UPDATE: Fresno Grizzlies infielder Jonathan Villar was recalled by major league parent club Houston prior to Tuesday afternoon's Pacific Coast League game against Reno. Villar is expected to take the roster spot held by Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie, who hurt his right thumb while sliding home Monday in a win over San Diego at Petco Park.
Jonathan Villar worked hard enough during spring training to earn a spot on the Houston Astros’ opening-day roster for the second year in a row.
Villar proved he could play an array of positions, aside from his natural spot at shortstop, putting in time at second, third and in the outfield.
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On Friday, however, the Astros needed to make room for reliever Josh Fields’ return from the disabled list.
Villar, who was serving in a utility role and backing up starting infielders Jose Altuve and Jed Lowrie, was odd-man out and sent down to Triple-A Fresno.
He joined the Grizzlies on Saturday, a move that didn’t make the 23-year-old player happy. But his attitude quickly changed, as Villar remembered to count his blessings. He is fortunate now, he reasoned, to be playing regularly in the minors, as opposed to coming off the bench for a start or at-bat here and there in the majors.
“It doesn’t matter, I just want to play. I don’t want to be sitting in the dugout,” he said. “They didn’t push me down because I wasn’t hitting or doing my work. The coaches told me about the situation, how they needed a pitcher, and I understood that.”
It’s a keep-your-head-up attitude that Villar has had since his childhood growing up in Concepcion de La Vega, Dominican Republic.
“My family has always said to never get down on yourself for whatever reason. We grew up with a warrior mentality and that’s how I’ll continue forward,” he said.
“Fortunately, I’ve been playing well since I arrived (in Fresno) and I thank God for that. I’m playing here as if I’d be playing in the big leagues.”
In his Grizzlies’ debut, Villar played shortstop and went 3 for 4 with a double, two RBIs and a steal in a 7-0 win Saturday over Reno.
On Monday, Villar started at second base and was 1 for 4 and scored a run as the leadoff hitter in a 4-2 win.
Villar’s plan during his stay in the minors is to continue molding himself into a super-utility player, manager Tony DeFrancesco said.
“We’re just kind of adding to his role,” DeFrancesco said. “You’ll see him all over. The more experience, the more he goes out there and helps the team out.”
Outfielder L.J. Hoes earns Astros’ call-up
Houston recalled outfielder L.J. Hoes on Monday — the first Grizzlies’ minor-leaguer to be called to the majors this season. (Hoes was on a major league rehab assignment).
Hoes, who flew to San Diego late Sunday, hit .418 with nine doubles and 12 RBIs in 15 games at Triple-A.
“He’s hustling hard and playing good defense,” DeFrancesco said. “It’s a well-deserved promotion and we’ll see where that leads.”
To open a spot on its roster, Houston optioned right-hander Asher Wojciechowski to Fresno. Wojciechowski was 0-1 with a 7.31 ERA in four appearances — three starts — for the Astros. He allowed 13 earned runs in 16 innings, including two homers. He had 16 strikeouts and seven walks.