Astros left fielder/designated hitter Michael Brantley will likely begin the season on the injured list, manager Dusty Baker confirmed to reporters this morning (Twitter links via Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle). Baker also announced that fellow left fielder/DH Yordan Alvarez will make his spring debut on Thursday after missing all of the team’s Grapefruit League games thus far due to soreness in his left hand. The ’Stros also optioned lefty reliever Matt Gage to Triple-A this morning, making an all-right-handed bullpen likely to begin the season.
Brantley, 35, underwent season-ending shoulder surgery last summer. He’s yet to appear in a game this spring, although that’s in part due to a pair of leaves he’s taken while tending to an unspecified family matter. Brantley was participating in hitting drills on the field in late February, but the team hasn’t provided a formal timeline for when or whether he’ll get into a spring game.
Houston re-signed Brantley to a one-year, $12MM contract over the winter, setting the stage for his fifth straight year as an Astro. Though the aforementioned shoulder injury limited him to just 277 plate appearances in 64 games last season, he remained productive when healthy, batting .288/.370/.416 with a higher walk rate than strikeout rate (11.2% versus 10.8%). Brantley has long been one of the toughest strikeouts in the game, and he’s been excellent in his four seasons with the Astros: .306/.368/.464 (128 wRC+).
As for Alvarez, the Astros have continually been coy when it comes to revealing much in the way of details on the still-nebulous hand ailment that has bothered the slugger dating back to 2022. Alvarez had soreness in both hands last summer, but Baker has regularly eschewed specifics regarding the injury. Both Baker and GM Dana Brown have continually voiced confidence that Alvarez, who hit .306/.406/.613 with 37 home runs in just 135 games last season, will be ready for Opening Day. A Thursday in-game debut would give him a week’s worth of plate appearances to ramp up.
Turning to the bullpen, Gage was the lone remaining lefty candidate on the spring roster. Both Blake Taylor and Parker Mushinski are expected to open the season on the injured list, and Houston opted not to re-sign Will Smith or bring in any of the many free-agent lefties available this winter. It’s always possible that a small trade, waiver claim or free-agent signing alters the calculus between now and Opening Day, but it seems increasingly likely that they simply won’t have a left-handed reliever come Opening Day.
That’s familiar territory for the Astros, who have been regularly light on left-handed bullpen arms in recent seasons. Houston didn’t carry a lefty reliever on its ALDS or ALCS roster during the 2022 postseason, for instance. That hasn’t proven to be a major issues for the Astros, due largely to the strength of their right-handed relievers even in typically disadvantageous platoon spots. Houston’s righty relievers not only lack glaring platoon splits but have dominated left-handed hitters. Each of Hector Neris, Bryan Abreu, Ryne Stanek, Rafael Montero and closer Ryan Pressly held lefties to a batting average of .205 or lower, an OBP of .287 or lower, and a wOBA of .240 or lower in 2022.