The Astros have activated Michael Brantley from the 60-day injured list, the team announced. Corey Julks has been optioned to Triple-A to make room on the 26-man roster, while Jake Cousins has been designated for assignment to open up a spot on the 40-man. On Sunday, Astros GM Dana Brown told Robert Ford of 790 AM radio that Brantley could “maybe, potentially” return to the lineup by Tuesday, following a checkup appointment with team doctors. Evidently, his appointment went well, and he will be back in the starting lineup this evening.
The veteran outfielder and designated hitter has not played an MLB game since June 2022. Initially, he went on the 10-day IL with discomfort in his right shoulder, but seven weeks later, he underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum. At the time, he remained hopeful he could return for Opening Day in 2023, but he was unable to get back in game shape during spring training. He began the season on the 10-day IL as he tried to ramp up but suffered a setback in May. In late June, the Astros moved him to the 60-day IL, and in early July, manager Dusty Baker explained that Brantley had “plateaued” in his attempt to return to the field.
Despite missing so much time, Brantley looked excellent during his latest rehab stint with Triple-A Sugar Land. In seven games, he hit .348/.444/.565, good for a 147 wRC+. That’s a promising sign that he’ll be able to pick up right where he left off; he hit .288 with a 127 wRC+ in 64 games for the Astros in 2022. However, Houston isn’t planning to lean too heavily on Brantley straight away. The plan is to gently build up his workload, giving the 36-year-old plenty of days off, at least in the beginning.
Cousins joined the Astros organization last month, when Houston claimed him off waivers from Milwaukee. The 29-year-old right-hander had a 4.82 ERA in nine relief appearances for the Brewers and a 7.30 ERA in 13 games at Triple-A. He didn’t fare much better with the Astros org, giving up eight earned runs in eight innings pitched for the Sugar Land Space Cowboys. Overall, it has been a disappointing season for Cousins, who showed real promise with the Brewers from 2021-22. He pitched 30 games with the big league club in 2021, posting a 2.70 ERA and a 35.2% strikeout rate. He was shut down with a UCL injury the following season but opted not to undergo Tommy John surgery. He pitched well in Triple-A upon his return, first during a rehab stint and then an optional assignment, and made three scoreless appearances for the big league club in September. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone his way in 2023. The Astros will now have to place Cousins on waivers. Given his recent success at the big league level, there’s a reasonable chance he could be claimed.
Julks, Houston’s eighth-round pick in the 2017 draft, made his big league debut earlier this year. He remained with the Astros from Opening Day through early August, when he was optioned to Triple-A. He returned shortly thereafter, replacing an injured Grae Kessinger on the active roster. The 27-year-old has hit .245 with an 80 wRC+ at the MLB level, splitting his time between left field and DH. He could potentially return to Houston when rosters expand in September, but he’ll have to spend the minimum of 10 days at the minor league level before he returns.