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Astros’ Joe Smith to miss at least six months with torn Achilles tendon

December 21, 2018

Astros reliever Joe Smith will miss six to eight months after rupturing his left Achilles tendon during a workout last week, the team announced Thursday.

Smith underwent surgery Tuesday. On Thursday, general manager Jeff Luhnow said he expects Smith to miss the entire first half of the regular season and be primed for a post-All-Star break return to action.

“From everything I’ve heard from the doctors, he’ll be fully recovered and he will be able to participate in games in the second half of the season and certainly be 100 percent in time for any postseason activity,” Luhnow said.

Former Orioles closer Zach Britton suffered the same injury prior to last season — he ruptured his right Achilles in December 2017 — and made his season debut June 12. That was a six-month recovery.

Whether Smith, 34, aligns with such a tidy timeline remains to be seen. The veteran, sidearming righthander will enter the final season of a two-year, $15 million deal.

Smith is the third loss for the bullpen this offseason. Lefthanded specialist Tony Sipp departed to free agency and Collin McHugh is set to rejoin the starting rotation following a year as a reliever.

How that rotation rounds out will be the domino that determines whether the Astros will require outside relief help.

Internal candidates to fill the two vacant rotation spots — Josh James, Cionel Perez, Framber Valdez or Rogelio Armenteros — could compensate for Smith’s innings if they do not crack the rotation or the team acquires a starting pitcher.

“I don’t think (Smith’s injury) suddenly sends us into the reliever market where we weren’t there before,” Luhnow said. “It may depend on what we do on the starting pitching front more than anything else. But losing a major league reliever that we were counting on, someone is going to have to fill those innings. We can do it internally but we’ll certainly look at external options as well.”

Smith was not included on the team’s American League Division Series roster against the Indians but appeared in the American League Championship Series. Smith appeared once against the Red Sox, surrendering a sixth-inning home run to Steve Pearce in an 8-2, Game 3 loss.

Though Smith was used primarily as a righthanded specialist, he held righties and lefties to a sub-650 OPS. He allowed only 14 extra-base hits in 45?…” innings. He struck out 46 while pitching to a 3.74 ERA.

When the Astros signed Smith last offseason, Luhnow lauded his wealth of late-game experience and ability to combat the sport’s fiercest righthanded hitters. Smith’s unorthodox delivery is a plus.

Filling such a specialized role, internally or externally, is challenging.

“When you’re piecing together a bullpen, you like to have different looks, different styles, different sides,” Luhnow said. “We’ve done a good job of mixing and matching different looks, but taking Joe out does leave a void because he was a different look for the opposing hitters. It makes it more challenging.”

chandler.rome@chron.com

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