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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Altuve makes strong case for AL MVP Award

Astros' second baseman leads MLB in hits and batting average

Altuve makes strong case for AL MVP Award

HOUSTON -- Astros outfielder George Springer was on his way out of the home clubhouse Tuesday night when he saw reporters gathered around teammate Jose Altuve's locker.

Smiling broadly, Springer attempted to put another extraordinary evening for the little second baseman into some kind of perspective.

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"Best. Player. Ever."

Yes, indeed.

That's how the Astros feel about their guy after Altuve collected four hits for a second straight game as they beat the Angels, 8-3.

Altuve goes up swinging so hard and confident that he can adjust to whatever speed or location the pitcher tries. His ability to do this is off the charts. And that's the story of his amazing season.

"It's no secret," teammate Dexter Fowler said. "The man can hit. He might be the smallest guy, but he plays like he's 6-10."

Altuve got his four hits off three Angels pitchers and three different types of pitches. Oh, and perhaps the best statistic of all: He saw just eight pitches.

Altuve slapped a C.J. Wilson changeup to center field in the first inning and homered on one in the third.

Wilson opened the second at-bat with a curveball-fastball combination, but when he tried another changeup, hoping to get Altuve off-balance, the result ended up in the seats in left field.

"He just hits everything," Wilson said. "Dude is just completely on fire right now."

That he is.

Wait, there's more.

Altuve lined a Vinnie Pestano fastball to center in the sixth and then doubled on a Mike Morin slider in the eighth.

Altuve is now inching his way onto some American League Most Valuable Player Award ballots with 193 hits and a .340 batting average.

Both those numbers are tops in the big leagues. Altuve also leads the Majors with 57 multihit games and 22 three-hit games. He leads the AL with 50 stolen bases.

The seeds of this season were planted a year ago when Altuve was disappointed in his .283 batting average. There's nothing wrong with hitting .283, but he felt he was capable of so much more.

So Altuve poured himself into a program focused both on improving his physical conditioning and his mental preparation. Astros hitting coach John Mallee helped him begin a daily regimen of studying opposing pitchers and going to home plate with a plan.

"I try to go in the batter's box with a plan, look for one pitch," Altuve said.

As for the strike zone, Altuve is not picky about what he swings at.

"If the pitch is over his head, he can hit it," Houston designated hitter Chris Carter said. "If it's on the ground, he can hit it. He has quick hands. He's on every pitch. He's always on top of the fastball. He's great to watch. He's been incredible."

When a guy has that kind of talent, what can the plan for getting him out be?

"What are you going to do?" Wilson asked. "You throw pitches off the plate away and hope he flies it to right field. And then he hits it over the fence."

As great as Altuve has been in terms of production, it's his demeanor that plenty of his teammates appreciate most of all.

Growing up in Venezuela, Altuve played well enough to get invited to an assortment of tryout camps held by Major League teams. Scouts routinely told him they loved his talent and enjoyed watching him play. But they were not going to sign him because of his 5-foot-6 height.

Only the Astros believed in Altuve. He rewarded that trust by sailing through their Minor League system and making his big league debut three years ago at 21.

Given that background, there may be a reason Altuve plays the game with a certain joy and energy. It's not just that he's succeeding. It's that Altuve is succeeding when he wondered if he'd ever get a chance.

"He's got a smile on his face every day," Houston right-hander Brad Peacock said. "He loves baseball, loves to play. He's awesome."

When Altuve's teammates praise him the way they did on Tuesday, he seems humbled.

"Every time your teammates give you that support, it's going to make you feel good," Altuve said. "You're playing for your teammates, too. I really appreciate that."

And they appreciate him.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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