WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — While the extent of Jose Altuve’s right hand injury remains uncertain, manager Dusty Baker acknowledged Sunday that it “may be a while” before Altuve can return to the Astros.
Altuve was hit by a pitch during Team Venezuela’s World Baseball Classic quarterfinal loss to the United States. Initial reports indicated that Altuve had fractured his right thumb. Altuve will see the Astros doctors at the team’s spring training facility in West Palm Beach Sunday morning.
“I know he’s injured,” Baker said Sunday before Altuve arrived at the facility. “We don’t know the severity of it … We just need to come together as a group and as a unit and try to make up for the absence of him. We don’t know how long, but it could be a while.”
Batting in the fifth inning and trailing in the count 1-2, Altuve was hit in the right hand by a 95.9 mph fastball by Colorado Rockies reliever Daniel Bard. Bard, who has a history of control problems, has not retired any of the four batters he has seen. He walked like a batter and pitched wild before even hitting Altuve. Bard finished his outing with two walks and two wild pitches.
“We know he had struggled with leadership and the first thing we said was just (to) be patient at the plate,” said Team Venezuela coach Omar López, who is also Houston’s first base coach.
“But I never thought it would come with a throw inside and inside to Jose in that situation. Unfortunately, Jose wasn’t able to recognize him right away, and then when he went down, obviously the whole bench didn’t have look good.”
No player can replace Altuve, so the Astros should turn to a duo. Both David Hensley and Mauricio Dubón could see bigger roles in Altuve’s absence. Both men are natural center infielders and could function as stopgaps at second base while Altuve is on the mend. Hensley is the better offensive player, but Dubón is a more experienced major leaguer.
A more complicated decision for coach Dusty Baker: who to hit the lead. Altuve has spent the past two seasons at the top of Houston’s order, setting a tone few in the sport can match. He tied a franchise record last season with 12 starting home runs and is prone to pounce on the first pitch he sees: reinvigorating his dugout before the fans can settle down.
“(I love) his example, his presence, the way he goes out and plays every night and how damn good he is and how he can give us the edge right away,” outfielder Chas McCormick said this spring. field, there’s something about it… When he does that, he gives the stadium and the team so many good vibes.
If Baker wants another power threat at the top of his order, Kyle Tucker or Jeremy Peña are ideal candidates to strike the leadoff. Peña scored the opener during Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against the Marlins. Alex Bregman boasts both power and one of the best eyes in baseball, perhaps providing a blend of power and high on-base percentage that Baker might prefer in the lead.