Michael Brantley’s long absence from the Astros lineup could finally be nearing its end, as GM Dana Brown told Robert Ford of 790 AM radio today (hat tip to Matt Kawahara of the Houston Chronicle) that Brantley will visit the team Monday in Boston when the Astros begin a series with the Red Sox. After what would presumably be a final checkup with team doctors, Brantley would “then hopefully…maybe, potentially, in the lineup by Tuesday. We’re feeling really good about him coming back,” Brown said.
Brantley’s last big league game took place on June 26, 2022, as shoulder problems eventually required a surgery that cost Brantley the rest of the season and a chance to participate in Houston’s run to the World Series title. Initially, Brantley was expected to be ready for Opening Day, though a need for a more gradual build pushed his target date to around the start of May. Unfortunately, a pair of setbacks kept delaying matters, but things finally seem to be going fairly smoothly for Brantley during his current minor league rehab assignment. Over seven games with Triple-A Round Rock, Brantley has a fantastic 1.010 OPS in 27 plate appearances, hinting that he can still deliver at the plate when healthy.
Brown said the Astros will gradually ease Brantley back into action, as a part-time role with several off-days built into his workload should hopefully keep the bothersome shoulder in good condition. Brantley has been regularly playing left field at Triple-A, so while the Astros are likely to give him a good chunk of DH at-bats, it doesn’t look like he’ll be limited to just a bat-only role.
Houston is fighting both the Rangers and Mariners in a three-pronged AL West battle, and the upcoming series in Boston carries added importance since the Red Sox are in the wild card hunt. Between this crowded postseason picture, the Astros could still finish anywhere from a first-round bye as the AL West champ to missing the playoffs altogether. It might be a lot to expect Brantley to resume his previous All-Star form after such a long layoff, but if he can post anything close to his old numbers, that’s still a big help to an already potent lineup.
Though it’ll still be at least a day before Brantley’s potential return, the Astros made an addition to the roster today, as Phil Maton was activated from the 15-day injured list. Right-hander Ronel Blanco was optioned to Triple-A in the corresponding move, and as the Athletic’s Chandler Rome noted (via X), Blanco has now hit the maximum number of five minor league options in a single season. If Blanco is recalled and the Astros wanted to eventually send him back to the minors, they would first need to expose the righty to waivers.
Maton hasn’t pitched since August 11, when Eduardo Escobar drilled a line drive up the middle into Maton’s throwing elbow. Fortunately, there wasn’t any damage besides a bruise and some soreness, so Maton was able to return after the minimum 15 days. The veteran reliever is enjoying a nice season, with a 3.04 ERA over 53 1/3 innings and some of the best soft-contact numbers and spin rates of any pitcher in baseball.