Castro returns, but backup catching job in flux

Castro returns, but backup catching job in flux

BOSTON -- Veteran catcher Jason Castro returned to the Astros on Friday after missing three games following the birth of his first child, and that meant Max Stassi was sent back to Triple-A Fresno. Stassi figures to be back in the big leagues at some point soon, but the club wants him to get as many at-bats as possible because he missed considerable time following left hand surgery towards the end of Spring Training.

For now, the Astros are sticking with Erik Kratz -- signed at the end of camp when Stassi got hurt -- as their backup catcher, while Evan Gattis continues to get reps behind the plate at Double-A Corpus Christi. He could be in the catching mix in Houston as early as next week.

Stassi began Spring Training as the backup to Castro, but the injury has delayed his impact on the big league team beyond the three games he was on the roster when Castro was in Houston with his wife and newborn.

"He hasn't played a ton in a row in order to get himself up and running," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "That's what I told him last night in the meeting, is we'd like him to get this swing right, go get his catching in order. He's made some small, incremental steps positively on the catching side and go force our hand. There's going to be some competition for the backup catcher's spot."

Gattis, who underwent hernia surgery that cost him all of Spring Training, played in 20 games with the Astros earlier this season as the designated hitter. Hinch tried to work him into the game as a catcher -- a position he hasn't played in the Majors since he was with the Braves in 2014 -- before the club finally decided to send him to Double-A Corpus Christi to get more reps catching.

"Things are progressing," Hinch said. "He's having some good days behind the plate. He's done everything we've asked him to do when it comes to blocking balls and receiving. He's made a couple of throws, shaking off the rust of the last year."

When Gattis returns, he will split time between catcher and designated hitter, and Hinch said the Astros will still carry two additional catchers.

"There's a lot of different roster considerations once that happens," Hinch said. "We're trying to find the right mixture and the right versatility on the roster. That's going to be key for Gattis, to be able to eventually come back up here and be a factor behind the plate to where I do things like I did [Friday] and play Jake Marisnick in center and put Carlos Gomez at designated hitter. ... It's just a much better functioning roster when you don't have one guy holding down the DH sport, for our team particularly."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.