HOUSTON -- You don’t have to exactly twist the arm of Yainer Diaz’s Astros teammates to get them to gush about the performance of the rookie catcher.
“It feels like he hits a homer every other game,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.
“He’s just a great player for us,” pitcher J.P. France said.
The loss of slugger Yordan Alvarez to a right oblique injury nearly a month ago meant more opportunities to hit for Diaz, and he’s made the most of it. Diaz slugged a pair of home runs and Peña homered in his return to the lineup as the Astros won their fourth consecutive game, 6-4, to sweep a two-game series from the Rockies on Wednesday at Minute Maid Park.
“That was right on time,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He drove in all the first three runs with some booming home runs and we needed that.”
The multihomer game was the first of Diaz’s career and the first by an Astros rookie catcher since Mitch Meluskey in 2000. He’s the eighth Astros rookie at any position to reach double-digit home runs by the All-Star break, which was accomplished most recently by Peña last year.
“It’s one of those things,” Diaz said. “I hit the ball pretty hard and those are things that can come with it.”
Diaz, acquired from the Guardians two years ago along with relief pitcher Phil Maton in exchange for outfielder Myles Straw, has started 15 of 24 games at designated hitter since Alvarez hurt his oblique. He started consecutive games at catcher for the first time in his career in the Rockies series, catching a shutout Tuesday and slugging a pair of homers Wednesday.
“Something’s always happening to somebody,” Baker said of his injury-ravaged club. “We’re fortunate that we have good personnel to take their place. We just can’t go too far in the future. He’s given us a huge lift in Alvarez’s absence and we’ll see -- knock on wood -- that nothing else happens to anybody else.”
Diaz hit both of his homers off Rockies starter Chase Anderson. In the second inning, he crushed a 1-0 cutter that sailed a Statcast-projected414 feet over the Crawford Boxes in left field to give Houston a 1-0 lead (107.2 mph exit velocity). In his next at-bat in the fourth, he hit an 0-1 sinker 380 feet to left-center for a two-run homer that made it 3-0 (105.3 exit velocity).
“He hits the ball so hard,” Peña said. “It’s impressive what he’s doing. It feels like he hits a homer every other game, and behind the plate he’s been doing it, as well. Great player.”
Diaz is hitting .338 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 25 games behind the plate this season, but only .192 with five homers and nine RBIs when he’s the designated hitter. He’s also played a bit of first base, hitting .364 in 11 at-bats at the position. Diaz said he’s not sure why he hits much better when he plays the field, as opposed to DH.
“When I’m on the field playing defense, maybe I don’t get as distracted and don’t think about the previous at-bats as much or don’t get as cold in the dugout,” he said. “But I really don’t know what the reason is.”
With Diaz calling the game, France (4-3) delivered his sixth consecutive quality start. He gave up three runs and six hits in six innings, throwing 102 pitches. He’s the first Astros rookie to have at least six consecutive starts of at least six innings since Chris Sampson in 2007.
“As soon as I gave up that homer [to C.J. Cron] in the sixth, I was telling myself, ‘Don’t come get me. Let me finish this,’ because I [wanted to get] that sixth straight one,” France said. “The fourth, fifth and sixth, it was a grind, but I ended up giving my team a chance to win again and kept the streak going.”
Diaz caught France last year in Triple-A, so the pitcher was already aware of what the catcher is capable of doing at the plate. Now, the rest of baseball is finding out what kind of threat Diaz is with the stick.
“Any time Yainer goes up there, you know the ball could leave the yard,” France said. “He’s just a great player for us.”