HOUSTON -- In two seasons as manager of the Astros, A.J. Hinch has used 295 different lineups in 324 regular-season games. Hinch would prefer to have more stability in the batting order, but injuries and underperformance have forced him to do more shuffling than a Las Vegas blackjack dealer.
The additions of veterans Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Josh Reddick and Norichika Aoki will give Hinch viable options throughout the lineup, but that doesn't necessarily mean there will be more stability. The Astros always look for ways to exploit matchups by changing the lineup, and injuries likely will be another factor.
That being said, Hinch should feel confident with any lineup combination he uses in 2017.
"If I've learned anything the last couple of years here, both in our playoff season and our winning season last year, it's the guys are going to need a break," Hinch said. "The way this position-player group is structured, I can give any of those guys a day off and I'm filling them with a high-caliber player. I joked every year we're going to have somebody angry next to me on the bench, and the way the team is constructed right now, that's a good thing."
The Astros took off last year when George Springer was moved into the leadoff spot in May, replacing Jose Altuve, who started the season batting first but was moved to third. Alex Bregman took over as the No. 2 hitter later in the season. Carlos Correa hit primarily fourth and Evan Gattis fifth, but the last four spots were a revolving door. Springer, Bregman, Correa, Altuve and Gattis are all right-handers, while newcomers McCann, Reddick and Aoki are lefties. Beltran is a switch-hitter.
"It's a little early, but I like George in the leadoff spot -- his on-base and his energy and threat for the home run," Hinch said. "Other than the first at-bat of the game, he's usually hitting in the thick of things. And now with the bottom of the order potentially being stronger than before, he might get some RBI opportunities. I think the toughest spot is going to be in the two-hole, and we'll see how that shakes out."
The No. 2 spot will probably be dictated by the opposing starting pitching, with Reddick hitting second against right-handers and Bregman against lefties. Correa and Beltran could then alternate in the fourth spot, behind Altuve.
Regardless, the Astros will have some thunder in the second half of the lineup with McCann, Gattis, Yulieski Gurriel and perhaps Beltran hitting further down when the matchup dictates.
"I think we have guys who may hit at the bottom of the order that have never done it before, and that's a great luxury to have as a manager," Hinch said. "I have got the chance to mix and match our lefties and righties, couple of switch-hitters in there, where it's going to be difficult for the opponent to match up.
"We've got to go out and do it on the field, but we've the makings of a pretty good run-scoring group. As the batting order evolves, as the playing time is sorted out, I'm likely to have an angry guy next to me on the bench, which is a good problem to have. … It's a luxury item to have as deep of a group, provided we stay healthy."
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.