December 9, 2022

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Must be the gloves? Turner ends funk with 3 hits

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HOUSTON — If pop star Michael Jackson and boxer Mike Tyson were at their best when they wore gloves while they were at work, why not Astros right fielder Kyle Tucker

Tucker, mired in an 0-for-18 slump entering Saturday’s game against the Blue Jays, reached deep into his locker and pulled out a pair of bright white batting gloves. Tucker, who usually bats without gloves, flied out in his first at-bat before hitting singles in his final three at-bats in a 3-2 loss at Minute Maid Park. 

“I think they were in my locker from last year, [in] some back, bottom cubby,” Tucker said. “Just broke those out to see if they had some knocks in them. They did. I’ll probably wear them tomorrow, too.”

Tucker, the only Astros player to start each of the team’s first 14 games, was 4-for-46 (.087) with 11 strikeouts to start the season before going 3-for-4 on Saturday. He raised his batting average 53 points to .140 with singles in the fourth, sixth and ninth innings.

“He will get going,” said third baseman Alex Bregman, who socked a two-run homer in the first inning. “He’s a great hitter. He’s a stud, and he doesn’t need the batting gloves to get hits. He’s a superstar. Just a lot of guys in here start slow and pick it up all the way throughout the end of the year and into the postseason. Rather get that stuff out of the way now and finish really strong.” 

Tucker has worn batting gloves several times before. He said he did it a few times last year at Minute Maid Park, and he also wore gloves last April when the Astros played in the cold and snow flurries at Coors Field in Denver. The Tampa native called it a “blizzard.” 

The decision to put on the batting gloves Saturday was a little bit of a superstition and a little bit practical. Tucker was trying to find some different luck and some different feel with the bat in his hands to break out of the longest hitless stretch of his career.

“Obviously, you do have a different feel for the bat and the barrel and everything when you wear something you’re not used to,” he said. “I just try to mix it up a little bit to try and get some knocks.” 

Tucker snapped his 0-for-19 slump with a line-drive single in the fourth inning off Blue Jays starter Alek Manoah and got a smile, fist bump and a pat on the back from first-base coach Omar Lopez. The relief was evident in Tucker’s smile. 

“Honestly, I kind of didn’t know what to do,” Tucker said. “I was running to first and I was like, ‘I haven’t done this in a couple of weeks,’ and it kind of threw me off. But yeah, it is really nice.”

Slow starts are nothing new for Tucker, who hit .188 with a .651 OPS through his first 34 games last season. He turned it on, though, and hit .327 with 33 doubles, 24 homers, 72 RBIs and a .997 OPS in his final 106 games (after May 9). He led the AL in batting average (.320), slugging percentage (.600), on-base percentage (.387) and OPS (.987) after May 1.

“I would prefer not to do that every time, but today, three hits and my average went up like 60 points,” Tucker said. “Your season can change really quick. I went from .085 to whatever it is now. Tomorrow’s a new day and a new opportunity, and there’s always room for improvement, and you have to keep going out there. I’ll try my best and grind. There [are] a lot of opportunities out there to be better.”

And if Tucker can get hot a few weeks into the season like he did last year, maybe the Astros can brush off their slow start like they did a year ago, too. The Astros fell to 6-8 with the loss to the Blue Jays, which is one game behind their 7-7 start last year, which ended up with a trip to the World Series. 

“This team is so talented,” Tucker said. “We don’t have to get down just because we’re 6-8 now. We’re such a good team, we can win the next 20. Even if we’re down five in the ninth, we can still put up six. That’s how good our lineup is, and our pitching is phenomenal. We’re not too worried. We have a lot of games left.”

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