Astros host Red Sox, getting closer to full strengrth

HOUSTON -- What has been a laborious stretch of pitcher injuries appears to be nearing an end for the Astros, who will embark on a seven-game, West Coast road trip starting Monday in Oakland with three currently disabled starters in tow.

Ace left-hander Dallas Keuchel (neck) plus right-handers Lance McCullers (back) and Charlie Morton (lat) are on the verge of returning to the rotation. That would be a boon to the Astros (46-23), who have slumped without Keuchel and McCullers in particular but have maintained their double-digit lead in the American League West over the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels.

Right-hander Joe Musgrove (4-5, 4.81 ERA) returned from the 10-day disabled list Monday against the Rangers, allowing two runs on five hits in what was an abbreviated 4 2/3 innings by design. Musgrove was shut down with shoulder discomfort, and Houston is committed to working him back into the mix slowly.

That means Musgrove will be limited Sunday when he starts against the Red Sox (38-30) in the rubber match of this three-game series. It will mark his first career appearance against Boston.

"One step closer to that probably," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We'll increase like we would to build anybody back up. We can't forget that time still elapsed between his outings. He's had a good bullpen sessions, he's built up a little bit of strength. He'll take a step forward towards being fully back but fully back to me is extending him north of 100 (pitches) and we won't do that."

The Red Sox counter with left-hander David Price (1-1, 5.09 ERA). Price is 4-2 with a 2.68 ERA over seven career starts against Houston, posting 61 strikeouts and a 0.93 WHIP over 50 1/3 innings in those appearances.

The Astros have batted just .212 against Price while working only eight walks. Price produced a quality start in his last appearance, allowing three runs on four hits and four walks while notching six strikeouts over six innings against the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday.

While Price has made four starts since returning from an elbow injury that sidelined him before the season began, he has been plagued with inconsistent performances since being reinstated from the disabled list. His uneven outings have mirrored, to an extent, those of Red Sox right-hander Rick Porcello, who was rocked for seven runs while suffering a loss on Saturday night.

When the Red Sox added left-hander Chris Sale to their rotation last offseason, the grand vision was slotting him ahead of Price and Porcello, both of whom have won the American League Cy Young Award. While Boston is hopeful that Price can find his footing in the finale, what Porcello offered Saturday night was more frustration.

"Still, for Rick, once again, the night and day difference is elevation in the strike zone," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "Fourth, fifth, sixth innings when he's down in the strike zones, he's getting the ball on the ground and getting relatively easy outs. This is something with his delivery he has continually worked on in between starts and yet, the consistency inside of a game has not been there."
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