WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Now that Jose Altuve is back playing Grapefruit League games, Houston manager A.J. Hinch wants the 2017 AL MVP to see if he can improve the way he turns double plays.
“The only thing I’ve asked him to focus on for the rest of the spring is his turns at second base,” Hinch said. “He’s really, really good, and we’re trying to make him even better.”
A six-time All-Star and the 2015 AL Gold Glove winner, Altuve was part of 63 double plays turned by the Astros last season. That’s down from 86 in only 19 fewer games the year prior.
“Those plays are huge for us,” Hinch said. “Our infield, the acrobatic plays that (third baseman Alex) Bregman makes and (shortstop Carlos) Correa makes on the left side of the infield, to complete the play with a double play is a small point of emphasis.”
Altuve’s been working on his footwork and making smoother, quicker transfers from the glove to his throwing hand.
“They think I’m getting better, so that’s big for me,” Altuve said.
Left side soreness kept Altuve from playing in exhibition games since March 6. He returned on Friday night against the Cardinals, going 1 for 2 with a walk.
Swinging unencumbered, Altuve hit a ball that caromed off the right leg of St. Louis pitcher Daniel Ponce de Leon and into right field. He also hit a hard a one-hopper to short.
“I missed playing with the boys,” Altuve said. “I felt really good today.”
The Astros have been cautious this spring with Altuve after he underwent offseason knee surgery.
He’s now 3 for 13 at the plate this spring, with all three hits being singles. He won’t make Saturday’s trip to play the Phillies in Clearwater but will play on Sunday against the Braves in Kissimmee.
The Astros only have eight Grapefruit League games remaining but Altuve believes that’s enough time to get his swing ready for opening day.
“Plenty,” Altuve said.