Friday night notes: new lineup, CJ’s playing time, Altuve’s leg.
The proverbial second half of the season (I say “proverbial” because the Astros are actually beyond the half-way point, having played 92 games in the first half) began with a little lineup shakeup by manager Brad Mills. It wasn’t actually so much a shakeup as it was a minor shift — everyone moved down a spot, with Matt Downs moving into the two-hole and playing third base.
It wasn’t a huge change, but still, it knocked Hunter Pence to the cleanup spot and Carlos Lee to the five-hole, a spot he’s only been in one other time this year. Mills’ hope is that with Michael Bourn, Downs and Jeff Keppinger — all of whom are pretty good at getting on base — batting in front of the two presumed run-producers, the Astros will, well, produce more runs.
“Hunter’s having such a good year,” Mills said. “And Carlos has been an RBI guy his whole career. We’re trying to get them (at-bats) with more guys on.”
It’s probably unfair to judge the new plan on one game, especially since the Astros lost to the Pirates, due to very few contributions on the offensive side. But Mills indicated before the game he’s prepared to give this new lineup a nice, long look, and really, given the Astros’ record through 93 games, why not?
The two most asked questions from Twitterverse on Friday involved Chris Johnson (is he ever going to start again?) and Jose Altuve (why isn’t he playing?)
First, on CJ. Mills said he talked to the third baseman during the workout on Thursday and told him the diminished playing time is “nothing against him. We’re still looking for him to be a part of this.”
This isn’t terribly difficult to decipher. Johnson was hitting .237 over his last 10 games entering Friday’s opener with the Pirates, and overall this year, he was batting .243 and had struck out 74 times. Downs, in a much lesser role, had a batting average nearly 30 points higher (.270 before Friday’s game) and has as many home runs as Johnson (six) with nearly one-third as many at-bats.
The Astros rarely win, the offense is struggling and Mills is looking for an answer. So for now, Downs is going to play more. Johnson, it should be noted, singled in a pinch-hit at-bat on Friday.
A few of you have asked why the Double-A Hooks second baseman hasn’t played in the last few days. According to my spies in Corpus, Altuve aggravated a leg muscle Monday night when he was running the bases in the sixth inning. Manager Tom Lawless said he’d be sidelined a couple of days, but that was on Tuesday. Altuve hasn’t been placed on the disabled list, which means he’s probably due back soon.
Thanks to everyone who purchased Social Media Night tickets for Saturday night in the Budweiser Patio. As a reminder, here is the timeline:
3 p.m. — Meet in Union Station for the ballpark tour and/or batting practice. If you don’t want the tour, we will be there to take you directly to BP. If you do go on the tour, you’ll join the group behind the Astros’ dugout around 3:45 to watch BP.
After batting practice we ask everyone be seated in the Budweiser Patio (behind center field) by 5 p.m. You can go out there at your leisure, but the program with Matt Downs begins sharply at 5 and ends no later than 5:15.
We’ll have popcorn and kettle chips to munch on before the game starts, and we’ll start serving dinner — Ballpark Beef Nachos — right around the first pitch.
The Will Call windows will be open in plenty of time for you to pick up your tickets and make the tour on time.
We conclude with a few images from batting practice on Friday…
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