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Notes: Brantley slowed; Baker on bunting

@brianmctaggart
August 4, 2020

Astros outfielder Michael Brantley is dealing with a quad injury, which is why he wasn’t in the lineup for Tuesday’s series opener against the D-backs, manager Dusty Baker said. Brantley has been hobbled since he stepped on the foot of Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly on Tuesday when Kelly was covering

Astros outfielder Michael Brantley is dealing with a quad injury, which is why he wasn’t in the lineup for Tuesday’s series opener against the D-backs, manager Dusty Baker said. Brantley has been hobbled since he stepped on the foot of Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly on Tuesday when Kelly was covering first base.

“It’s been bothering him the last couple of days,” Baker said. “He’s on a day-to-day basis. I told him I’d try to not use him under any circumstances. Usually when you use a guy and he smells a hit, he’s going to run. I’m going to try to not use him [Tuesday] and maybe even [Wednesday], and we’ll reevaluate it [Wednesday].”

Brantley has been the Astros’ best hitter so far this year, entering Tuesday leading the American League in batting average (.438) and on-base percentage (.514). He started eight of Houston’s first nine games and has hit safely in each of his eight starts.

To bunt or not to bunt?
Even though the Astros haven’t tried to bunt the automatic runner to third base in any of the three extra-inning games they’ve played this year, Baker emphasized he’s not against bunting under the right circumstances. Baker's previous four managerial jobs were all in the National League, where bunting was much more common.

“One thing I wanted to clarify is a lot of people are under the impression I don’t like to bunt,” he said. “I come from the National League, and there was a time I was accused of bunting too much. What I wanted to clarify is how many times in the past did the Astros bunt? No. 1. No. 2, a lot of these guys haven’t bunted since high school or college.”

The infiltration of analytics has made bunting a lost art. The numbers show giving up an out to move a runner via sacrifice isn’t productive. But baseball’s new rule for 2020, in which an automatic runner is placed on second base starting in the 10th inning, has some calling for more bunts, especially if the home team is batting and the game is still tied.

Baker said his team didn’t have much time to work on bunting during Spring Training or the three-week Summer Camp that preceded the start of the season. More than anything, he said most players didn’t bunt much coming through the Minor Leagues, and that limits his options.

“I had some excellent bunters in the past," he said. "Depends on who’s up next, if you’re on the road or at home, depends of if there’s a left-hander or if you’re bunting a guy and a lesser hitter is behind him. What it boils down to is you’ve got to get some base hits whether you bunt or don’t bunt. I’m not opposed to bunting at all.”

Worth noting
• Baker said top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley, who was shut down from throwing at the team’s alternate training site in Corpus Christi, Texas, last week because of arm soreness, will be seen by a doctor before the team maps out the next move for him.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.