The configuration of the Astros’ postseason roster in the American League Division Series may hinge on what happens in center field, where manager Dusty Baker has three players -- Chas McCormick, Mauricio Dubón and Jake Meyers -- capable of playing the position in the postseason.
The Astros must first decide how many pitchers to carry in a best-of-five series -- Houston had 12 pitchers and 14 position players for last year’s ALDS against the White Sox. McCormick provides the most offense and can play left field -- where Baker has said he’s better suited -- but Baker is a fan of Dubón’s versatility on the infield and has praised his arm in center. Dubón had been starting in center field in games Justin Verlander started down the stretch, though McCormick was in center Tuesday.
“There might be room for all three,” Baker said. “Depends on how many pitchers we take. Dubón plays infield and outfield. That’s something to be discussed. I’ve been trying to give all of them an opportunity to shine in that situation. ... Some have responded better than others. Some really weren’t ready to respond, in the case of Meyers. Is he ready now? That’s something we have to determine.”
Meyers was the starting center fielder in the playoffs last year and injured his shoulder making a catch in Game 4 of the 2021 ALDS, resulting in surgery to repair a torn labrum. After a late start to the regular season and a 20-day rehab stint at Triple-A, Meyers returned to the Astros on June 24 and struggled. He struck out 50 times in 149 plate appearances and didn’t throw the ball well. Baker thinks Meyers came back too soon, and Astros general manager James Click said the team is reviewing its return-to-play procedure.
“He wasn’t ready,” Baker said. “There’s a certain thing called reps. You’ve got to have reps. That’s what Spring Training is for, to build your reps.”
Meyers responded well in his return to Triple-A in late August, hitting .337 with five doubles, four homers, 14 RBIs and 19 walks in 24 games. He rejoined the Astros last week and went 2-for-3 in his first start Saturday.
“It helped me focus on what I needed to focus on to get me to a better place,” Meyers said of his stint in the Minors. “It’s something that helped me slow the game down a little bit, and using some of the stuff I learned and bringing it back up to here is really the goal.”
The Astros are still searching for consistency in center field since losing George Springer after the 2020 season. They traded away center fielders Myles Straw in 2021 and Jose Siri this year, both excellent defenders, while showing their faith in Meyers.
“Jake is one of the premier athletes in our organization, and seeing that athleticism come through on the field is what we're really looking for, and just making sure that he is back to normal,” Click said Sunday on the team’s pregame radio show on 790-AM in Houston. “Because you know, he did not look normal the first time that he was up here, and so hopefully that reset button down there in Triple-A worked.”
If the Astros decide to carry McCormick and Meyers -- and not Dubón -- rookie David Hensley could provide the same infield versatility that Dubón gives them, but with more offense. He can play all four infield spots and even left field. That would allow the Astros to have Meyers come off the bench as a late-game defensive replacement or pinch-runner.
“He’s made a real good case,” Baker said of Hensley, who is hitting .321 (9-for-28) entering Wednesday. “He’s played well. At the plate, you wouldn’t know he’s a rookie because he’s very confident. Again, all this is going to boil down to how many position guys we take.”