ASTROS OUTLOOK

Let's discuss 4 Houston Astros that must step up in Jose Altuve's absence

Let's discuss 4 Houston Astros that must step up in Jose Altuve's absence
The Astros may have to lean on Jeremy Pena even more. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.

After legging out an infield single In Monday night’s game against the Angels, Astros’ second baseman Jose Altuve strained his left hamstring and was forced to leave in the 8th inning.

The 7x All-Star was retroactively placed on the 10-day injured list Wednesday as a result.

"We didn't think he'd be ready to go in a week, and it's a 10-day IL, and we'll reevaluate it from there," Astros manager Dusty Baker said Wednesday

Altuve was off to a slow start (6-36) to begin the season, and spending some time off the field could be good for him in the long run.

Temporarily replacing one of the best players in baseball is no easy feat, but can be possible if certain players step up.

From utility player to starter

Aledmys Diaz is the obvious choice to replace Altuve at second base for now. He entered the game for the 31-year-old Monday night and has played well throughout his Astros career.

Diaz has been a reliable defensive asset to this team, with the ability to play at all four infield positions and the outfield as well.

Although he is only hitting .154 to start off 2022, Diaz has proven to be a dependable bat in Baker’s lineup once he gets going.

Pena shows power and potential

One of the best players for the Astros this season has been the rookie phenom Jeremy Pena. Through his first 11 games, Houston’s new shortstop is hitting .308/.364/.590. and only Chas McCormick has a higher batting average.

Over the last two games, Pena has been given the opportunity to leadoff, and he seems to fit in well.

At this point, it may be a lot to ask of a rookie, but the 24-year-old seems to be up to the challenge, as his performance at the plate would indicate.

Pena showcased he has some pop in his bat as well, and is behind only Yordan Alvarez for the team lead in homers.

The rookie is hitting in a good spot with Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman and Alvarez backing him up in the lineup and could be dangerous to any opposing pitching staff.

If Pena can continue to put up good numbers at the leadoff spot, the Astros won’t have to worry about losing production at the top of their lineup while Altuve is out.

Goodrum gets the green light.

At first glance, Niko Goodrum may seem like an odd choice to put here, but he is a vital part of this Astros roster.

Diaz could play second base for the majority of the time during Altuve’s absence, thus moving Goodrun into the utility role.

The 30-year-old has already played at first base, second base and designated hitter this season, and spent time at shortstop and in the outfield last year for the Detroit Tigers.

Baker said that both Goodrum and Diaz would split time at second base, but it can be presumed Diaz will get more starts as he is more reliable at the plate.

Goodrum can be an above average defender, and will provide much needed depth for the Astros during this time.

JJ the wildcard

One bonus player who could make an impact is the recently promoted infielder/outfielder JJ Matijevic.

The 26-year-old was called up on Wednesday in response to Altuve heading to the 10-day IL.

He hit .310 with four homers and 10 RBIs for the Sugar Land Space Cowboys this season.

Matijevic could get an opportunity to give some guys days off and add a little bit more depth to this already stacked Astros lineup.

Altuve could return as soon as Friday, April 29th in Toronto. Until then, these players and others could give the Astros a boost during the All-Star second basemen’s absence.

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Will robot umps improve baseball? Composite Getty Images.

Major League Baseball could test robot umpires as part of a challenge system in spring training next year, which could lead to regular-season use in 2026.

MLB has been experimenting with the automated ball-strike system in the minor leagues since 2019 but is still working on the shape of the strike zone.

“I said at the owners meeting it is not likely that we would bring ABS to the big leagues without a spring training test. OK, so if it’s ’24 that leaves me ’25 as the year to do your spring training test if we can get these issues resolved, which would make ’26 a viable possibility,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday during a meeting with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. "But is that going to be the year? I’m not going to be flat-footed on that issue.

“We have made material progress. I think that the technology is good to a 100th of an inch. The technology in terms of the path of the ball is pluperfect.”

Triple-A ballparks have used ABS this year for the second straight season, but there is little desire to call the strike zone as the cube defined in the rule book and MLB has experimented with modifications during minor league testing.

The ABS currently calls strikes solely based on where the ball crosses the midpoint of the plate, 8.5 inches from the front and the back. The top of the strike zone was increased to 53.5% of batter height this year from 51%, and the bottom remained at 27%.

"We do have technical issues surrounding the definition of the strike zone that still need to be worked out,” Manfred said.

After splitting having the robot alone for the first three games of each series and a human with a challenge system in the final three during the first 2 1/2 months of the Triple-A season, MLB on June 25 switched to an all-challenge system in which a human umpire makes nearly all decisions.

Each team currently has three challenges in the Pacific Coast League and two in the International League. A team retains its challenge if successful, similar to the regulations for big league teams with video reviews.

“The challenge system is more likely or more supported, if you will, than the straight ABS system,” players' association head Tony Clark said earlier Tuesday at a separate session with the BBWAA. "There are those that have no interest in it at all. There are those that have concerns even with the challenge system as to how the strike zone itself is going to be considered, what that looks like, how consistent it is going to be, what happens in a world where Wi-Fi goes down in the ballpark or the tech acts up on any given night.

“We’re seeing those issues, albeit in minor league ballparks," Clark added. "We do not want to end up in a world where in a major league ballpark we end up with more questions than answers as to the integrity of that night’s game or the calls associated with it.”

Playing rules changes go before an 11-member competition committee that includes four players, an umpire and six team representatives. Ahead of the 2023 season, the committee adopted a pitch clock and restrictions on defensive shifts without support from players.

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