Bregman takes 'leap forward,' eyes return

Astros' rookie out since Sept. 14 with hamstring strain

Bregman takes 'leap forward,' eyes return

HOUSTON -- Alex Bregman could return to the lineup as early as this weekend and Lance McCullers could be activated next week if the Astros make the playoffs. And Colby Rasmus' time with the Astros has likely come to a close, based on updates provided Monday by manager A.J. Hinch.

Bregman, the rookie infielder who strained his hamstring running the bases on Sept. 14, went through a full day of pregame activities prior to Monday's opener against the Mariners and is making remarkable progress. So much so that Hinch wouldn't rule out him playing in a game this week and that his optimism is growing, though he said it's not a declaration he's going to be ready.

"Bregman had a really good day today," Hinch said. "He's going to have a normal pregame today with batting practice, ground balls, he ran on the field almost to full speed, he's responded very well ahead of schedule, which is a good sign.

"We're going to have him do a lot of stuff as a normal preparation for game, move him around laterally and have him taking batting practice in group two like he always does and see where that takes him. I'm optimistic he's taken a pretty good leap forward in his rehab to be able to do now more baseball activities as a regular player."

Getting Bregman back would be a big boost for the lineup, especially if the Astros hit the weekend in the playoff push. He's hitting .260 with eight homers and 32 RBIs in 47 games, including .310 in his last 37 games.

"His chomping at the bit," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "I think if we asked him to play today, he would play, but we have to be careful because we really need to protect him in the long term, but there's no doubt he wants to be out there. Hopefully it's not too far in the future he can be out there and help us."

Rasmus, who's making $15.8 million this year, has left the team to seek treatment for a hip/groin issue with Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia. It's been a lost second half for Rasmus, who struggled at the plate and dealt with vertigo before having surgery to remove a cyst from his ear in August. He came back in late August and hit just .167 and saw his playing time dry up.

Hinch said Rasmus wouldn't return in the regular season, and it's reasonable to assume the Astros wouldn't put him on the playoff roster if they make it to October.

"This season has been a physical grind for him, so he's going to go and get the opinion that he needs," Hinch said. "I'm not expecting him to be back with us for the remainder of the regular season."

McCullers, who's been out since Aug. 2 with a mild elbow sprain, flew to his hometown of Tampa and will continue his rehab there. Hinch said he'll throw some live batting practice sessions at the team's Spring Training facility in Kissimmee, Fla., with the hopes he could help the team in relief next week -- if there's a next week.

"He's headed there to continue his progression," Hinch said. "We're hopeful that if things work out this week that Lance will be available this week."

Lefty Dallas Keuchel (shoulder inflammation) has been shut down for weeks and it's unlikely he will pitch in a game this year, Luhnow said.

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.