Alvarez, Tucker injury scares further test Astros' depth

April 19th, 2023

HOUSTON -- One of the reasons the Astros rolled to 106 regular-season wins last year and ran roughshod through the Mariners, Yankees and Phillies in the postseason en route to a World Series championship was a roster that stayed remarkably healthy.

According to, the Astros had the third-fewest injury list days in the Major Leagues in 2022, with 15 different players combining to spend 863 days on the shelf. But '23 has come with some early blows for Houston.

All-Star second baseman and starting pitcher have been sidelined by ailments since the spring, and starting center fielder landed on the 10-day IL on Tuesday afternoon.

So when slugger turned his left ankle on an RBI single in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Blue Jays at Minute Maid Park and right-fielder fell in a heap at home plate moments later after fouling a ball off his right knee, the Astros feared the worst. And now they hope for the best.

“We don’t know yet,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said. “We’ll have to see the effects of tonight. You probably won’t know until [Wednesday] to see if they’re sore or not. I’m sure they’re going to be sore, but it depends how sore.”

Alvarez, who entered Tuesday tied for first in the Major Leagues with 20 RBIs and has reached base in all 16 games he’s played this year, was pulled for a pinch-runner at second base following his eighth-inning single. He appeared to be fine postgame, walking through the clubhouse without a limp … or a comment to reporters.

“He had to get in and get some ice on it before the swelling started,” Baker said. “We have to take care of him.”

Tucker, meanwhile, fouled a Tim Mayza pitch off his knee and fell to the ground at home plate. It took a few minutes for him to gather himself and his bat and decide he could stay in the game. He appeared to be fine, too, ripping an RBI single into right field on the next pitch he saw.

Still, the hold-your-breath moments with their two best offensive players served as a reminder of the tenuous line the Astros are walking with injuries. There isn’t much quality depth on the position-player side at Triple-A, with getting recalled from the Sugar Land Space Cowboys prior to Tuesday’s game to take McCormick’s spot on the roster.

“You can’t time it, but you’d rather have [injuries] happen early and have time to rebound versus in the middle or late in the year,” Baker said.

McCormick was lifted from Friday’s game with vision issues and then injured his back working out Sunday. Astros general manager Dana Brown said his lower back tightness likely isn’t a serious issue and he hopes McCormick can be activated in a week. The 27-year-old won the starting center-field job in the first week of the season, and he was hitting .275 with two homers, four steals and nine RBIs.

“I think he’s going to be fine,” Brown said of McCormick. “I talked to him, he was walking around fine in the trainer’s room. His energy was good, he’s still flexible.”

Brown did provide some good news for Astros fans, saying the veteran outfielder could get into a Minor League rehab game at Triple-A as early as Sunday. Brantley, who had shoulder surgery in August, has been rehabbing at the team’s Spring Training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla., and he should return to Houston’s lineup in early May.

Then there’s Altuve, who fractured his right thumb when he was struck by a pitch during the World Baseball Classic on March 18 and had to undergo surgery. He was originally going to be out two months, but Brown opened the door on Tuesday for Altuve to return a bit earlier than expected. Unlike with Brantley, who will be eased back into the lineup because of his history of shoulder injuries, Altuve’s quick return would be a welcome development.

“He’s doing well,” Brown said. “I was in the trainer’s room with him [Tuesday] and I was watching him doing his thumb exercise. I think he’s on a track [and] that it could be sooner than we thought, but he’s still got to get the X-ray and evaluation of the X-ray and we'll know more. … We’re hoping that it’s sooner than later.”