Altuve back from brief rest as Astros host Jays

HOUSTON -- Even with All-Stars Carlos Correa and George Springer injured and absent from a flailing lineup, Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch gave All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve the day off on Friday night in the opener of a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Altuve (.365, 16 home runs, 62 RBI) was named American League Player of the Month earlier this week. But he also endured a season-worst 0-for-11 stretch before recording his 20th three-hit game on Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Rays. Altuve leads the majors in batting and hits (151), but according to Hinch, there were telltale signs that Altuve needed a breather.

Hinch opted not to divulge those signs, but he remains adamant that his frontline performers need occasional days off to lessen the potential for injuries from overwork. Altuve played in 105 of the Astros' 108 games before this scheduled rest. Infielder Alex Bregman is the only other player to appear in 100-plus games for Houston this season. Bregman participated in his 103rd game on Friday.

"I guess it's more subtle things," Hinch said of indicators. "I watch these guys, I know these guys, I talk to these guys. Some stuff I'll share, some stuff I won't, but for the most part I've got a pretty good pulse on when these guys are having fatigue whether it's mentally, physically, behind-the-scenes stuff.

"For Jose, he's always full of energy, he always wants to play, and believe it or not he's always thankful when you look out for him and give him a day off. I try to stay in front of it, especially with him, and make sure that I give him a day off a day too early rather than let something creep up on him."

The Astros (70-39) have right-hander Charlie Morton (9-4, 3.77 ERA) scheduled to start on Saturday. In his first career start against Toronto, Morton allowed one run on four hits and two walks with three strikeouts over six innings in a 12-2 road win on July 7. It was his first start following a six-week stint on the disabled list. Morton was 4-1 with a 3.23 ERA over five starts last month.

Right-hander Marco Estrada (4-7, 5.19 ERA) will start for the Blue Jays on Saturday. Estrada is 2-0 with a 2.79 ERA in 11 career appearances (five starts) against the Astros. Estrada is winless over his last 11 starts, going 0-5 with a 7.86 ERA. His last victory came on May 27 against Texas.

The Blue Jays (51-58) optioned right-hander Joe Biagini to Triple-A Buffalo with the intent of returning him to the rotation. Biagini (3-8, 5.11 ERA) made 37 appearances for Toronto this season, 11 as a starter. He was 2-7 with a 5.60 ERA and 1.409 WHIP in those 11 starts while going 1-1 with a 4.26 ERA and 1.168 WHIP in 26 relief appearances. His last 12 appearances were out of the bullpen, with Biagini going 1-0 with a 5.54 ERA and six holds since July 8.

"We're going to let him finish the year out starting," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "So, he'll go down there (Buffalo) and let him go up a little bit, make a couple starts. He'll start Monday down there. Give him a good look at that.

"A couple starts to build him up a bit. ... Let him go down there, start using his full windup."
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