Beltran's ability in left could free space for Houston at DH

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) What designated hitter Carlos Beltran can do defensively this season will have a direct impact on what manager A.J. Hinch can try offensively.

Beltran, who will turn 40 during the season's first month, will primarily serve as the Astros' DH. He's also projected to play 30 to 40 games at a new position for him - left field.

Hinch notes that asking Beltran to play so many games in left, ''might be aggressive, but he's defying every other aging curve, so why wouldn't he defy it now?''

A center fielder much of his career who later moved to right, only two of Beltran's 2,179 career starts have come in left. The most recent of Beltran's three Gold Gloves came in 2008 when he played center field for the New York Mets.

''I've always been an outfielder,'' Beltran said. ''It doesn't matter if they ask me to be a DH, my mentality is going to be an outfielder mentality.''

With the Crawford Boxes making for a shorter target in Minute Maid Park, Hinch presumes the move to left will save Beltran some bodily wear and tear because he won't have to cover as much ground. Beltran, who signed with Houston in the offseason, also figures to see the field when the Astros travel to other parks with less expansive left fields, like Fenway in Boston.

Beltran's ability to play the field could help Hinch juggle what figures to be a potent lineup.

If Brian McCann is catching, Evan Gattis could DH with Beltran in left. With Yuli Gurriel, who connected off Miami's Wei-Yin Chen on Tuesday for his first spring home run, taking over as the Astros primary first baseman, Hinch needs to find at-bats for Marwin Gonzalez.

Inserting Beltran in the outfield does more than simply adding a third player to what already figures to be a platoon of Nori Aoki and Jake Marisnick, it would also provide the opportunity to give second baseman Jose Altuve, shortstop Carlos Correa or third baseman Alex Bregman a half-day of rest - keeping their bats in the lineup but letting their gloves take a day off.

''Not to put it all on Beltran, but his ability to move to the outfield is going to help break this open a little bit,'' Hinch said.

While spring training is generally the perfect time for lineup experimentation, that hasn't been the case this spring for Hinch. Beltran is playing in the World Baseball Classic, Correa and Bregman are also still playing in the tournament, and Altuve recorded his first Grapefruit League hit on Tuesday since returning to the lineup on Monday.

Owner of 421 homers and a .281 average in his 19-year career, Beltran's two hits in Monday night's Puerto Rico victory over the Netherlands raised his average to .476 in WBC play.

''He's been great,'' Hinch said. ''It's not surprising that he's leading that team. He and (catcher Yadi Molina) are obviously two huge presences on their team.''

That Beltran hasn't played any left field in the WBC doesn't concern Hinch.

He would rather keep Beltran fresh by holding him out of left field until the final week of spring training. Beltran will play left at Minute Maid Park during one of the two exhibition games the Astros play against the Chicago Cubs on March 30 and 31.

''I think I trust in the player, in his ability to adapt more than he needs the reps,'' Hinch said. ''The reps will come with time. Playing at the major league level is a little second nature to him so I'd rather not risk the injury to him.''

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