Gurriel gives Astros flexibility in series with A’s

HOUSTON — One night after his fifth multi-hit performance in his last seven starts, Yuli Gurriel found himself elevated in the lineup.

Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch made a point to note that Gurriel wasn’t batting sixth Saturday night because of his torrid hitting. He made the change in the middle game of a three-game set with the Oakland Athletics that concludes Sunday because Gurriel’s bat fit that slot in this lineup.

Saturday night marked the sixth time this season that Gurriel batted sixth, his highest spot in the order in 2017. He has mostly hit sixth, seventh or eighth, batting ninth just once.

Last season, his first with the Astros (15-9) after his defection from Cuba, Gurriel had 50 plate appearances in the two-hole, 12 batting cleanup, and 44 hitting fifth.

“Where I place him in the order is not indicative of my confidence, it’s more of how he fits in our lineup with the rest of our guys,” Hinch said. “It doesn’t matter where he hits. He’s comfortable hitting at the bottom, he’s comfortable hitting in the six- or seven-hole.

“For a while I didn’t want to move him; I didn’t want to mess him up. But as I’ve moved him up, he’s continued to hit so he can hit anywhere.”

Gurriel went 1-for-4 in the Astros’ 2-1 loss to the A’s (11-13).

Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (4-0, 0.84 ERA) will start the series finale for Houston on Sunday looking to win the series and post his 11th consecutive quality start against Oakland.

Keuchel limited Oakland to one run, four hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in seven innings in a 7-2 win on April 14 at Oakland Coliseum.

The Athletics will counter with right-hander Jesse Hahn (1-1, 2.09 ERA), who is 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA in three career starts against the Astros.

Oakland manager Bob Melvin continues to tweak his injury-ravaged lineup, inserting Ryan LaMarre in center field and Chad Pinder at shortstop to get both some plate appearances.

The Athletics have seven players on the disabled list, including center fielder Rajai Davis and shortstop Marcus Semien among three position players. Davis is close to returning from a hamstring injury.

“Jaff Decker has done a nice job for us, but Raj was a guy that we targeted to get the brunt of the time in center field,” Melvin said. “Certainly the speed dynamic with he and Marcus out hurt us too. They’re basically our only guys that give us some stolen base and speed threats so we’re a little bit one-dimensional with those guys out of the lineup.”

With Davis and right-hander Sonny Gray set to return soon, the Athletics have reinforcements coming. But until Oakland is made whole again, Melvin will make the best of what he has available.

“The trap is you don’t want to look forward to that and need that,” Melvin said. “You still have to play every single day, so it’s more look for someone to get an opportunity and do well.

“We’ll get these guys back and it will be a little bit of a shot in the arm when we do, but we can’t look too far forward in trying to get these guys back.”