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Houston Astros: Three questions as summer camp opens

Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros in action against the New York Mets during a spring training baseball game at Clover Park on March 8, 2020 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The Mets defeated the Astros 3-1. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros in action against the New York Mets during a spring training baseball game at Clover Park on March 8, 2020 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The Mets defeated the Astros 3-1. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /
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Here are three questions we have as the Houston Astros begin summer camp.

At long last, players are reporting to camp and the Houston Astros are getting ready for the season. It’s been an exceptionally long and difficult offseason for us but we’re finally out of it and into the proverbial sunshine.

Thus far, it appears none of the 56 players the Astros named to their player pool will be opting out of the season. They’ve all been expected to report, save for one who is arriving late for a team-approved but undisclosed reason.

This is an important season for this team as it looks to rebound from a disappointing end to the 2019 campaign and that aforementioned tough offseason. With some key players set to hit free agency this offseason, there’s a sense of urgency to try and win another title with this group.

With that in mind, here are three questions we have as summer camp begins.

Will COVID-19 stay away?

This is going to be the burning question all around the league. It’s highly unlikely the virus will stay away completely, but the hope is that its impact won’t be too severe. The league and the teams are preparing for it, but a big outbreak could stop the season in its tracks.

Of course this has particular significance for the Astros as Houston is one of the hottest spots in the country for it right now. The team has solid position player depth but is a little thin on the pitching side. Health will be key if they want to succeed in this shortened season.

How will players fare coming off injuries?

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Two key players, Justin Verlander and Yordan Alvarez, were shut down back in Spring Training. Verlander underwent surgery on his groin and is said to be ready to go, while Alvarez rested his balky knees. He’ll probably DH close to 100 percent of the time this year to reduce the risk of them flaring up again.

Brad Peacock’s second half of 2019 was marred by injuries, while Rogelio Armenteros is recovering from elbow surgery back in March and likely won’t be ready for Opening Day. Left-hander Kent Emanuel, the only member of the 40-man roster to not make the player pool, is rehabbing from an elbow issue. The Astros can survive without Armenteros and Emanuel, but what of the rest?

Verlander is arguably the most important player on the team this year as the undisputed ace in a somewhat thin rotation. Alvarez’s bat is a key piece of the lineup, and Peacock’s veteran presence in the bullpen will be a nice boost. These three will be worth monitoring as camp progresses.

Who’ll be the No. 5 starter?

Speaking of the thin rotation, the issue of who’ll start the season at the back of the rotation wasn’t decided back in Spring Training. Josh James, Austin Pruitt, Framber Valdez and Bryan Abreu all pitched well, and all four are likely to make the team to start the season. But in all likelihood, only one will join Verlander, Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr and Jose Urquidy in the rotation.

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At this point I would peg James and Pruitt as the two frontrunners, with Valdez and Abreu more likely to pitch in relief. Things could change as camp progresses, though, so stay tuned. Manager Dusty Baker will be looking to see if one of these players separates himself from the others.

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