Slugger Yordan Alvarez and starter Jose Urquidy will begin minor league rehab assignments with the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate tomorrow, the team announced. Houston has been without Alvarez for five weeks due to an oblique strain. Urquidy has been out more than two months due to shoulder troubles. Alvarez figures to be the first of the pair back to the active roster; Urquidy hasn’t pitched since late April and will surely require multiple rehab starts with full rest between them before reemerging as a rotation option. Still, it’s welcome news for an injury-plagued Astros club that is lacking both in the lineup and the rotation at the moment.
In recent weeks, general manager Dana Brown has publicly declared his two top needs at the trade deadline to be a left-handed bat and a starting pitcher. For much of the summer, Brown had suggested the bat was the larger priority, but just yesterday he flipped the script and indicated that pitching help is perhaps an even greater need. That’s understandable, as the ’Stros have not only been without Urquidy but also Lance McCullers Jr. (season-ending flexor surgery) and Luis Garcia (Tommy John surgery). To top it off, ace Framber Valdez has been pitching through a sprained ankle in recent weeks, while righty Cristian Javier had his most recent start skipped to “give him a breather” after a run of poor results, per Brown.
The looming returns of Alvarez and Urquidy — barring any setbacks during their respective rehab stints — surely doesn’t quell the Astros’ desire to add help in either area. Brown’s comments on his team’s needs were made with full knowledge that both players would be returning at some point before the deadline (or perhaps shortly after, in Urquidy’s case). Even if both could be inserted into the lineup immediately after the break, the Astros would still have glaring needs.
In the rotation, Houston is currently relying on Valdez and a trio of inexperienced arms: top prospect Hunter Brown, swingman Brandon Bielak and rookie J.P. France. Presumably, Javier will rejoin the group after the break, and the Astros have also taken looks at righties Ronel Blanco and Shawn Dubin — both currently in Triple-A. There’s minimal depth beyond that group, and France’s strong 3.26 ERA to date isn’t supported by his shakier under-the-surface numbers. Most of the team’s young arms are also already nearing last year’s season-long workload; their innings could present concerns in the final 72 games.
Adding Alvarez and his characteristically excellent .277/.388/.589 batting line (and 17 homers) back into the lineup will be an obvious boon, but the Astros likely need more help than that. Jose Altuve is back on the injured list due to an oblique strain of his own, and Houston hitters have been a middle-of-the-pack group overall. The Astros rank 10th in the Majors in runs scored (417), 17th in batting average (.247), 19th in on-base percentage (.316) and 14th in slugging percentage (.407). The only left-handed bat in the lineup with Alvarez out has been outfielder Kyle Tucker. The hope had been that Michael Brantley would make his season debut soon, but manager Dusty Baker revealed earlier this month that the veteran hitter had “plateaued” in his efforts to make it back from 2022 shoulder surgery; a timetable for his return remains unclear.