The Astros announced Friday that All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve will be reinstated from the injured list prior to tonight’s series opener against the Athletics. Altuve has not yet played in a game during the regular season after suffering a broken thumb when he was hit by a pitch during the World Baseball Classic. While that fracture ultimately required surgery, Altuve was not placed on the 60-day injured list, meaning Houston won’t need to make a corresponding 40-man move to reinstate Altuve.
The original timetable for Altuve was a two-month recovery period from the surgery, plus some rehab work after that. General manager Dana Brown has said recently, however, that Altuve was ahead of schedule. He’ll indeed return just shy of two months after undergoing surgery on March 22 (and two months, to the day, since the injury itself occurred). He’s played in five minor league rehab games between Double-A and Triple-A, and although he’s gone just 2-for-22 in that time, he and the team clearly feel he’s in a good enough place to return to the big league lineup.
Altuve, 33, had a down year during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season but has since rebounded to elite levels of performance. Over the past two seasons, he’s batted a combined .288/.368/.510 with 59 home runs and 23 steals — including a sensational .300/.387/.533 output in 2022.
In place of Altuve, the Astros have primarily leaned on utilityman Mauricio Dubon, who has exceeded any and all expectations since taking the reins at second base. The former Red Sox/Brewers prospect and Giants utilityman, acquired from San Francisco in a trade for catcher Michael Papierski last May, has taken 156 turns at the plate and turned in a .309/.333/.389 batting line with ten doubles, a triple, three steals and above-average glovework in the field.
Altuve will take over the lion’s share of playing time at second base, but Dubon’s performance has surely been impressive enough that manager Dusty Baker will frequently work him into the lineup at other spots. In addition to his work at second base, Dubon has big-league experience at shortstop, third base and all three outfield positions. He figures to spell Altuve and other Astros regulars while moving around the diamond going forward.
The return of Altuve should be a jolt for an Astros lineup that has been surprisingly below average. Houston ranks 25th in the Majors with 38 home runs and is tied for 16th with 191 runs scored. Astros hitters rank 16th in batting average (.244), 21st in on-base percentage (.312) and perhaps most surprisingly, 27th in slugging percentage (.377). They’ve received no production whatsoever out of Jose Abreu, who inked a three-year deal worth $58.5M this winter, and they’ve yet to get a single game out of Michael Brantley, who’s spent the year on the injured list.
A healthy Altuve would certainly lift the Astros’ production across the board, though only time will tell how quickly he can bounce back from that thumb surgery. The eight-time All-Star, six-time Silver Slugger and three-time American League batting champion is in the penultimate season of a $151M contract extension he signed prior to the 2018 season. He’s being paid $26M in 2023 and is slated to earn the same salary in 2024 before becoming a free agent — although Brown has said on record multiple times that he hopes to eventually extend Altuve and keep him in Houston for the entirety of his career.