Diminutive Altuve displaying big game

Diminutive Altuve displaying big game for Astros

HOUSTON -- He's the shortest and the second-youngest player in the Major Leagues. The numbers Astros second baseman Jose Altuve has put up through the first three weeks of the season, however, are strictly big-boy territory.

Altuve, the 5-foot-5 dynamo who was playing in Class A at this time last year, is off to a terrific start at the plate for the Astros, and he is coming off his best game in the Majors. Altuve went 4-for-5 in Houston's 7-5 win over the Brewers on Wednesday, and he drew a crowd of reporters to his locker afterwards.

Everyone wants to know more about the little guy with the big bat.

"He always got brushed aside just because of his size. And we were talking about it [Saturday] -- just his whole life he's had to prove people wrong, and he's been doing it," said outfielder J.D. Martinez, who came up with Altuve through the Astros' Minor League system. "He's been given the chance and the opportunity, and he's been doing a great job with it."

Entering Thursday's games, Altuve ranked third in the National League in batting average (.377), was tied for second in hits behind Matt Kemp (26), ranked sixth in on-base percentage (.429), and tied with Ryan Braun for seventh in slugging percentage (.551), despite hitting only one homer.

Altuve, who turns 22 on May 6, is tied with Kemp for the NL lead with 10 multihit games. He's played in only 18 games.

"I think he's just there hitting, and that's what he's supposed to do," manager Brad Mills said. "Just be himself. That's all we want. We don't want him to try to be any different, [just] be a special hitter wherever he's hitting in the lineup. We put him in a certain spot in the lineup because of who he is, not because we want to try to morph him into being something that he thinks that [spot in the] order is going to produce. No, have him just be himself, and we all like that."

The Astros signed the Venezuela native as a 16-year-old non-drafted free agent in 2006. Altuve has hit at every stop in the Minors, combining to bat .301 with 15 homers, 67 RBIs and 42 stolen bases at Class A stops Lexington and Lancaster in his first full-season assignments in 2010.

Altuve began last season in Lancaster and batted a whopping .408 in 52 games before getting promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi. He was hitting .361 in 35 games with the Hooks when Houston called him up July 19 to be its starter at second base. Martinez joined him less than two weeks later, both skipping Triple-A.

Altuve hit .276 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 57 games for the Astros last year, but came to spring camp entrenched as the starter at second. He walked only five times in 234 plate appearances last year, and the club worked closely with him in Spring Training to be more selective and only swing at pitches over the plate.

This year, Altuve is seeing more pitches, and has already walked seven times in 77 plate appearances.

"He's going to give you a good effort every time out," Mills said. "That's him. He's going to give you that same exact effort wherever he is in the lineup, and wherever he is on the field."

With that in mind, the Astros are still trying to find to find the best spot in the lineup for Altuve. He began the season batting second, but was moved to eighth when Jed Lowrie came off the disabled list. He was back up at second in the order Wednesday, when he had four hits.

"[It doesn't] matter where I'm hitting -- second, sixth, eighth," Altuve said. "I just want to see my name in the lineup and put my uniform on and go play hard."

Martinez, who's tied for third in the league with 18 RBIs and is fifth in on-base percentage at .432 (just ahead of Altuve), isn't surprised to see his longtime teammate doing so well.

"To me, it's just another year playing with him," he said. "He's done it everywhere I've been with him. It doesn't surprise me at all. I'm so used to him just being Altuve, and that's what he's always done."

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