HOUSTON — After six games serving as the designated hitter or as a pinch hitter off the bench, Yuli Gurriel is poised to make his debut defensively for the Astros this week against the Athletics, perhaps as early as Monday night in the series opener.
Gurriel worked extensively with third base coach Gary Pettis in left fielder prior to the series finale against the Rays on Sunday in anticipation of donning a glove for the first time since the Astros (68-62) recalled him from Triple-A Fresno on Aug. 21. Gurriel will debut at either third base or in left, with the latter a more likely option given how effectively rookie Alex Bregman has wielded his glove at the hot corner.
Gurriel dealt with a minor hamstring issue while the Astros completed a recent seven-game road trip in Pittsburgh, delaying his opportunity to showcase his defensive chops. Gurriel enjoyed an exceptional 15-year career in Cuba as a middle infielder, but with the Astros set at second base (All-Star Jose Altuve) and shortstop (2015 American League Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa), and with Bregman emerging, Gurriel will bounce around now that his health is no longer a big concern.
“It's easier for me to trust him and have him know himself,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of deciding that Gurriel is healthy enough to play in the field. “He's been on the center stage, has been one of the best players on his team every team he's been on so he knows what it's going to take and this is fulfilling a dream of his so he's not going to be frivolous with his body.”
The Astros will open the series with Oakland behind rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove (1-2, 5.20 ERA). Musgrove will make his first career appearance against the Athletics following five outings (four starts) after his promotion on Aug. 1.
Musgrove is looking to bounce back from back-to-back subpar outings against the Orioles and Pirates having allowed 13 runs on 19 hits (including four home runs) over 9 1/3 innings.
The Athletics (57-73) will counter with rookie left-hander Sean Manaea (5-8, 4.53 ERA), who made his major league debut against the Astros on April 29 in Oakland.
Manaea did not record a decision in either of his two starts against the Astros, posting a 3.00 ERA while allowing four runs on nine hits and four walks with nine strikeouts in 12 innings. Manaea was sharp last Tuesday against the Indians, surrendering just one run on three hits and two walks with nine strikeouts in seven innings in a 9-1 victory in Oakland.
The Athletics won their second consecutive series against a postseason contender on Sunday, beating the Cardinals 7-4 in St. Louis in the rubber match of that three-game set. Oakland also took two of three against the Indians before departing on a six-game road swing that concludes at Minute Maid Park.
“We're a good team,” Athletics catcher Stephen Vogt said. “We've had an up-and-down season with a lot of injuries, a lot of new faces. But one thing about this group is we've taken a lot of series from some good teams. We're not going to quit or roll over.”