Díaz mashes twice, but Astros drop slugfest

August 1st, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- hasn’t missed a beat.

Díaz, who returned from the injured list earlier this week after missing more than a month, followed up Jose Altuve’s two-homer night on Friday with two big flies of his own in the Astros’ 8-6 loss to the Giants on Saturday afternoon at Oracle Park in a game that featured eight home runs. For Houston’s jack of all trades, his two homers were just the latest exhibition of his value.

“We’re glad to have him back,” said manager Dusty Baker. “You can tell his legs are fresh. He’s sharp. He had a heck of a day. I mean, a heck of a day.”

On a team that rolls out a lineup filled with star power on the daily, Díaz has carved out a niche as an invaluable cog.

Díaz has pushed the boundaries of the term “super-utility player” this season, seeing time at first base, second base, third base, shortstop, left field and right field. The only other players across the league to have spent time at those seven positions are the Rangers’ Charlie Culberson and, coincidentally, former Astro Marwin Gonzalez, now with the Red Sox. Baker said that Díaz has even offered to catch despite having never done it in the Minors.

With Alex Bregman on the injured list with a left quad strain, Díaz has taken over as the team’s starting third baseman, the position at which he’s most adept defensively (two Defensive Runs Saved this season entering Saturday). And when Bregman comes back into the fold, Díaz will once again assume the rule of being the ultimate jack of all trades.

“He takes pride in that,” Baker said. “He wants to be one of the best at it. He works at it during batting practice all over the field. His mental preparation and physical preparation make it conducive for him to play all those positions, and that’s really hard to do.”

The one game that most speaks to Díaz’s all-around value to this team was the Astros’ 13-1 win over the Blue Jays on June 4. Díaz started the day at third base, but he also spent time at first and second before the day was over. Oh, and Díaz had three hits as well.

“When he’s on the field, he’s extremely valuable," said bench coach Joe Espada after Díaz homered in Friday's Astros victory. "He’s a winner. He’s got experience. He fits right in to what we’re trying to do here. When he’s on the field, I can’t speak more highly of him because of how special he is. His versatility is key for our success.”

For all Díaz does with his glove, the attention in recent days has centered on his bat. Since returning from the injured list on Tuesday, Díaz has gone 8-for-19 with three home runs and eight RBIs, totaling at least two hits and driving in at least one run in every game.

“I heard he didn’t get many hits [with Triple-A Sugar Land], but I knew that he was going to get hits here,” Baker said. “He can hit.”

Given how balls were flying out of Oracle Park on Saturday, however, Díaz’s multi-homer performance almost got lost in the shuffle.

Díaz was responsible for two of Saturday’s eight home runs, matching a record for the most home runs hit in a single game at historically pitcher-friendly Oracle Park. The Astros clubbed three -- the other coming from Martín Maldonado, who was slotted behind starter Zack Greinke in the lineup -- while the Giants launched five, highlighted by LaMonte Wade Jr.’s first career splash hit into McCovey Cove.

“It’s usually impossible to hit homers here,” Greinke said after giving up four home runs for the first time since Opening Day 2019 with the D-backs.

One of those home runs was surrendered by newly-acquired reliever Yimi García, one of the four relievers the Astros acquired in recent days. Phil Maton (from Cleveland) made his Houston debut on Saturday -- pitching a scoreless fifth -- along with García, while Kendall Graveman (from Seattle) debuted on Friday, an exhibition of the new arms Baker will have at his disposal.

“The three guys that have pitched over the last couple days have done well,” Baker said.

While Houston brought in plenty of relief help, bringing back Díaz from the IL earlier this week was almost like an acquisition in and of itself. The Astros are glad to have Díaz back, and over the past couple days, his play has shown just what he can provide.