LOS ANGELES — Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch said he began Sunday’s highly anticipated meeting by turning to Roberto Osuna and briefly addressing him in front of the team. He wanted to tell him how lucky he was to “join this culture, this clubhouse, this collection of guys that are sitting around in the room that I believe are second to none.”
Then he gave Osuna the floor for what amounted to roughly 10 minutes.
According to players in the closed-door meeting, Osuna apologized for the distraction his domestic assault charge has caused. He told his new teammates how grateful he is to get another opportunity to pitch and to do so with the defending World Series champions. He declined to provide specifics about the incident that prompted a 75-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, a stance he maintained during a 25-minute interview inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting dugout shortly thereafter.
“Not right now,” Osuna said, in Spanish, when asked to provide specifics about what led to his May 8 arrest in Toronto, citing an ongoing legal matter.
Osuna faces a Sept. 5 court date. His attorney, Domenic Basile, has entered a not guilty plea on Osuna’s behalf and is reportedly seeking a peace bond that would essentially drop the charges in exchange for good behavior.
The Astros’ Roberto Osuna said Sunday that he is “very happy to be able to play baseball again” and that he feels like part of the team as he returns from a 75-game domestic violence suspension. AP Photo/Kyusung Gong
Asked if he is hopeful this situation will resolve itself quickly, Osuna said: “The important thing is that it resolves itself in the best way possible. I would like for it to be resolved quickly, but whatever amount is necessary, as long as everything turns out well for all parties involved.”
The Astros acquired Osuna on Monday in exchange for three pitchers — most notably former closer Ken Giles — and will eventually turn to him in the ninth inning. The 23-year-old Mexican right-hander finished serving his suspension on Sunday morning and was added to the active roster, with starting pitcher Lance McCullers placed on the 10-day disabled list while he gets his pitching elbow examined.
Osuna said he was “not surprised” that the Toronto Blue Jays let him ago, adding: “I was very happy when I found out I had been traded to the Astros.” His new teammates “treated me well,” Osuna said in Spanish. “I felt like part of the team.”
As for what these past few months have been like?
“I’m just trying to take the positives out of this,” Osuna said. “I’ve prepared myself well in all this time that I’ve been inactive, and I’m very happy to be able to play baseball again.”
Owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow met with the team separately on Saturday. They wanted to go over the background checks they conducted on Osuna and explain why they felt comfortable bringing him in. Luhnow came away believing his players were “appreciative” of the chat.
“It was not an easy decision for us to come to as an organization,” Luhnow said, “but based on all the information that we have, we believe Roberto deserves a second chance. Jim and I both communicated that to the players. Each player’s going to have to make up his own mind over time. I believe Roberto has gotten off to a good start. He met everybody today. And I think that our clubhouse is going to give him a chance to be part of this team, to help us win.”
Luhnow added that he is “not worried” about the Osuna acquisition “fragmenting the clubhouse,” a sentiment his players and his manager were adamant on throughout the weekend.
Astros’ McCullers to DL with elbow discomfort
Houston Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. has been placed on the 10-day disabled list with right elbow discomfort, the team announced Sunday.
Luhnow, who was born and raised in Mexico City and has followed Osuna since he was a teenage phenom in his home country, brought up the possibility of Osuna talking to minor leaguers about his experience and getting involved in community work in Houston. Osuna said he would do whatever he is asked.
“While there’s been a lot of negativity around it,” Luhnow said, “I do ultimately believe that over the long haul, we can turn this into a very positive event for our team, for Roberto personally, for everybody else that was affected and for the community of Houston and our fan base.”
Luhnow hedged when asked if he was able to uncover details about the pending legal matter, saying that “due process is warranted” and that the club is “going to let it play out.”
As part of a 346-word statement issued Sunday, the Astros said the decision to acquire Osuna “was based on the entirety of information that we gathered during our extensive evaluation. That included as much information as we could gather about the specific incident and the charges that were filed, but it also included as much information as we could gather about his actions before and after the incident, as well as his personal reputation among his former teammates and coaches.”
Hinch met with Osuna one-on-one for close to 15 minutes before Osuna addressed the team. Hinch told him what he heard about him through John Gibbons, his manager with the Blue Jays, and some of his former teammates. He told him “to be himself,” as he says to everyone, and he told him he was “going to have to go through a lot of firsts.”
The Astros say they don’t know the details of what took place between Osuna and the alleged victim, which creates its share of challenges.
“We really don’t know what to think or what to say or what to do and how to absorb all of this,” Hinch said. “But it’s right in front of us, and we will do our best as a team and as a family and a group to help him navigate through this, to help ourselves to navigate through this. My hope for him is that he does take some of this culture, this vibe and the character on our team and absorb it to himself.”
“While there’s been a lot of negativity around it, I do ultimately believe that over the long haul, we can turn this into a very positive event for our team, for Roberto personally, for everybody else that was affected and for the community of Houston and our fan base.”
Astros GM Jeff Luhnow
On the field, Osuna addresses what might be the only vulnerability on an Astros team that entered Sunday’s game in first place with a 71-41 record. An All-Star in 2017, Osuna sports a 2.87 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP, a 6.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 104 career saves. Just as appealing is that he is controllable through 2021 and should come at a relatively cheap price.
Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said “everyone was locked in and listening” when Osuna addressed the team. He brought up his father being a defense attorney, saying: “Until you’re proven guilty of something, you’re innocent as far as I’m concerned. I definitely believe in second chances. That’s all I’m really going to say about this.”
Fellow reliever Collin McHugh, the team’s representative with the Major League Baseball Players Association, introduced himself to Osuna on Sunday and offered support.
“I don’t think anybody’s comfortable with the situation,” McHugh later told the media. “I don’t think anybody in baseball is comfortable with this situation. There’s a lot of ongoing things. There’s things that are happening. Nobody in this clubhouse is going to condone anything that’s happened off the field. But at the same time, he’s a Houston Astro now. And we take him being a Houston Astro very seriously.”
Osuna missed games last season due to bouts with anxiety, an issue he spoke about publicly. He earned the respect of his teammates in Toronto for the way he handled those demons, for the way he overcame his impoverished upbringing and for the way he was able to separate pitching from whatever was happening off the field.
The domestic assault allegation he faces has created a complex dilemma, because of both the unknowns and the potential severity. The Astros are still working through how to take it all in.
“Make no bones about it: Domestic violence allegations are bad,” Hinch said. “Domestic violence is bad. All of us as humans know that and believe that. And so we have to figure out a way to separate those feelings versus the additional opportunity he is getting on our club.”