Astros end road trip at Angels

The Houston Astros close out a roller-coaster road trip when they face the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday afternoon at Angel Stadium.

The Astros lost the first two games of the nine-game trip to the Oakland A’s, dropping them into a tie atop the American League West standings, but they’ve rebounded to win their past four games and maintain a 1 1/2-game lead over Oakland entering Sunday.

Houston (79-50) opens a three-game series against the visiting A’s on Monday.

Houston right-hander Gerrit Cole was available to pitch on regular rest Sunday, but the Astros are saving him for Monday’s series opener against the A’s.

Instead, rookie left-hander Framber Valdez will make his first major league start in the series finale. His outing will come five days after he delivered a strong performance out of the bullpen to earn the victory in his major league debut.

Valdez entered Tuesday’s game against the Seattle Mariners with two outs in the second inning and allowed one run (unearned) and two hits over 4 1/3 innings in the 3-2 victory.

“He’s got a wipeout breaking ball, so he fits right in,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch told reporters after his debut.

Valdez was the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Month for July, when he allowed one earned run in 22 1/3 innings for Class AA Corpus Christi.

The Angels (63-67) still have eight games remaining against the Astros and can play a key role in the AL West race. They’ve lost five in a row and seven of eight to fall four games under .500 for the first time this season.

Los Angeles started the season a franchise-best 13-3.

The Angels will send right-hander Felix Pena (1-3, 4.53) to the mound in the series finale.

Injuries to the Los Angles pitching staff have created a need for Pena to log innings as a starter.

“I don’t like the fact that I am here because other people got hurt,” Pena told through a translator after his last start. “That is not a good thing for the team, but I will take the opportunity and continue working hard and improve and make sure to give the team what they need.”

Pena, who was converted to a starter earlier this season, is winless in his past eight starts, but the Angels have averaged just 2.9 runs in those outings, leaving him little margin for error.

He had a career-high 12 strikeouts in his last start on Tuesday at the Arizona Diamondbacks, but Pena did not receive a decision after giving up four runs and seven hits in six innings of the 5-4 loss.

Pena did not allow an earned run through six innings the previous week against the San Diego Padres and departed with a 2-1 lead, but again failed to get the win after the bullpen surrendered the tying run in the seventh inning before the Angels won 3-2.

Pena has not faced Houston in his career.