Notes: Smith on restricted list; Pruitt on mend

Abreu eyeing 'pen; Yuli hopes to end career in Houston

July 15th, 2020

HOUSTON -- The Astros are proceeding as if they won’t have veteran relief pitcher in their bullpen for the 2020 season, manager Dusty Baker said Wednesday. The Astros placed Smith on the restricted list Tuesday night for roster management purposes while they await a decision on whether he will play in 2020.

Smith hasn’t reported to camp because of a family matter, Baker has said. The pitcher has been public about his mother’s battle with Huntington's disease, a fatal neurological disorder with no cure, but Smith has not yet elected not to play, the team said.

“He’s welcome to come back, but right now we plan to go without Joe,” Baker said. “He’s a big part of the club. The guys miss Joe, but we know that every man has to do what they have to do.”

After spending the first half of last season rehabbing from surgery on his left Achilles, Smith returned to post a 1.80 ERA over 28 appearances, striking out 22 over 25 innings. Over two seasons with the Astros, he compiled a 3.06 ERA over 84 outings, with 68 strikeouts across 70 2/3 innings.

Smith made 10 appearances in the postseason in '19, recording a 3.12 ERA. Eight of his outings were scoreless. He re-signed with the Astros in December for two years and $8 million.

Pruitt expects to start year on IL
The Astros could be without right-hander to begin the season as he deals with a bone bruise in his left elbow. Pruitt, acquired from the Rays in January, said Wednesday he expects to miss about the first week of the season, which begins July 24 against the Mariners.

“The games are pretty close, and we’ll see if I’m there for Opening Day or for the next week or what,” he said.

Pruitt felt soreness in the back of his elbow in the spring, and an MRI showed inflammation from a bone bruise. During the shutdown, he said he tried to ramp up his throwing too early and had to take some more time off. He hopes to throw his first bullpen post-injury within the next week.

“It’s coming along real nice, and I’m feeling a little bit better each day,” he said.

Pruitt, 30, made 67 appearances for Tampa Bay from 2017-19, including 10 starts, posting a 4.87 ERA. He split last season between Triple-A Durham and the Major League club, with a 5.40 ERA in 18 appearances (six starts) for Durham and a 4.40 ERA over 14 games (two starts) for the Rays. He’s expected to pitch out of the bullpen and be available for spot starts this year.

“Being with Tampa Bay, I’ve had that kind of experience really for the last three years,” he said. “However they see fit, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Abreu ready for bullpen role
The expanded rosters to start this season will likely give right-handed pitching prospect a chance to make his first Opening Day roster. Abreu, 23, had a great spring camp after getting his first taste of the big leagues last year when he struck out 13 batters in 8 2/3 innings. He was on the Astros’ American League Championship Series roster and pitched in one game against the Yankees.

“Honestly, it was a really good learning experience, and being part of that is a privilege,” said Abreu, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Astros' No. 5 prospect. “Not a lot of young guys are allowed to be a part of that, the LCS. That was pretty good, and I’m pretty proud of myself about it.”

Astros pitching coach Brent Strom said in March he was “really high” on Abreu, who had worked his way into the fifth-starter conversation when camp was halted. As it stands now, Abreu will likely make the club as a reliever, with Smith, Pruitt and Brad Peacock (shoulder) questionable to start the season.

“I’m a young guy, and I just have to be ready for every situation,” Abreu said. “I just have to get experience everywhere. You never know where I’m going to settle. I’m so happy to be back in camp.”

Gurriel would like to finish career in Houston
A free agent at the end of the 2020 season, first baseman said he would like to finish his career with the Astros.

Signed to a five-year, $47.5 million contract in 2016 after a distinguished career in Cuba, the 36-year-old has been entrenched as a key member of Houston’s lineup the last four seasons, catching the final out of the 2017 World Series. Last year, he hit .298 with 31 homers and 104 RBIs.

“Houston is the only team that I know, the only thing I know in the big leagues and the only team I’ve played for,” he said. “And I really hope to be able to stay here in Houston. It just doesn’t depend on me. It depends on a lot of different things, but I really hope I can stay here during the season.”

A popular player with the fans and with his teammates, Gurriel set career highs last year in games (144), at-bats (564), runs (85), hits (168), homers, walks (37), on-base percentage (.343) and slugging percentage (.541). He said the quick ramp-up to the season shouldn’t be an issue.

“Just a different pace for us, and we really have to turn it on and get ready for the season,” he said. “I know it’s right around the corner.”

Worth noting
• The Astros will play another instrasquad game at Minute Maid Park on Thursday, with Josh James starting against Zack Greinke.