Diaz looks to crack crowded Astros lineup

April 7th, 2019

HOUSTON -- Because the Astros are carrying 13 position players this year -- they have typically carried 12 position players and 13 pitchers in years past -- finding a way to get the non-starters consistent playing time in the first two weeks of the season has been a challenge. is a prime example.

Diaz, acquired from the Blue Jays in November as the so-called replacement for super-utility player , made his first career Major League start at first base Sunday against the A’s. Diaz hadn’t seen the field in any capacity in a week after going 0-for-9 while starting each of Houston’s first three games -- two at shortstop and one at second base.

That being said, Astros manager AJ Hinch said Diaz’s lack of playing time has been about his willingness to keep his core players in the lineup.

“We have a really difficult team to crack when it comes to our everyday lineup with Yuli [Gurriel] and Jose [Altuve] and Carlos [Correa] and Alex [Bregman],” he said. “It makes for the utility part of that and moving around the field very difficult to get regular playing time. One of the benefits of him maybe playing a little bit of left field and now first base, if I can give Yuli a day off or DH one of these guys, I can get [Diaz] in there.”

Diaz played some first base during Spring Training, but not much. He worked at the position this spring with Astros bench coach Joe Espada.

“The transition to first will be a little bit easier for him,” Hinch said. “He’s been doing a lot of work virtually every day at first base. I don’t have any concerns.”

Diaz, an All-Star with the Cardinals two years ago, has played primarily shortstop, but has significant time at third base, as well as a few big-league appearances in left field and second base. In 130 games for the Blue Jays last season, he hit .263 with 26 doubles, 18 homers, 55 RBIs and a .756 OPS.

“The real question with him offensively will be whether or not he can not play every single day and have the type of at-bats he’s had in the past,” Hinch said. “He’s been so used to playing every day. You accumulate all these at-bats -- the 18 homers last year, the really good at-bats -- you get a bunch of at-bats in a row. The most difficult thing to do is maintain that while not playing every single day.”

The same goes for and , who are both at their best when playing every day but can’t get consistent at-bats in a deep Houston lineup. Hinch said there’s a chance Kemp won’t start against the Yankees, who come to town for a three-game series Monday.

“It’s easy to say 'Play your bench' until you realize who you’re taking out of the lineup,” said Hinch.