Abreu making strides: 'It's huge for me'

March 22nd, 2021

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros right-hander delivered what manager Dusty Baker said was his best outing of the spring in Monday’s 5-4 win over the Mets at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, a positive step forward in his development.

Abreu, who had a disastrous 2020 and saw his stock drop, threw three perfect innings in his start against the Mets and struck out four of the nine batters he faced. Astros pitching coach Brent Strom has championed Abreu as a workhorse starter and has stuck with Abreu, even after he reported to Summer Camp last year out of shape and struggled to get batters out in the regular season.

“He’s pretty excited for me,” Abreu said of Strom. “I’ve been working really hard in the offseason to get ready for this year. It’s huge for me. He believes in me and I won’t disappoint him. He always supports me and tried to make me feel confident in myself and comfortable in all things I’m doing. If I’m doing something wrong, he tries to teach me something to keep doing everything the right way.”

Still, Abreu is likely headed to Triple-A Sugar Land's rotation to start the year, but the sore right shoulder suffered by reliever Andre Scrubb on Friday could mean Abreu is an option for the Astros’ bullpen to start the year. Scrubb was shut down from throwing for three or four days.

“I’m a young guy and I have to be ready for every situation,” Abreu said. “If I have to start in the bullpen, I’ll try to learn and keep my routine and just come to the game and try to enjoy it.”

Astros hit into a rare spring triple play

Astros second baseman Jose Altuve was undoubtedly happy with the hard contact. The result? Not so much.

With the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth inning, Altuve hit a sinking liner that the Mets turned into a triple play. Altuve’s line drive was caught by second baseman José Peraza, who threw to second base to get Myles Straw, who was scurrying back to the bag, for the second out. Jason Castro, running on contact, was an easy out at first base.

“That’s only the second one I’ve seen ever,” Baker said.

The Astros have had 10 triple plays turned against them in the regular season. They went more than 27 years without having a triple play turned on them, before hitting into one in 2016, '18 and '19.

Minute Maid Park to open to 50% capacity

For the first time since Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, the Astros will welcome fans to Minute Maid Park when the regular season starts next month. Anita Sehgal, the team’s senior vice president for marketing and communications, said Monday that the ballpark won’t exceed 50% capacity for the month of April.

The Astros will begin selling single-game tickets for games in April on Wednesday, with fans having the option to purchase seats that are socially distanced. The Astros are scheduled to play 14 home games in April, beginning with a three-game series against the A’s, April 8-10.

Sehgal said the response from season-ticket holders and surveys that went to fans helped the club determine the initial capacity for the ballpark this year.

“It really helped us validate that we thought we could responsibly and safely meet demand and still provide an enjoyable experience for fans,” she said.

The Astros had fans at Minute Maid Park for a pair of college baseball tournaments earlier this year, which essentially served as a test run regarding how people would be able to navigate the ballpark with the health and safety protocols in mind.

“We’re excited to welcome fans,” she said.

Worth noting

• Catcher Garrett Stubbs was removed from Monday’s game in the eighth inning and walked off the field under his own power, after being struck in the back of the head by a pitch. “He said he was OK and tried to stay in the game, but we thought we would take him in for the concussion protocol,” Baker said. “We think he’ll be all right.”

• Seven of the Astros’ starting nine position players played nine innings Monday, with the exception of third baseman Robel Garcia and catcher Jason Castro. Baker said the starters, with third baseman Alex Bregman joining the lineup, will play nine innings again Wednesday following Tuesday’s off-day.