Houston Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez made his 69th appearance this season as the designated hitter on Saturday.
Astros manager Dusty Baker, however, has inserted Alvarez into left field on 23 occasions and seems to be warming to the idea of giving him an opportunity to play first base as well.
With veterans Michael Brantley and Yuli Gurriel dealing with injuries and perhaps in need of occasional breaks from defensive duties, serving as the designated hitter would allow for opportunities to keep their bats in the lineup. And after Alvarez hit his 50th career home run in his 184th game, a club record, in the Astros’ 4-0 win over the Minnesota Twins on Saturday, the need to have Alvarez on hand to hit remains clear.
Alvarez was sidelined for most of the 2020 season following surgery on both knees. With those issues behind him and with his prodigious power serving as a nightly threat, remaining healthy is the only obstacle slowing Alvarez at this point.
“That’s the main goal,” he said. “Just stay healthy and the results will take care of themselves.”
Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. (9-2, 3.02 ERA) will start on Sunday as the Astros pursue a split of the four-game home series with Minnesota.
McCullers is coming off a stellar outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers, against whom he worked 6 2/3 scoreless innings while allowing four hits and posting nine strikeouts in a 3-0 win Tuesday.
McCullers has won three consecutive decisions, and the Astros are 11-3 over his past 14 starts. His .196 opponent average ranks second in the American League while his ERA is fourth.
McCullers is 0-1 with a 6.48 ERA over three career starts against the Twins.
Right-hander Kenta Maeda (4-4, 4.65) has the starting assignment for the Twins on Sunday in what will be his first career start and appearance at Minute Maid Park.
Maeda allowed five runs on seven hits — including a season-high-tying three home runs — with nine strikeouts over five innings on Tuesday but did not factor into the decision in the Twins’ 7-5 win against the Cincinnati Reds.
He will face the Astros for the first time since Game 1 of the 2020 AL Wild Card Series and will make just his second career regular-season appearance against Houston. His first came at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 4, 2018, when he allowed five runs on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings in a 14-0 setback.
Maeda will follow veteran right-hander Michael Pineda in the rotation against the Astros after the latter took the ball following a pair of rookie right-handers in Griffin Jax and Bailey Ober. With Jose Berrios (Toronto) and J.A. Happ (St. Louis) moved at the trade deadline and the Twins relying on younger arms in their rotation, a responsibility to lead by example falls on Pineda.
In addition, the Twins have relied heavily on their bullpen of late, a fact that facilitated a decision in the visiting dugout following the fifth inning to send Pineda back out for the sixth. He worked around a two-out single to complete his final frame with a season-high 102 pitches.
“I’m a team guy, so I always like to help the young guys in whatever way I can help,” said Pineda, 32. “I know right now we have a young rotation, but it’s a really good group. For me, every time I go to the mound I want to work deep in the game.”
–Field Level Media
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