Dan's Dugout: Astros Aim for Repeat Performance • Latino Sports


Dan’s Dugout: Astros Aim for Repeat Performance


LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL – Evan Gattis, the bearded designated hitter of the Houston Astros, had a swagger in his step when he sprinted out of the visiting dugout at Champion Stadium Thursday.

Houston views Evan Gattis as a catcher-DH Credit: Dan Schlossberg

Gattis broke into the big leagues with the Atlanta Braves, current occupants of the Disney World stadium, and has lots of friends in both dugouts, not to mention the press box.

Until last spring, when his team transferred from Kissimmee to West Palm Beach for spring training, Gattis also trained in the area. A true gentle giant, the 6’4″, 253-pound righthanded hitter was called El Oso Blanco then and was a fan favorite in both Florida and Georgia.

Now he’s a big guy in a bigger state – and one with a world championship to defend. During batting practice Thursday, he accepted a wave of congratulations for contributing to the first World Series win in Houston’s 55-year National League tenure.

Held to only 84 games because of injuries, the 31-year-old slugger provided 44 extra-base hits while doubling as DH and catching partner for the veteran Brian McCann, another ex-Brave. His bat helped the Astros win the final two rounds of the 2017 playoffs by outlasting the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively. Both went the full seven games.

Thanks to the oversized Gattis and the undersized Jose Altuve, who won American League MVP honors, the Astros won 101 games and took first place in the AL West by whopping 21 games. Since he’s entering the last year of his contract, Gattis could be especially devastating in 2018.

Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve celebrate after a a game-ending DP
Credit: Bill Menzel

Now that Justin Verlander is on the varsity from Day One, the team hopes to repeat.
A surplus of fine starting pitching helps; Houston’s announced starters for the next four games are Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr. and Gerrit Cole. In between the McCullers and Cole starts, the club will fly to Washington for a special White House ceremony.

It seems almost unfair that the team has extra help in spring camp from a trio of Hall of Famers: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, and Nolan Ryan.

Their 6-4 win over Atlanta Thursday left the Astros with a spring mark of 10-5-1. They could be even more formidable once the bell rings for real in three weeks.

World Series MVP George Springer, whose five-homer performance tied a record shared by Duke Snider and Reggie Jackson, leads a lineup that also includes Gattis, McCann, Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa. The outfield makeup in uncertain after Springer and the bullpen was battered in the playoffs but Houston has the firepower to overwhelm opponents.

Spring flings:

Venezuelan slugger Ronald Acuna barely 20, leads the Grapefruit League in batting
Credit: Dan Schlossberg

At the tender age of 20, Atlanta rookie Ronald Acuna Jr., an outfielder from Venezuela, leads the Grapefruit League in batting . . .

Hall of Fame lefty Tom Glavine signed numerous autographs before the Astros game . . .

Friday’s Braves home night game against the Yankees is already sold out . . .

Mike Moustakas, Jake Arrieta, and other Scott Boras clients remain unsigned because of excessive demands for dollars and years, according to club sources . . .

Lingering anger by players about this winter’s free-agent freeze will complicate negotiations for the next Basic Agreement after the 2020 campaign and could cause a lengthy player walkout.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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