Houston Astros star Jose Altuve had surgery Wednesday on his broken right thumb, an injury that occurred in the World Baseball Classic and will significantly delay the second baseman's 2023 debut.
The Astros announced that the 32-year-old Altuve had the procedure done in Houston and will stay there to begin his rehabilitation, with only one week left in spring training. The Astros will fly there on Sunday following their final Grapefruit League game in Florida, before playing a pair of exhibitions against their Triple-A team, the Sugar Land Space Cowboys, in Texas.
Altuve was hit by a pitch on Saturday while playing for Venezuela in the WBC. He might not be ready to return to the lineup until at least late May. The eight-time All-Star and 2017 American League MVP batted .300 with 103 runs, 28 homers and 18 steals for the World Series champion Astros last season. Mauricio Dubón and David Hensley are the leading candidates to fill in for Altuve at second base.
Altuve isn't the only Major League Baseball star who was hurt in WBC play, of course. Mets closer Edwin Díaz will miss the 2023 season because of a torn patellar tendon in his right knee as the freak result of an on-field celebration following a WBC win by the Puerto Rico national team.
The Astros also scratched right-hander Hunter Brown from his scheduled start Wednesday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Manager Dusty Baker told reporters that Brown, who is ranked by MLB as the organization's top prospect and competing for the last spot in the rotation, has discomfort in his lower back.
THE BUXTON PLAN
The Minnesota Twins have been bringing center fielder Byron Buxton along slowly, after the oft-injured star had arthroscopic surgery last September on the right knee that hindered him last season, but he made an immediate smash in his first exhibition game Tuesday night with a double in his first at-bat right before Carlos Correa drove him in with a homer.
Buxton, who played in a minor league game Wednesday, is at full strength. But the Twins are being cautious by limiting his activity to designated hitter duty for now, a plan that will continue into the early part of the regular season.
“The best thing to do is to make sure he’s in the lineup as much as possible, continue to keep him in a great spot physically, and then see what the rest of April and what May brings,” manager Rocco Baldelli told reporters in Fort Myers, Florida.
NOT QUITE READY
The New York Mets sent catcher Francisco Álvarez to Triple-A Syracuse, quashing for now the possibility of putting the prized 21-year-old on the opening day roster.
Álvarez, who made his major league debut with the Mets near the end of last season, had just three hits in 28 at-bats in Grapefruit League exhibition games. Ranked by MLB as the third-best prospect in baseball, Álvarez batted .260 with 27 homers and 78 RBIs in a combined 112 minor league games in 2022 at Double-A and Triple-A.
The Mets have newcomer Omar Narváez, a 2021 All-Star with the Milwaukee Brewers, as their primary catcher with Tomás Nido likely to play mostly against left-handed pitchers.
Speaking of the Mets, Díaz turned 29 on Wednesday — a rather subdued milestone for the right-hander considering his situation. Diaz nonetheless posted in Spanish an upbeat message on his Twitter account, thanking God for another year of life and describing his health as good and his outlook as positive in this initial stage of the roughly eight-month rehabilitation process.
Detroit Tigers right-hander Michael Lorenzen told reporters in Lakeland, Florida, that he's optimistic about an efficient recovery from a mildly strained left groin muscle. Manager A.J. Hinch said Lorenzen's status in the season-opening rotation is “going to go down to the wire."
Matt Manning, another expected member of the starting five, turned in a strong performance in his final spring training start Wednesday against the Atlanta Braves with six strikeouts and one unearned run allowed in four innings.
POTENTIAL SETBACK FOR A’S
Oakland Athletics right-hander Drew Rucinski has been scratched from his scheduled start Thursday because of tightness in his left hamstring. Manager Mark Kotsay told reporters in Mesa, Arizona, that there’s no timeline established yet for his return.
Rucinski, who returned to the major leagues on a $3 million contract after four seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization, is in line for a spot in the A’s rotation. The group is supposed to be steered by 2022 All-Star Paul Blackburn, but he will start the season on the injured list because of a torn fingernail on his right middle finger.