Altuve pursues batting title in Astros' final game
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Even with a batting championship practically secured, Jose Altuve will have to attend to some unfinished business when the Houston Astros end the season Sunday against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium.
Altuve, who owns a .338 average, also has a chance to finish as the American League leader in hits. The Venezuelan second baseman will enter the game with 215, one more than Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox.
“He's got some goals in mind that he's not yet accomplished,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “He sees all sorts of numbers that he could get and make a special year even more special. When Altuve is zeroing in on things, he rarely gets denied. It wouldn't surprise me if he has a good day.”
Altuve said he is “way different” as a hitter this year than when he won his first batting title in 2014. Two years ago, Altuve finished with just seven home runs and 59 RBIs. But with one game left this year, the infielder already has career highs of 24 homers and 96 RBIs.
“I'm trying to do damage at the plate,” Altuve said. “Before, I knew if I hit a weak ground ball, I could be safe. Then I understood that if you hit a double or drive in a run, it's better than hitting a single. I'm not trying to hit a home run every time. I'm trying to look for my pitch and put a good swing on the ball.”
When Altuve won his last batting championship, he served primarily as a leadoff hitter. This season, he has batted mostly third.
“He's done a great job of being a complete hitter this year wherever I've put him,” Hinch said. “He's taken it personally to improve his plate discipline.”
Altuve will face right-hander Jhoulys Chacin in Sunday's finale. Chacin replaced right-hander Jered Weaver, who was scheduled to start on his normal turn in the rotation. But Weaver experienced tightness in his lower back during his last start Monday night, and felt stiff during a bullpen session Friday.
Regardless, Weaver faces an uncertain future after Sunday. The 11-year veteran, who turns 34 on Tuesday, will be a free agent after spending his entire career with the Angels. Weaver will finish this season with career highs in earned-run average and home runs allowed after fighting nagging injuries and declining velocity for the past three years.
“It's a weird feeling,” Weaver said about the uncertainty. “I've been here for 11 years. It's all I've known.”
The possibility that his last start Monday night might his last with the Angels made Weaver wistful.
“I was telling a couple of guys that I was a little emotional coming down the tunnel here,” Weaver said Monday night. “I tried to say 'Hi' to as many workers as I could.”
Meanwhile, right-hander Brady Rodgers will make his first major-league start for the Astros. Rodgers was named the Pacific Coast League's pitcher of the year and the Astros' minor-league pitcher of the year after going 12-4 with a 2.86 ERA at Triple-A
But since being promoted Sept. 2, Rodgers has allowed 10 runs and 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings covering four relief appearances.