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Altuve plays 5 innings in return to lineup

Top prospect Whitley throws four hitless innings in win vs. Cards
@alysonfooter
March 15, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Spring Training results are secondary for almost everyone expected to be on the Astros' Opening Day roster, but that philosophy is especially accurate for second baseman José Altuve, who hadn't played since March 6 due to a sore left side. Altuve started at second base

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Spring Training results are secondary for almost everyone expected to be on the Astros' Opening Day roster, but that philosophy is especially accurate for second baseman José Altuve, who hadn't played since March 6 due to a sore left side.

Altuve started at second base and stayed in for five innings during the Astros' 5-0 split-squad win over the Cardinals at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Friday. It was Altuve's first game since he was scratched nine days prior with the side soreness, a setback that never seemed to be of major concern for the Astros or Altuve.

"I wanted to be out there playing," Altuve said of the time off. "They gave me these three or four days. The important thing is I felt really good today, and I'm back on the field with the boys."

Altuve walked his first time up Friday and singled in the third inning, sending a blistering comebacker to the mound that bounced off Cardinals starter Daniel Ponce de Leon’s leg and trickled into right field. Altuve grounded out in his final at-bat. Manager AJ Hinch was ejected in the first inning and wasn't able to watch Altuve play in person, but he received positive feedback from the second baseman when the two talked later in the clubhouse.

"I talked to him afterward and he was happy with his strike-zone judgement," Hinch said. "He said the game picks up speed a little bit when you don't play for a while. He's healthy, which is all that matters; getting through this game."

Though Altuve, who will play Sunday against the Braves at their Disney ballpark, missed more than a week of games, there is little worry that he's lagging behind his teammates in preparation for for Opening Day. Hinch isn't concerned at all with missed at-bats. The only thing he wants Altuve to focus on between now and the regular season is sharpening up his defensive turns at second base.

"He's really, really good, and we're trying to make him even better," Hinch said. "A small goal for him would be to handle the ball over the base for the rest of camp. Those plays are huge for us.

"When you look at our infield, the acrobatic plays [Alex] Bregman makes and [Carlos] Correa makes on the left side of the infield, to complete the play with a double play is a small point of emphasis."

Whitley deals, again

There were no mixed messages for Forrest Whitley before he took the mound to face the Cardinals on Friday. He was officially sent to Minor League camp several days ago, eliminating any notion that this outing was a rotation tryout.

But any Whitley outing is news, given his stature as the top pitching prospect in baseball and No. 7 overall, per MLB Pipeline. The 21-year-old right-hander was dominant, again, spinning four hitless innings, walking two and striking out four.

"I felt like I was throwing pitches I needed to around the zone," he said. "I was kind of pulling off some offspeed pitches. I wouldn't say I had phenomenal stuff today, but I was getting by with what I had and I was happy that I was throwing strikes where I was."

Rule changes

Of all of the rule changes announced by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association on Thursday, the three batter minimum edict -- which will take place in 2020 -- drew the most vocal reaction from managers around baseball.

Hinch took a more stoic approach. Because the rule won't be implemented for another season, he opted to remain vague and reserve the comments for later, when it'll actually go into effect.

"I'll be curious to see what we have to do as we look at that a little bit longer," Hinch said. "It's kind of weird to talk about something that could be implemented next year, or will be implemented next year. The strategy of the game is something we hold close to our hearts as managers and an industry. But we play by the rules."

Hinch pointed out that most of the rules set in the past few years that created a bunch of hullabaloo at the time turned out to be rather benign. He anticipates some of the same this time, too.

"I know there was a massive overreaction to a lot of different rule changes over the last three or four years," he said. "It's turned out to be nothing. No catchers being decapitated, no second basemen being upended. Traditionalists will always question whether we should touch our sport. The majority of things, if not all things, that have been added have been pretty good."

Up next

Right-hander Brad Peacock, who has the inside track to win the fifth starter job, will take the mound for Houston on Saturday against the Phillies in Clearwater at 1:05 p.m. ET. The Astros will face Phillies ace Aaron Nola.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.