Finding answers to Astros' lineup questions

April 12th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Brian McTaggart’s Astros Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The debate about who should be starting in center field and second base for the Astros appears to have been answered, at least for now.

is hitting .357 with one strikeout in his first 29 plate appearances while filling in for the injured . has solidified himself in center field with an .877 OPS through Monday’s game.

Astros manager Dusty Baker even moved McCormick into the leadoff role on Saturday to take over for , who batted leadoff for the first eight games of the season.

McCormick hit a two-run homer and had a two-run single in Sunday’s 5-1 win over the Twins in Minneapolis, and Peña’s bat got going in the sixth spot. Peña, after going 2-for-24 in the previous five games, went 3-for-8 on Saturday and Sunday against the Twins, including a homer.

“Hopefully this will be a lineup we can stick with for a while and maybe they’ll produce, and as long as they produce, we’ll try to get as much mileage out of this as we can,” Baker said.

McCormick says he enjoys being a spark plug and being able to “get the boys rolling.” He says he doesn’t have as much to worry about being the leadoff hitter and has more confidence. He was 1-for-4 with a walk, a run scored and a double in Monday’s 8-2 win at Pittsburgh.

“I’ve been watching Altuve do that for a couple of years now and it really can turn a team around,” he said. “I just kind of want to get the boys going. … You think I would get more fastballs in the leadoff hole but, in the big leagues, you just get a bunch of offspeed [pitches]. My job is to get on base and I’m happy Dusty gave me the call and put me in the leadoff spot. I’ve got a long way to go, though.”

As comfortable as McCormick feels in the leadoff spot, he knows he’s got plenty to prove. Despite last year’s playoff heroics, including his game-saving catch at the wall in Philadelphia in Game 5 of the World Series, McCormick went to camp battling with for playing time in center. Nearly two weeks into the season, he’s the starter and the leadoff hitter for the defending World Series champions.

“I think all year I’m going to be fighting for a spot, to tell you the truth,” he said. “That’s all right. It’s the big leagues. There’s a lot of good players in this league. My job is to be ready to go every day, and even when I’m not playing. It’s something I’ve worked on every single day. I’ve got to keep contributing. That’s what I have to do. I have to perform. When you’re performing, you’ll play.”