Notes: Straw scratched; Alvarez homers

Garcia, Bielak battling for No. 5 starter spot

March 27th, 2021

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros starting center fielder was scratched from the lineup prior to Saturday’s game against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla., for “health and safety protocols,” according to the team. Jose Siri, who’s battling to make the club as the fourth outfielder, started in his place.

The Astros provided no further updates on Straw, but earlier this spring, the club placed eight pitchers in quarantine, citing health and safety protocols. One of them was veteran reliever Pedro Báez, who tested positive for the coronavirus. Báez will begin the season on the injured list as he gets in shape to start the season.

Straw, one of the fastest players in baseball, is taking over the starting center-field job from departed free agent George Springer, who signed with the Blue Jays. Straw leads the Astros in hits this spring, going 13-for-42 (.310) with two doubles and three stolen bases. Straw has drawn two walks with a .341 on-base percentage. He said at the start of camp his No. 1 goal was to “get on base.”

In 469 career Minor League games, Straw posted a .394 on-base percentage, racking up 70 steals in the Minor Leagues in 2018 before getting promoted to Houston later that year. He slashed .269/.378/.343 with eight steals in 56 games for Houston in ’19 but last year regressed in limited action. Straw hit .207/.244/.256 in 33 games.

Fifth starter spot between Garcia, Bielak
It will be either or who starts the Astros’ fifth game of the season, April 5 at the Angels. Astros manager Dusty Baker said Saturday the two young right-handers are battling for that rotation spot, with the other likely opening the season in the bullpen.

Baker has mapped out his rotation for the season-opening series at the A’s, with Zack Greinke pitching Thursday, Cristian Javier on Friday, Lance McCullers Jr. on April 3 and José Urquidy on April 4. Garcia or Bielak would follow, but their time in the rotation will be short-lived.

Veteran right-hander Jake Odorizzi, who signed a two-year deal with Houston on March 9, will join the rotation some time in the first homestand of the season, which begins April 8 against the A’s. Odorizzi is set to start Monday’s Grapefruit League finale against the Nationals and will need to throw perhaps once more after that to build up his pitch count.

Garcia, the Astros’ No. 6-ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline, was one of 10 Astros pitchers who made their Major League debut last year. He posted a 2.92 ERA in five regular-season games and started Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. Garcia threw four scoreless innings Wednesday against the Nats, including an immaculate inning in which he struck out the side on nine pitches.

Bielak allowed the first four hitters he faced this spring to score but has given up four earned runs in 16 innings since. He pitched well early last year, posting a 1.69 ERA and .552 opponents’ OPS in his first 21 1/3 innings, including three starts. It went downhill from there. He posted a 16.88 ERA and 1.503 opponents’ OPS in 10 2/3 innings in his final seven games (three starts).

Alvarez clubs first homer of the spring
The return of ’s bat should provide a huge boost to the Astros’ lineup, which will be without George Springer this year. Alvarez, who missed most of last year because of surgery to both knees, got off to a slow start this spring but belted his first homer of the spring in the seventh inning of Saturday’s 8-3 loss to the Mets in Port St. Lucie.

“I missed that jog around the bases,” said Alvarez, who homered in one of the two games he played last August. “It’s really good to know my swing’s in a good place coming into the season. It felt really good to have that moment.”

Coming off surgery on both knees, Alvarez was brought along slowly this spring and didn’t get into a game until March 14. He was 4-for-24 at the plate before going 1-for-4 against the Mets on Saturday, including the homer off right-hander Trevor May. The ball traveled 404 feet and had a 100.3 mph exit velocity. Earlier in the game, he hit one at 112.3 mph for an out.

The Astros also got a homer from , who missed the first couple of weeks of games because of a left hamstring strain.

“He’s getting his timing,” Baker said of Alvarez. “That’s why I left him in there. Breggy’s getting his timing and right on time. Both came out of the game unscathed.”

Alvarez slugged 27 homers with 78 RBIs in 87 games in 2019 en route to being unanimously named the AL Rookie of the Year Award winner. He said he’s “super motivated” to return to his form of a couple of years ago. Alvarez hasn’t played in the outfield in a game this spring but said he had been working in the outfield on the backfields this spring and anticipated playing some outfield in the regular season.

“I feel healthy, which is the most important thing,” Alvarez said.