Brian McCann has returned, and the Astros are eager to see what the veteran catcher can contribute down the stretch.
McCann, 34, had been out since July 3 after finally giving in to knee surgery. His .206 batting average to that point was at least partially attributable to the injury, but now he’s fit for the final month and maybe for another postseason run.
“It’s night and day from how I felt early in the season,” he said.
Manager A.J. Hinch said the playing time at catcher among McCann, Martin Maldonado and Max Stassi will depend on who’s swinging the hot bat. But Hinch can’t ignore Maldonado’s ability to halt running games with his defense.
❚ Right-hander Chris Devenski has a new role after missing about a month because of a hamstring injury. He’s now asked to retire left-handers in high-leverage situations while still being available to throw multiple innings.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels rotation, which always seems in flux because of injuries, got another scare Sept. 2 when right-hander Shohei Ohtani’s velocity dropped noticeably in the third inning of his return to the rotation.
But the Angels were relieved to learn that there appeared to be no recurrence of the sprained elbow ligament that had kept him from pitching in a game since June 6. His back had stiffened between the first and second innings, and he had a sore ring finger after attempting to knock down a comebacker.
Ohtani could have four more Sunday starts, which is his regular day to pitch.
More positive rotation news: Righty Matt Shoemaker was set to make his first start after being sidelined since March 31 by forearm issues, and the Angels were upbeat about righthander Felix Pena’s continued good showings. He worked at least six innings in four consecutive outings and had a 2.88 ERA in that span.
❚ Albert Pujols is expected to be fit for spring training after having season-ending knee surgery. With Ohtani cutting into his role as a designated hitter, Pujols, 38, played 70 games at first base, more than twice as many as the previous two seasons combined.
With the rotation beset by injuries — all of Oakland’s opening-week starters have been on the disabled list — manager Bob Melvin turned to beginning games with relievers.
Left-handers Sean Manaea (shoulder) and Brett Anderson (forearm) were the latest starters to be sidelined, so Melvin leaned on his bullpen, turning to Liam Hendriks when the roster expanded Sept. 1.
“With the starters going down, we’re going to have to use our bullpen anyway,” Melvin said. “Maybe it keeps the starter off against the top part or middle part (of the lineup) one less time. We’ll feel it out.”
❚ Outfielder Dustin Fowler was called up, but his old spot in center wasn’t available because of Ramon Laureano’s hot hitting. Fowler, who did return to his leadoff role, was playing left.
Ryon Healy has had a somewhat diminished role since Robinson Cano rejoined the club, but the first baseman’s offense has heated up. In Healy’s first 47 at-bats after Cano returned from his suspension, he hit .362 with two home runs.
Cano has moved around the infield and also has been the designated hitter. The Mariners don’t want to play him at second base, his normal spot, because he’s ineligible for the playoffs.
But first the M’s have to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2001, and they believe getting Cano, an eighttime All-Star, into the lineup in some capacity is prudent.
Healy didn’t disagree, even if his playing time is limited. “I really think at this point, our minds and focus are on the bigger picture,” Healy said.
❚ The Mariners were encouraged by how left-hander James Paxton and right-hander Felix Hernandez looked when they returned to the rotation. Paxton (bruised forearm) came off the disabled list and allowed three runs in five innings against the Athletics but had 10 strikeouts. Hernandez, who had been removed from the rotation because of a string of poor performances but then resumed starting when Paxton got hurt, came into the week with consecutive outings of six and seven innings and had a season-high nine strikeouts in his most recent start.
With various trade deadlines expired, it’s clear Adrian Beltre is going to remain with the Rangers the rest of the season. Beltre would be ineligible for postseason play if he were to be peddled this month, and that’s a deal breaker for the future Hall of Famer, who has a no-trade clause in his contract.
What isn’t as clear is whether Beltre, a member of the 3,000hit club, will retire after the season. Beltre, 39, mainly has been limited to designated hitter instead of his usual spot at third base because of a chronic hamstring injury.
Beltre has stressed that if he does play next season, it will only be with the Rangers. The team hasn’t closed the door on his return in 2019.
❚ Once the Rangers decided this season was about rebuilding and player development, they’ve been active on the trade front. Their latest shedding of right-handed reliever Cory Gearrin to the Athletics means Texas has obtained 10 minor leaguers, including eight pitchers, in six deals since July.
“Who wouldn’t sign up to be the manager of the Houston Astros?”
A.J. Hinch Astros manager, after signing a four-year extension to remain with the defending World Series champions through the 2022 season
The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani’s back stiffened between innings early and he had a sore finger after trying to knock down a comebacker Sept. 2 in his first start since June 6.