Gattis returns at DH, will ease into catching

Hinch eager to see slugger in Astros lineup on daily basis

April 12th, 2016

HOUSTON -- After an injury-plagued spring, Evan Gattis returned to the Astros' lineup on Tuesday night against Kansas City after a brief rehab stint in Corpus Christi.

The slugger started at designated hitter and went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in the Astros' 3-2 loss to the Royals. Before the game, all the talk was about Gattis' future behind the dish.

Though Gattis is still working his way back fully from hernia surgery in February, the team will attempt to work him into a backup catcher role in the coming weeks.

"Tomorrow, we'll start easy catching stuff," he said. "I've been doing drills -- squatting in Spring Training a lot -- and we'll break me into it and take it on a day-to-day basis. I don't think there's that much risk of re-injury."

Gattis said he's not "100 percent yet" running the bases and will still have some sporadic pain but isn't "too far" from being able to catch a game in the Majors, which he hasn't done since 2014.

"[Running] is when I kind of feel it, but I think it's really normal, from people that have had the surgery before and talking with the doctor," Gattis said. "The best way to strengthen it is just kind of get after it.

"It's kind of amazing, honestly, just from how I was feeling day one after the surgery to how I'm feeling now, so I'm happy."

The Astros could use Gattis in a dual DH/catcher role with roster spots already tight this season. The goal would be for the formerly bearded power hitter to "double up" a roster spot instead of keeping a player on the 25-man specifically to back up Jason Castro.

It's a problem Astros manager A.J. Hinch noted before Tuesday's game, but the former catcher said he'd rather have an abundance of capable players for too few spots than vice versa.

"It's difficult as we get healthier, a trick to keep everybody fresh and everyone involved," Hinch said. "We have the luxury of having quite a few players who deserve to play and won't always get to."

Gattis said his late start to his season -- "Never watched Opening Day from rehab," he quipped -- could alleviate some pressure. He started his 2015 campaign in a dispiriting 0-for-23 slump that included two consecutive four-strikeout games.

"If you don't strike out eight times in a row, you'll probably have a better start," Gattis noted. "So yeah, I've been thinking about it, getting back now. I'll have a better year than I did last year."

Hinch's expectations aren't focused on Gattis' statistical contributions. Instead, it's all about the burly slugger's presence in the clubhouse and against opposing pitchers.

"He's a real threat to add to our lineup and someone I'm looking forward to seeing around every day again," Hinch said. "It was a weird Spring Training for us since he was around and getting at-bats on the backfields but wasn't really part of our program on a day-to-day basis.

"He brings a lot of muscle and intensity to what we do."