OAKLAND -- As Jose Altuve goes, so go the Astros.
Though he's not quite right at the plate yet, Houston is already reaping the benefits of the veteran second baseman’s earlier-than-expected return from injury.
Altuve picked up his second straight multi-hit game as the Astros beat the A's, 6-3, on Saturday afternoon, securing a series win at the Oakland Coliseum. Houston has won 13 of its past 16 games and five of its past six series.
After going 2-for-5 with a double and scoring a pair of runs, Altuve has reached base in all six games he has played this season and hit safely in each of his past five.
"That's his job," manager Dusty Baker said. "His job is [to] get on base and score runs. You know he's going to hit. It's just a matter of time before he's Altuve."
Though the Astros' lineup was stymied by A's rookie Hogan Harris in the middle innings Saturday, Altuve proved to be a catalyst as his team made noise both early and late in the game. He led off the game with a single off A's opener Austin Pruitt, then scored when Jeremy Peña hit his seventh home run of 2023 -- and his first of May -- to give the Astros a two-run lead just two batters into the ballgame.
Coming off a shutout against the A's in Houston last Sunday, Framber Valdez tossed his ninth quality start of 2023 to keep them at bay once more -- but Oakland kept Houston from adding to its tally until the eighth inning.
Altuve again set the table by leading off the frame with a two-bagger, coming around to score on Alex Bregman's bases-clearing three-run double. All in all, the Astros put up four runs for some much-needed insurance.
"I'm seeing the ball good, and I'm really trying to swing at good pitches," Altuve said. "I don't think I did that yesterday or today; I expanded the zone a little bit. I'm just trying to go back to my plan and just get on base. I have so many good hitters behind me -- Jeremy, Yordan [Alvarez], Alex."
After Altuve missed Houston's first 43 games of 2023 with a fractured right thumb -- and sat out Wednesday in Milwaukee with an illness -- his return has had a ripple effect, reshuffling the team's everyday lineup.
When Altuve was activated from the injured list last weekend, he reclaimed the leadoff spot, which he has locked down in Houston for the majority of his career. Mauricio Dubón (28 starts) and Peña (11) spent the most time at the top of the order in Altuve's absence.
Altuve's return opened the door for Peña to move back to the two-hole and Bregman -- who had been hitting second for much of the young season -- to shift to the cleanup spot in the first two games in Oakland. Those changes led to immediate results, putting Bregman in position to collect four RBIs between Friday and Saturday.
"We’ve known we had a great team from the jump," Peña said. "It’s just the flows of the season. We know that. Now it’s just a matter of showing up and doing that every day."
Baker is still piecing the puzzle together, but nearly a third of the way through the season, the Astros' lineup is beginning to resemble its postseason configuration from last year. Altuve's presence has made a significant difference, with regard to both run production and team mentality -- even if he's still finding his swing.
"He's still off a little bit, which is to be expected," Baker said. "But he chipped in some hits in the meantime. That's big for us to have him in there, and it's big for his confidence, because everybody likes to get hits."
After missing out on a full Spring Training while playing for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic and then losing nearly two months to injury, Altuve isn't where he usually would be in the early days of summer.
But with every pitch he sees and every game he gets under his belt, his timing will start to come back.
"This is a process," Altuve said. "One game at a time. I'm feeling better and better."