and learn as I went.”

James a rotation candidate?

Hard-throwing right-hander was working out of the full windup during his first bullpen session of the spring on Friday, which is an indication the Astros plan to stretch him out this spring to be a starter. James entered camp last year competing for a rotation spot, but a right quad injury early in the spring derailed those plans.

“Right now, I’m not feeling too comfortable out of the windup because I’ve been primarily in the stretch, especially being a reliever all year last year, so just some stuff to work out of the windup to get comfortable,” he said.

James spent his first full season in the big leagues last year and posted a 4.70 ERA in 49 games (one start) with 100 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings. James went on the injured list in July with right arm fatigue after his velocity dropped, and he returned on Sept. 1. Baker took notice of the glove popping with James throwing Friday.

“I was impressed,” he said. “First time I’ve seen him throw. I’ve seen him on TV. I’ve seen all these guys throw on TV. We’ve got some good arms here. We just have to guide them in the right direction and hopefully we come up with quite a bit of quality.”

The candidates for the fifth spot, along with James, are likely limited to Austin Pruitt and Framber Valdez, with Brad Peacock behind in his throwing program. Peacock experienced some shoulder pain early in the offseason and been rehabbing all winter. He expects to be ready for the start of the season.

Baker a proponent for rest

Former Astros manager AJ Hinch was a proponent of giving players regular days off, and Dusty Baker agrees. Baker said regular players would likely play about 150 games this season, meaning they would get two days off a month.

“I believe in rest days and I believe in telling guys when they have rest days,” he said. “There’s mental rest days, there’s baseball rest days, there’s days you say, ‘Hey man, go out and have a good meal and a couple of drinks and let your hair down a little bit and you won’t be off for another couple of weeks.’”

Baker said he learned from Hank Aaron, his teammate with the Braves early in his career, the importance of getting some regular rest. He says the days of Cal Ripken Jr. playing 162 games year in and year out are over.

“[Aaron said] there are 150 games but there are 12 games, at least, you’re out there and you’re nothing more than a name on the lineup sheet,” he said. “There are 12 days out there you maybe shouldn’t be out there. You’ve got to mix in some other guys to be out there, too. He taught that me that two days off a month mentally or physically was 150 games and that’s plenty.”