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Astros give Musgrove the ball to face Twins

HOUSTON -- In Charlie Morton's second start since returning from the disabled list, the Houston Astros right-hander delivered just enough effectiveness to take advantage of ample run support.

On Saturday, the Astros (61-29) will be looking for more of the same from right-hander Joe Musgrove, recently back from a hiatus of his own.

With ace left-hander Dallas Keuchel and right-hander Collin McHugh soon to return from the disabled list, the Astros are poised for reinforcements.

Equally key is the Astros' continued excellence despite injuries, results that in theory should lessen the urge within the debilitated to push too hard to help a team ailing in their absence.

"Players are always pushing themselves to get back a little sooner rather than later," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "It's easy intellectually to look back and say, 'Maybe I can take it easy. We have a big lead. We have a nice situation going right now.' But players want to play, and they know they get paid to play and they know their future earnings depend on playing.

"It's hard to keep them governed both on the field and medically. That hunger to get back and be back is something I don't want to take from players. I want guys to want to be back sooner rather than later."

Musgrove (4-7, 6.04 ERA) will make his 15th start of the season for Houston. It will mark his first career appearances against the Twins and his second start since being recalled from Triple-A Fresno on July 5.

Against the Atlanta Braves on that date, he allowed four runs and five hits with six strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings in a 10-4 victory at SunTrust Park. He did not walk a batter, and has not issued more than three walks in any of his 24 career outings (23 starts).

Fresh off his appearance in the All-Star Game on Tuesday in Miami, Twins right-hander Ervin Santana (10-6, 2.99 ERA) will start the middle game of the series.

Santana is 3-0 with a 2.02 ERA in five career starts against the Astros and did not factor in the decision on May 29 after allowing two runs (one earned), five hits and two walks in seven innings. Houston rallied from an 8-2 deficit with 14 runs in its final two at-bats, 11 in the eighth inning.

Santana has performed ably while fronting a rotation that has otherwise struggled with consistency. What the Twins (45-44) need from their starters in the second half are performances that spare the bullpen and give rise to the belief that the success of the first half wasn't a fluke.

"We told the players that try not to get too far ahead of yourself," Twins manager Paul Molitor said.

"It's kind of fun to think about playing Houston after the series they had against us up there and going home to face the Yankees and getting a chance to see Dodger Stadium on the next road trip, but the reality is you've got to stay day to day. That's what the game demands of you to get your best, so that's what we're going to focus on."

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