The start and stop of the 2020 season took its toll on Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel, whose subpar second half and playoff performance made some wonder if he was suddenly showing his age. Gurriel admitted this week he was “pretty exhausted” after the first month of last year’s two-month regular season. And the numbers showed.
Gurriel slashed .276/.325/.476 with five homers and 16 RBIs in the first 38 games of the season and just .136/.157/.182 with one extra-base hit (a home run) and six RBIs in 19 games to finish the regular season. In the playoffs, he was 5-for-44 with no extra-base hits and one RBI in 13 games.
“I worked a lot in the offseason on being in better physical condition,” said Gurriel, who dropped 15 pounds. “Also, the mental side of things. Free agency was weighing on me, as well.”
Despite his rough final stretch of the regular season, the Astros re-signed Gurriel to a one-year deal worth $6.5 million, with an option for 2022 worth $8 million, just before the playoff started. Gurriel will turn 37 this season.
“I feel a ton better physically in comparison to where I was at last year,” he said. “The biggest difference is I had the ability and the time to train physically, which I didn’t have last year because of the pandemic. Basically, two weeks after the season ended, I was beginning my physical training this offseason. I had a lot of time to get ready physically.”
Díaz eyeing a return to shortstop
Since he joined the Astros prior to the 2019 season, utility infielder Aledmys Díaz hasn’t played much shortstop, the position he had played the most in his career prior to landing with Houston. In fact, the only two starts he has made at shortstop with the Astros came in his first two games with the club, early in ’19.
Last year, he made 10 appearances at second base, three at third base, two at first base, two at designated hitter and one in left field. Díaz has 260 career games at shortstop in his career, including 102 starts at the position in his rookie year for the Cardinals in 2016. He looks to play more short this year.
“That’s one of the goals we had this year,” Díaz said. “I told [bench coach Joe] Espada early in Spring Training and also [manager] Dusty [Baker], I would be focused on playing a lot of shortstop in Spring Training. We know it’s a long season, and we need to give some days off to [Carlos] Correa, and I need to play out there. It’s the most demanding position on the infield, and I need to make sure I’m ready to play.”
Díaz, 30, has spent as much time on the injured list as he as playing in his two years with the Astros, missing 86 games (56 in 2019 and 30 last year) with injuries while appearing in 86 regular-season games. He said he lost some weight in the offseason with hopes of avoiding the IL.
“Injuries are a part of the game,” he said. “I try to play the game 100 percent all the time, and injuries happen. I lost 11 pounds in the offseason, and I feel way lighter. I just feel in shape. It’s tough. The last couple of years, I played different positions. You use different muscles to play in the outfield and the infield. I worked out a lot this offseason to be healthy and be ready to play every position on the field.”
Four players still to take the field
With right-hander Hector Velazquez and catcher Colton Shaver joining Astros workouts on Thursday, the club now has four players who have yet to participate in on-field drills: right-handers Zack Greinke, Blair Henley and Peter Solomon, and outfielder Pedro Leon.
Henley and Solomon are completing their COVID-19 intake protocols. Greinke is expected to report to camp by this weekend and Leon was held up by visa issues, which isn’t uncommon this time of year.