Valbuena to see name in Astros' lineup often

Versatile infielder expected to get plenty of at-bats vs. right-handers

Valbuena to see name in Astros' lineup often

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Astros have made it clear since before Spring Training that Luis Valbuena is going to get plenty of playing time, which doesn't necessarily mean he's going to be in the starting lineup every day.

Valbuena was the Astros' regular third baseman last year, starting 93 games at the position before seeing substantial time at first base late in the season. He played a solid third base and added a career-high 25 homers with 56 RBIs, while hitting just .224.

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Still, Valbuena's ability to handle right-handed pitching, his power stroke and strong defense give manager A.J. Hinch plenty of reasons to find a spot for him in the lineup, though his struggles against left-handed pitching could lead to some mixing and matching at third.

"To be an everyday player when you're in the lineup without much thought, you've got to handle both sides, left-handed and right-handed," Hinch said. "That goes for more than just Luis. That goes for any player on our team, and I know he wants to play every day. He plays a sensational third base, and we'll see how it progresses. I have a lot of options with Marwin [Gonzalez] playing first and third depending on how the back end of our roster shapes up with first base."

Valbuena hit .247 with 20 homers in 320 at-bats against right-handers last year, and he hit just .158 with five homers in 114 bats against left-handers. Hinch still picked spots where Valbuena started against lefties. For example, he would leave him in the lineup against left-handed pitching when Dallas Keuchel was on the mound because of Valbuena's defense. Keuchel generates a large volume of ground balls to the left side of the infield.

"I'm certainly very comfortable with Luis playing any game," Hinch said. "When people think about platoon-type situations or every day or not every day, they factor so much in the guy you're taking out of the lineup and not enough about the guy you're putting in the lineup. Sometimes it's so extreme, I'll play them based on the guy I'm actually putting in, not the guy I'm taking out."

Valbuena's upper-cut swing leads to a lot of fly balls and popups, but he connected enough to become a home run threat. And that means he's going to be in the lineup plenty in 2016.

"I don't think the pitcher can go in the big part of the strike zone against him early because they know he's hunting damage," Hinch said.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.