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Maldonado eager to help Astros' playoff push

Gold Glove catcher debuts with sacrifice fly in loss to Rangers
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- To help make another deep postseason run, the Astros needed a catcher and got one: Martin Maldonado. His job? Catch the strongest pitching staff in baseball and be a "weapon," as manager AJ Hinch described his role for the American League West leaders.

"They know how to win," said Maldonado, who delivered a pinch-hit sacrifice fly in an 11-2 loss to the Rangers in Friday night's series opener at Minute Maid Park. "They find a way to win. As a player, that's where you want to be."

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HOUSTON -- To help make another deep postseason run, the Astros needed a catcher and got one: Martin Maldonado. His job? Catch the strongest pitching staff in baseball and be a "weapon," as manager AJ Hinch described his role for the American League West leaders.

"They know how to win," said Maldonado, who delivered a pinch-hit sacrifice fly in an 11-2 loss to the Rangers in Friday night's series opener at Minute Maid Park. "They find a way to win. As a player, that's where you want to be."

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Maldonado, an American League Gold Glove Award-winning catcher in 2017, appeared in 78 games behind the plate for the Angels this season, and he led all AL catchers with 77 starts entering Friday, along with posting the second-best caught stealing percentage among all Major League catchers at 40 percent, behind only Royals All-Star Salvador Perez (42.9).

The Indians and Red Sox ranked second and third in the Majors with 79 and 76 stolen bases this season entering Friday. Maldonado's defense was the difference maker.

"He's, in our opinion, one of the best defensive catchers in the league," Astros general manager and president of baseball operations Jeff Luhnow said. "During the postseason, all of those edges can become magnified and so important. Having a catcher that can not only catch and receive the way he can, but also shut down the running game -- for us, that's critical.

"We've seen how one extra base can change the outcome of a game in the postseason. It's an area that we've been trying to shore up by getting our pitchers to be quicker to home and getting our catchers to work on it. He's just got natural abilities that are going to help us for sure."

Video: Luhnow, Hinch discuss the Maldonado acquisition

Luhnow said he "fully expects" Brian McCann (right knee) to return from the disabled list in September. Luhnow emphasized on Friday the Astros' acquisition of Maldonado was not in fear McCann would be unavailable for the remainder of this season.

Maldonado, whose first start is expected to be on Sunday against the Rangers with starter Lance McCullers Jr. on the mound, will split time with Max Stassi behind the plate for the time being.

"I'm going to catch him," Hinch said. "I'm going to catch Max Stassi. I'm going to catch Brian McCann once he gets back. We're going to have yet another weapon that the organization has done to put in the dugout at our discretion. Really fired up to get him because of the impact he can have behind the plate."

Injury updates
Carlos Correa's injury rehab was delayed and the Astros are being cautious with Jose Altuve's right knee.

Correa was originally scheduled to swing a bat prior to the All-Star break for the first time since hitting the 10-day disabled list one month ago. He did. A few days later, his lower back "didn't feel too great," he said, forcing his rehab process to basically restart from scratch.

Video: Luhnow, Hinch, Correa give updates on injuries

As of Friday, Correa was swinging in the batting cage and exercising, both positive steps. To progress to a rehab assignment, he will need to take batting practice on the field, field ground balls and run the bases without pain.

"I feel great," said Correa, who added he would be playing if it was Game 7 in a postseason series. "I feel the best I've felt since I hit the DL."

Altuve exited Wednesday's loss against the Rockies with right knee soreness and remained out of the starting lineup on Friday.

"Altuve's doing OK," he said. "He's still pretty sore. We're going to hold him out as a precautionary measure. I don't know what that means for this series or for anything more than today. He's day to day. It's frustrating for him because he's been playing with this for a little while and it started to progress to be a little worse."

Christian Boutwell is a reporter for MLB.com based in Houston.

Houston Astros, Martin Maldonado