Can Bregman return to '19 form? 'Maybe a little bit better'

March 14th, 2022

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Alex Bregman played coy, choosing his words carefully and flashing a sly grin from time to time. There was no doubt the Astros’ star third baseman was feeling great following a challenging 2021 season that ended with him having surgery on his hand on Nov. 8, but Bregman wants to let his performance do the talking.

“I feel amazing,” he said Monday. “Just excited to be here and get to see everybody again, get on the field and get some good work in today. I thought we had a great, quality workout as a team. Personally, I feel amazing.”

That’s huge news for the Astros, who are relying on Bregman to once again be a potent middle-of-the-order bat, especially following the departure of Carlos Correa in free agency (Correa remains unsigned). Last year, Bregman not only battled through a hand injury, but he missed 58 games with a strained left quad.

Bregman batted .270 with 12 homers and 55 RBIs in 91 games last year. He was out from June 17-Aug. 24 with a quad injury and hit .379 with three homers and 17 RBIs in his first 18 games off the injured list. With the hand bothering him, he struggled down the stretch, hitting .113 with two homers in his final 53 at-bats of the regular season. He batted .217 with one homer and seven RBIs in 16 playoff games.

So how much did the hand affect Bregman’s performance last year?

“I don’t know. I’m not sure,” Bregman said. “Maybe a little, but I’m just thankful for Dr. [Tom] Mehlhoff, [the team orthopedist]. He did a great job on it. The recovery process was awesome. I had a lot of people back in Houston who helped me out through the recovery process. It was sweet.”

After a tremendous 2019 season, in which Bregman finished a close second to Mike Trout in the American League Most Valuable Player race with a 1.015 OPS, he’s had two injury-filled years. He had hamstring issues in ‘20 before last year’s quadriceps and hand injuries. He refuses to use them as an excuse and said he used the offseason to get as “athletic” as possible.

“It was frustrating, but also it makes feeling good again and feeling healthy and the process of getting back healthy extremely enjoyable,” he said. “Right now, I’m more motivated than I’ve ever been, and I feel like I put myself in great position with the training I put in this offseason. Yeah, it’s more exciting than anything. Obviously, it’s frustrating the last two years, but it just makes this year that much more exciting.”

Bregman said he finally has his strength back in his right hand and is able to grip the bat harder than he did last year. He said the hand started bothering him early in the season and then flared up again as the season moved into September and the playoffs.

“It went away, and then it came back in a big way,” he said.

Unless the Astros pull of a surprise and re-sign Correa, Bregman will be playing on the left side of the infield with a different starting shortstop for the first time in his professional career. That figures to be either prospect Jeremy Peña or a combination of Peña and veterans Aldemys Díaz and Niko Goodrum, who’s agreed to a one-year deal.

The loss of Correa -- an All-Star last year who won the Platinum Glove in the AL -- will be very hard to replace, but that hasn’t diminished Bregman’s optimism for the Astros this season. The Astros are again the team to beat in the AL West and are aiming for their sixth consecutive trip to the AL Championship Series.

“I like what we’ve got going on here,” he said. “I think we’ve got a great mindset coming into camp. I think everybody is really prepared. Normally, the first few weeks of camp you build up and get ramped up and get going, but I think the guys showed up as ready as you would be this time for a normal Spring Training. Overall, great vibe here in his camp. A lot of guys are working hard and getting here early and leaving late. You love to see that.” 

Which begs the question: Can Bregman return to his 2019 form?

“Yeah,” he said, “maybe a little bit better.”