PITTSBURGH -- Mauricio Dubón gave the perfect deadpan answer.
The Astros' utility player was asked how he deals with helping try to fill in for injured second baseman Jose Altuve, one of best players in baseball.
“I’m just trying to take his job,” Dubón said with a straight face. Then, he stopped.
“I’m kidding,” he said with a laugh.
Altuve is pretty much irreplaceable. He has been the face of the franchise for most of his 12 seasons with the Astros while helping them win World Series titles in 2017 and 2022. He was the American League MVP in 2017, has won three batting titles and six Silver Slugger Awards while being selected to eight All-Star Games.
However, Dubón is doing a pretty good job of helping the Astros get by while Altuve recovers from the broken right thumb that he sustained last month while playing in the World Baseball Classic for Venezuela.
He is hitting .357 through seven games this season and went 3-for-5 on Monday night to help lead the Astros to an 8-2 victory over the Pirates in the opener of a three-game series at PNC Park.
Dubón’s performance came after he went 2-for-4 with a double on Sunday in a 5-1 win over the Twins in Minnesota. He has started at second base in seven of the Astros’ 11 games this season with David Hensley getting the start in the other four.
“You can’t replace him, you just can’t,” Dubón said of Altuve. “I just have to be Mauricio Dubón and just go in there and play. When he’s ready, he’ll take over and be in there and I’ll be ready for whatever.”
Astros manager Dusty Baker thinks Altuve’s mentorship is part of the reason Dubón is playing so well.
“They’re close, and Altuve reminds him to just play your game,” Baker said. “It’s harder to stop a person from putting pressure on themselves. Only that person can do that.
“We just tell him to play. We don’t put pressure on these guys to be something that they’re not. Just play and contribute the way you know how to.”
Dubón also gets advice from Alvarez and injured outfielder Michael Brantley. Alvarez informed Dubón last week that his bat head was dropping during his swing.
“I’m working on staying on top of the baseball,” Dubón said. “I made a little adjustment. I talked to Yordan about some stuff, and I’m just getting on top of the baseball.”
Perhaps the right-handed-hitting Dubón’s most impressive early-season statistic is that he has only one strikeout in 29 plate appearances for the Astros, who have a 5-6 record in defense of their World Series title. That is welcome news for a team that struck out a combined 33 times in two games last Friday and Saturday against the Twins, which is a franchise record for the most strikeouts in two consecutive games.
“I’m putting myself in good spots where I can swing at good pitches,” Dubón said. “I’m not thinking of getting a hit. I’m just trying to hit the ball hard and if it gets caught, it gets caught. I can’t control anything but hitting the ball hard.”
Baker has certainly noticed.
“He’s staying out of the air,” the manager said. “He’s hitting line drives, he’s going to right field. He’s been playing well. He’s been very hot the last few days, and it’s good to see. He’s been working on his game. It’s his opportunity to play more, and he’s been really helping out. Not only is he putting the ball in play, but he’s getting some key hits.”
Dubón had three singles Monday night, and his biggest drove in a run during a three-run second inning that put the Astros ahead 4-0. He could have had a 5-for-5 night if not for right fielder Andrew McCutchen making two nice catches on line drives.
“I hit the ball hard and it got caught,” Dubón said. “I can’t do anything about that. I know when I’m hitting like that that things are going well. 'Cutch' out there, made two good plays. I can’t complain. I can’t fix anything if I hit the ball 100 mph. That’s baseball. They’re going to make plays like that.”