Astros' Opening Day lineup taking shape

Baker, on wearing mask: 'Yeah, I miss the toothpick'

July 22nd, 2020

The lineup the Astros used for Monday’s exhibition game against the Royals is likely the one they’ll trot out for Friday’s Opening Day game against Mariners at Minute Maid Park. The most notable wrinkle in the lineup from last year is Alex Bregman moving up a spot to third and switching with Michael Brantley, who now drops to fourth.

“I’ve been in some powerful lineups, and you try to mix and match guys,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Here, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, because there’s so much quality. But guys do have preferences. That’s what I came up with.”

With George Springer, José Altuve and Bregman hitting first, second and third, respectively, the Astros wouldn’t send a lefty batter to the plate until Brantley in the fourth spot. That’s not a concern for Baker.

“I was just experimenting, just to see if I could get Bregman up in the first inning,” he said. “Those three right-handed hitters up there don’t have a whole bunch of trouble against right-handed pitchers. You try to go every other guy, but if a guy can hit, he can hit.”

Monday’s lineup had Aledmys Díaz at designated hitter in place of 2019 American League Rookie of the Year Award winner Yordan Alvarez, who’s on the injured list for undisclosed reasons. Houston is facing lefty Marco Gonzales of Seattle on Friday, and Díaz is a right-handed hitter. Kyle Tucker will likely DH against right-handers initially.

Here’s Friday’s probable lineup:

Masking up means to no toothpick
Baker, whose chewing of toothpicks while in the dugout during games has become synonymous with his managerial career, hasn’t been able to have a toothpick in his mouth this summer because he’s had to wear a mask instead to protect himself and others from COVID-19. It hasn’t been an easy adjustment.

“That’s probably the question I get the most from fans is how I was going to do the toothpick,” he said Tuesday, ahead of a 15-6 exhibition victory over the Royals in Kansas City. “Yeah, I miss the toothpick. You’ve just got to adjust.”

Baker says he has about 100 masks to use while at the ballpark, and the one he was wearing Tuesday morning while talking to reporters via Zoom features a large baseball with the words “Baker Family Wines” on it. It was designed by his daughter, Natosha Baker Smith. Baker has been growing grapes for about 14 years and making wine for about 10 years in Northern California.

Starting out, the wine was given away to friends and family. In 2013, Baker, along with winemaker Chik Brenneman, decided to expand production and establish B and B Wine Company, LLC, which now produces and bottles their wines in West Sacramento, Calif.

“Before, we were just making it as a hobby and giving it away to people, and people were like, ‘That’s good. I like it.’ [I’d tell them,] 'Don’t BS me, tell me the truth. Do you really like it?’” Baker said. “Years ago, I got some scotch from a celebrity that was the worst scotch in the whole world. I took one sip and I said, ‘I can’t drink this.’ My winemaker promised me we’d make some good stuff or don’t make it at all.”

Greinke pitches sim game
While most of his teammates were in Kansas City, veteran pitcher Zack Greinke threw 80 pitches in a simulated game at Minute Maid Park in his final tuneup before the start of the regular season.

Greinke, who carried a shutout into the seventh inning of Game 7 of the 2019 World Series for the Astros, said he’s not quite in midseason form, but he said “I’m really happy with where I’m at.”

Greinke will start the Astros’ third game of the regular season on Sunday against the Mariners.

“Mentally, I’m really ready,” he said. “Physically, I’m pretty good. It came kind of quick. For the amount of time, I feel pretty good where I’m at.”

Greinke said he’s concerned about some of the swings opposing players have been taking against his offspeed pitches, and he said he’s not sure what he can do in the next few days to iron that out. Greinke went 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA in 10 starts with Houston last year after being acquired from the D-backs in July.

“It would be nice if all the offspeed pitches were working a little bit,” he said. “They’re all working good, but none of them are working great.”