Did Joe Espada's late-inning decision signal upcoming change in Astros lineup?

Will the Astros skipper take it one step further?
Houston Astros manager Joe Espada
Houston Astros manager Joe Espada / Tim Warner/GettyImages

First-year Houston Astros manager Joe Espada has caught his fair share of criticism during the start of the 2024 season. The Astros skipper has made some lineup adjustments that have been called into question, his bullpen usage is under scrutiny, and some in-game decision-making has raised eyebrows. Such is the life of a major league manager, right?

But on Wednesday, Espada made a decision that the majority of Astros fans probably agreed with. During the bottom of the eighth inning with one out in a tie ball game against the Atlanta Braves, Espada pulled back Jose Abreu in favor of Jon Singleton.

This was the first time all season that Espada had pulled the Astros first baseman from a game. Abreu is 4-for-51 on the season (.078) and has drawn just three walks while also striking out 17 times. Is this a sign of things to come? Will Espada finally move Abreu into a limited role?

Did Joe Espada's late-inning decision to bench Jose Abreu signal an upcoming change in the Astros lineup?

The "back of the baseball card" crowd will tell you that Espada was just playing the percentages with Joe Jimenez on the hill for the Braves. After all, Singleton is a left-handed hitter and the Astros manager preferred the left-on-right matchup.

That argument might hold water in some circles, but over his career, Singleton has a .148/.268/.265 slash line against right-handed pitching. The 32-year-old infielder actually has reverse splits and has hit .263/.356/.483 against southpaws during his major league career.

Nope, this wasn't Espada playing the matchup. It was Espada trying to win a game, and that meant benching the player whom the Astros paid over $58 million just last season. Abreu has been a major disappointment for Houston this season; that's included a demotion all the way down to No. 8 in the Astros batting order.

The next step is, of course, for the Astros to bench Abreu and call up Joey Loperfido to take over at first base. But unless Loperfido struggles, once that move is made, there's no going back. With Yordan Alvarez cemented as the 'Stros designated hitter, Abreu would then become a very expensive bench bat.

Houston could always designate Abreu for assignment, but that seems a bit extreme, especially considering the Astros are on the hook for the remainder of the slugger's contract that lasts through next season.

It's definitely an expensive problem to have, but it's also one that the Astros need to address. Espada took the first step on Wednesday, and with Houston struggling so much at the outset of the 2024 season, the team can no longer afford to sit on their hands just waiting for things to happen.

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