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Versatile Diaz close to returning to Astros

@brianmctaggart
July 20, 2019

HOUSTON -- The Astros could welcome veteran infielder Aledmys Díaz off the injured list in the next couple of days, manager AJ Hinch said Saturday. Diaz, who has been out since May 26 with a left hamstring strain, is on Minor League rehab at Double-A Corpus Christi after playing two

HOUSTON -- The Astros could welcome veteran infielder Aledmys Díaz off the injured list in the next couple of days, manager AJ Hinch said Saturday. Diaz, who has been out since May 26 with a left hamstring strain, is on Minor League rehab at Double-A Corpus Christi after playing two games at Triple-A Round Rock.

“For him, it’s more of a day-to-day assessment of where he’s at and how he’s doing,” Hinch said. “He’s going to play first base and left field today, and then we’ll make an evaluation tomorrow on how he’s doing. If he needs more time in the Minor Leagues, he can play next week. If he’s ready to come back, we’ll bring him back.”

Diaz, acquired from Toronto in an offseason trade, was hitting .286 with five homers, 22 RBIs and an .831 OPS in 32 games before his injury. The Astros have missed his bat and versatility. He can play all four infield spots, as well as some left field. Infielder Tyler White was designated for assignment following the Astros' game Friday so they could call up Jose Urquidy to start Saturday, but the anticipation of Diaz’s return was also a reason for the move.

When Diaz is back, Yuli Gurriel can return to first base full time. There are few at-bats at DH with rookie Yordan Alvarez off to a historic start since he came up.

Meanwhile, shortstop Carlos Correa (broken rib) is continuing his rehab at Round Rock and is set to return to the lineup Friday -- his first day eligible after he was moved to the 60-day IL last week.

“He and I text every day, and we’ve talked to the coaching staff there,” Hinch said. “By video, he looks incredible. Sometimes, you come off of these injuries and you either catch your rhythm quickly or you need a little bit more time. It looks like Carlos came out looking really, really good. His movements are good. He’s playing with freedom. There’s no issue whatsoever. It’s a good sign for him.”

‘Brutal’ conversation with White

Hinch called the conversation he and president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow had with White “brutal.” The team essentially cut ties with White to call up Urquidy, but his days were numbered considering Diaz and Correa are close to returning.

“We just told him the way the roster was shaping up, we needed an extra pitcher today to start the game and over the next week we’re hoping to get Diaz and Correa back and the roster was going to squeeze him off the team,” Hinch said. “We thanked him for what he did. It puts his career in a little bit of a detour for now. We’ll see what happens to him over the next seven to 10 days.

“From a 33rd-round pick to the big leagues to a big splash when he first made the team to outperforming the Minor Leagues to coming back and literally carrying us as a DH last season to being out of a job and off our team, it’s a brutal conversation.”

White, 28, was slashing .225/.320/.330 with three homers and 21 RBIs in 218 at-bats this year, mainly split between first base and designated hitter. A 33rd-round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, White defied the odds by making the Opening Day roster in 2016 and was named American League Player of the Week in his first week in the big leagues.

After appearing in just 22 big-league games for the Astros in ’17, he hit .276 with an .888 OPS, 12 homers and 42 RBIs in 66 games last year, setting him up to begin this season as the team’s regular DH. When Diaz and Correa went out in May with hamstring injuries, White saw extensive time at first base. He also appeared in four games as a pitcher this year.

When a player's contract is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated "DFA" -- that player is immediately removed from his club's 40-man roster, and 25-man roster if he was on that, as well. Within seven days of the transaction -- it was previously 10 days -- the player must either be traded, released or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.

Hinch recalls time with Armstrong

As the city of Houston -- home to the Johnson Space Center and Mission Control -- on Saturday celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon, Hinch recalled a night he spent in December 1996 with Neil Armstrong -- the first man to walk on the moon.

Hinch met Armstrong at the wedding of current Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, whose wife, Molly, is Armstrong’s stepdaughter. Hinch was Van Wagenen’s best man, and they were teammates and roommates at Stanford.

“We went to a small wedding in Cincinnati with probably 70, 80 people and had a chance to go late into the night,” Hinch said. “At that time, we didn’t know the magnitude of hanging out with a couple of astronauts and hearing the stories from Neil and his friends. It was a remarkable time in this county’s history. We appreciate it more the older we get and the more we’re around and things we get to experience. …

“It’s fun to think back to that and I wish I had that night in 1996 back to ask him more questions. We probably would have stayed until the wee morning of the hours again. It would have been fun to revisit it.”

Armstrong threw out the ceremonial first pitch in the final Opening Day of the Astrodome in 1999. Armstrong, who was with 23 fellow astronauts on April 12, 1965 for the first National League game played in the Astrodome, was joined on the field in 1999 by 70 former astronauts and threw a one-hopper to Craig Biggio.

On Saturday, the Astros used commemorative bases in honor of the 50th anniversary of man walking on the moon that featured the first words spoken on the moon by Armstrong on July 20, 1969: “Houston, Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed.”

To help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and the first landing on the moon, the Astros will wear a special commemorative cap Monday that features the Apollo 11 mission logo on the front. Rick Armstrong, son of Neil Armstrong, will throw out the first pitch.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.