The Astros’ ‘Next Big Thing’ is back; Are baseball brawls becoming passé?


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We’re Astros-heavy today, between Jon Singleton’s chance to shine and Kyle Tucker’s gear change. We also have an update on the Braves rotation, and … are we in a kinder, gentler era of baseball? I’m Levi Weaver; Ken Rosenthal is off this week, so welcome Astros beat writer Chandler Rome to The Windup!

Gimme a chance …

There was a time when Jon Singleton was The Next Big Thing in Houston. Signed to a five-year deal before he even made his MLB debut in 2014, it all went sideways over the next few years: poor performance, drug suspensions, and ultimately a 2018 release.

It was a long road back to the big leagues, but it happened earlier this year with the Brewers, briefly. He was designated for assignment in mid-June, but shortly after electing free agency, the Astros came calling. When he hit .333/.446/.692 (1.138 OPS) with 12 home runs in 33 games for the Triple-A Sugar Land Space Cowboys, it was time. He was called up and made his Astros re-debut (re-but?) Aug. 8.

The results have been mixed. He’s gone hitless in four of five games, but also went 3 for 4 with two home runs on Friday.

It looks like he’ll get a little more time to see if he can put it together on a more consistent basis. José Abreu hit the IL on Saturday with “lumbar spine inflammation” (he was joined by reliever Phil Maton, who was hit with a comebacker). There had already been questions about how the Astros were going to find playing time for Singleton with the struggling-and-ailing Abreu eating up the innings at first base and Yordan Alvarez locking down the DH position.

That problem appears to be solved for the time being. The question now is: What happens if Singleton is producing at a high level when Abreu is ready to return? The Astros are currently embroiled in a playoff race, 2 1/2 games behind the Rangers in the AL West, and hold the second AL wild-card position. Abreu’s contract likely buys him some leeway, but there’s not a ton of margin for “figuring it out.”

Speaking of the Astros, here’s Chandler Rome, filling in for Ken.

Chandler’s Notebook: New rules forced Kyle Tucker to abandon old-school habit

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(Bob Levey / Getty Images)

Kyle Tucker batted barehanded for most of his first five major-league seasons. He wore batting gloves in cold weather or to shake things up while mired in a slump, but never for more than a week or so. The throwback style turned into Tucker’s trademark, a distinct statement from an otherwise nondescript slugger.

Tucker tailored an entire pre-pitch routine around the absence of batting gloves. He stepped out of the batter’s box between each offering, took a fistful of dirt, rubbed it between his bare hands and drew a few deep breaths before stepping back in.

“It was kind of just to clear my head,” Tucker said on Sunday. “Some guys step out and take a deep breath, but that was just my way of doing it.”

But that’s far too much to fit into seven seconds. He tried to condense his routine in accordance with Major League Baseball’s new pitch clock — batters must be alert to the pitcher with eight seconds remaining — but it wasn’t working.

In mid-June, Tucker decided to abandon his career-long comfort for the sake of stamina. Now, he wears batting gloves exclusively.

“Before I started wearing (the gloves) every day, those 15 seconds, I was a little out of breath with it and I figured I’d just try batting gloves to catch my breath,” Tucker said.

Since June 13, the first day it became apparent Tucker had given up hitting barehanded, he has 30 extra-base hits, and his OPS has climbed from .773 to .897. Only eight qualified hitters entered Sunday with a higher OPS mark.

Tucker’s climb up American League leaderboards has coincided with the apparel change, but he downplayed its overall importance prior to Sunday’s 2-1 loss against the Angels.

“The first month of the season, I hit pretty well and wasn’t wearing them then,” said Tucker, who had an .859 OPS in his first 28 games this season. “But I kind of figured out my swing and my approach kind of roughly around when I started wearing them. I just tried to keep that super consistent, and that’s kind of how it’s all lined up.”

Back to you, Levi.

No really, I’m fine

On Friday, some unnamed writer made the bad decision to write about how the Braves’ starting rotation was struggling. Maybe all they needed was a weekend in New York to sort themselves out. Here are the lines from their four-game series against the Mets:

(Fri.) Charlie Morton:  5 innings, 3 hits, 0 runs, 7 walks, 4 strikeouts — ATL 7, NYM 0

(Sat., G1) Allan Winans: 7 innings, 4 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts — ATL 21, NYM 3

(Sat. G2) Spencer Strider: 7 innings, 3 hits, 0 runs, 4 walks, 6 strikeouts — ATL 6, NYM 0

(Sun.) Yonny Chirinos: 4 2/3 innings, 7 hits, 6 runs, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts — NYM 7, ATL 6

OK, so there was a hiccup on Sunday, but that’s still a pretty dang good series, even if it is against a team in the middle of an existential crisis.

Winans was up as the 27th man thanks to Saturday’s doubleheader, and his success story is especially cool — unless you’re a Mets fan, in which case, it probably added a little salt to the wound. The Braves selected Winans, who was in the Mets’ system, in the third round of the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft in 2021.

Baby, come back and fight with me

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A scene from the Pine Tar Game in 1983. (Bettmann)

It’s not a topic that tends to lead to subtle opinions; people either love the spectacle of a baseball fight or find it distasteful and unnecessary. Either way, it gets people talking. José Ramírez and Tim Anderson duked it out nine days ago, and we’re still finding interesting angles to cover.

But it’s possible that some of the intrigue is because brawls don’t really happen as often as they used to.

Rustin Dodd digs in on the topic today, speaking with Angels manager Phil Nevin and others about what has led to the decline in fisticuffs in the sport. Some of it is as simple as a culture shift. Additionally, players make more money now, so putting their bodies at risk also puts millions of dollars in the jackpot.

My theory is that guys change teams more now than they used to, making it feel more like a fraternity of big leaguers than an us-versus-the-world mindset. It’s hard to viscerally hate the other guy when he was your roommate for three years in the minor leagues, you know?

But my favorite theory came from former journeyman catcher Sal Fasano: “Well, we don’t have steroids and we don’t have greenies. There’s a lot less fights now.”

Solid point, Sal.

Handshakes and High Fives

The Tampa Bay Rays acknowledged in a statement to multiple outlets Sunday night that MLB is looking into social media posts regarding shortstop Wander Franco, saying that the team is in “close contact” with the league as it conducts its “due diligence.” ESPN’s Jeff Passan has reported that Franco was not on the team flight to San Francisco.

Kevin Brown returned to the MASN airwaves on Friday, sending out a series of tweets that definitely didn’t read like they were written by a hostage.

Bruce Bochy returned to San Francisco over the weekend, receiving a special thank you message on the video board and an ovation from fans. He also managed the red-hot Rangers to a series win over the Giants.

We all knew it was going to be Adam Wainwright’s final season, but it has not gone as Waino and Cardinals fans would have hoped.

Neither has Alek Manoah’s season. He’s now on his second stint in the minor leagues (though it’s just Triple A this time) as he finds himself the odd man out in the Jays’ return to a five-man rotation as they cling to a playoff position.

Sure, let’s stick with the theme: Nestor Cortes is back on the IL with a left rotator cuff strain. The depleted rotation has led the Yankees to new levels of “I guess let’s try it????”

And let’s end the “disappointing starting pitcher seasons” portion of the newsletter with a slightly better spin: Chris Sale had been out since June 1 with an injury, but he returned to action Friday and was effective in limited length.

The Dodgers have (finally) retired Fernando Valenzuela’s No. 34, doing so in a ceremony over the weekend.

On the latest episode of On Deck, Stephen Nesbitt and I discuss the merits of the Orioles as favorites, and preview a couple of the upcoming matchups this week.

(Top photo of Jon Singleton: Troy Taormina / USA Today)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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