X-rays and an MRI both came back negative after Jed Lowrie sprained his right thumb diving back into second base on a pickoff throw on Wednesday, but the Astros are still concerned that he might miss the start of the season.
Lowrie took some ground balls and played catch yesterday, but Astros manager Brad Mills told Brian McTaggart of MLB.com that his thumb was still “pretty tender” and that “he wasn’t able to grip the ball as well as we’d like.” He also expressed doubt about whether he would be able to play in any exhibition games next week.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said that it wouldn’t be “the end of the world” if Lowrie starts the season on the disabled list, so it’s clear they won’t rush him if he’s not ready. Assuming he is held out of Grapefruit League action, the Astros could backdate a potential DL-stint to Wednesday, so he may only end up missing the first few games of the season.
Rule 5 pick Marwin Gonzalez and last year’s Opening Day shortstop Angel Sanchez are among the potential alternatives if Lowrie needs more time to recover.
Hunter Pence was thought to be on his way to retirement after a lackluster 2018 season with the Giants. As he entered his mid-30’s, Pence spent a considerable amount of time on the injured list, playing in 389 out of 648 possible regular season games with the Giants from 2015-18.
Pence, however, kept his career going, inking a minor league deal with the Rangers in February. He performed very well in spring training, earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Pence hasn’t stopped hitting.
Entering Monday night’s game against the Mariners, Pence was batting .299/.358/.619 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 109 plate appearances, mostly as a DH. Statcast agrees that Pence has been mashing the ball. He has an average exit velocity of 93.3 MPH this season, which would obliterate his marks in each of the previous four seasons since Statcast became a thing. His career average exit velocity is 89.8 MPH. He has “barreled” the ball 10.4 percent of the time, well above his 6.2 percent average.
What Pence did to a baseball in the seventh inning of Monday’s game, then, shouldn’t come as a surprise.
That’s No. 9 on the year for Pence. Statcast measured it at 449 feet and 108.3 MPH off the bat. Not only is Pence not retired, he may be a lucrative trade chip for the Rangers leading up to the trade deadline at the end of July.