HOUSTON — Astros catcher J.R. Towles didn’t take long to experience another minor setback Friday night when he was struck in the mask on a foul tip during a third-inning plate appearance by pitcher James Shields that opened a gash on his chin in Houston’s 5-1 loss against the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park.
It required 11 stitches.
Towles had missed the previous seven games due to leg soreness, and continues to battle an assortment of lingering injuries, especially ankle and lower leg pain, caused from taking a beating behind the plate over the course of this season.
“He had 11 stitches in his chin,” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “We’re going to wait and see how it is, and kind of go from there. I have no idea how the injury happened. We were trying to look at the mask and see. It was fully padded and everything else.
“It was like taking a huge blow. It just happened to catch him just right and sliced him open. I’m sure he’s been hit before just like that, but this is the first one that really gashed it open. He wants to keep his playing time up, but he keeps losing it because of injuries.”
Reserve catcher Carlos Corporan, who’s currently holding a spot on the 25-man active roster in place for the injured Humberto Quintero, was forced into the game on a night in which he needed to rest his body after filling in for Towles over the last week.
Although Houston starter Wandy Rodriguez made it known following the game that it wasn’t an excuse for his third-inning meltdown, he said the amount of time it took for Towles’ chin to get examined — combined with the final decision for Mills to insert Corporan — caused him to lose focus and get out of rhythm.
“I was missing my locations with Corporan,” Rodriguez said. “He’s a little bit more closed, and with Towles, he’s a little bit more open. For me to miss my locations with Corporan is my problem. I’m not trying to make this as an excuse for not pitching well.
“I kind of lost my focus with the delay. I lost my concentration and I was trying to throw the ball, but I kept missing with my locations.”
With Towles listed as day-to-day, the Astros purchased the contract of catcher Brian Esposito from Triple-A Oklahoma City as an insurance policy, considering the team can’t move forward over the few days with just one healthy option behind the plate.
At this point, Quintero will likely be out of action for two more weeks after suffering a high right ankle sprain stemming from a collision at home plate against the Arizona Diamondbacks on May 28, thus increasing the need for Esposito’s veteran presence.
The 32-year-old Esposito hit .344 (11-for-32) with a homer, four RBI and four runs scored in 11 games for the RedHawks since being promoted from Double-A Corpus Christi earlier in the season.
He went 3-for-3 with a solo home run, a two-run double and two runs scored in Oklahoma City’s 11-7 victory Friday night over Albuquerque.
The Astros expect Esposito to join the team on Saturday.
In order to clear a spot on the active roster for Esposito, the Astros optioned reliever Fernando Rodriguez to Oklahoma City.
Rodriguez went 1-0 with a 3.29 ERA and 20 strikeouts over 13 2/3 innings in 12 relief appearances during a one-month stint with the Astros.
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