Astros: Injury, roster questions abound before Opening Day

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 03: A general view on Opening Day on Opening Day at Minute Maid Park on April 3, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 03: A general view on Opening Day on Opening Day at Minute Maid Park on April 3, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

As the season opener gets closer, questions widen regarding the Houston Astros starting rotation, bullpen and the 26th man on the roster. With more releases from camp Monday, there remain 48 players in West Palm Beach.

Houston Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez was reported to be available to play Monday. Initially, he was only to be unavailable for three days, but hasn’t actually played in going on nine days due to knee soreness. With just over two weeks left of spring training, there is time for him to get in plenty of playing time.

Even though Alvarez himself doesn’t think that the outfield play affects his knees, it seems unlikely that he will play much left field this year. With the likelihood of Myles Straw and Kyle Tucker being on the 2020 roster, that’s likely not going to be necessary anyway.

The team has been conservative with Brad Peacock this spring. Dusty Baker was “encouraged” that Peacock pitched from the mound in a bullpen session and thoughts are he still has time to get in enough work to be ready for Opening Day.

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The Astros beat Detroit on Monday with Zack Greinke throwing four innings, allowing four hits and one run. Blake Taylor pitched two-thirds of an inning with one hit. Joe Smith pitched one and one-third innings with one strikeout. Austin Pruitt pitched for three innings with one hit, one walk,and three strikeouts. Comparing himself to previous Spring Training years, Greinke says he felt good, but says his most recent outing wasn’t as good as his previous two starts.

In two innings on Friday against the Mets, Lance McCullers Jr had a promising outing, giving up two hits — both leadoff triples that resulted in runs on groundouts. He also had two strikeouts and no walks over the two innings. McCullers seems happy with his progress this spring and excited for the opportunity to contribute in 2020.

Out of an abundance of caution, Justin Verlander only threw two of the four innings for which he was initially scheduled on Sunday due to soreness in his triceps. On Monday morning, the results of his MRI were said to be encouraging, though it has been reported that he has a mild lat strain and has been shut down by the team. It remains to be seen whether he’ll start the season on the IL, but it is unlikely he’ll start on Opening Day.

Comparing this injury to the similar one he experienced in 2015, Verlander sounded somewhat optimistic that it was not as serious as it could have been, but he’s visibly disappointed.

Baker says they’re working on a solution, but with only 16 days left until Opening Day, the news about Verlander hits the Astros hard. Barring a miraculous recovery by Verlander, this likely changes the Astros rotation for at least the beginning of the season to Greinke, McCullers and Jose Urquidy, leaving Josh James, Pruitt and Framber Valdez competing for the fourth and fifth slots.