Astros’ McCann ready to return vs. Nationals

HOUSTON — With 12-plus seasons and more than 1,500 games under his belt, catcher Brian McCann has earned the trust of the Houston coaching staff to declare himself ready for reinstatement from the 10-day disabled list without the benefit of a rehab assignment.

McCann, who has missed nine games with right knee soreness, will be activated by the Astros (77-49) for the series finale against the Washington Nationals on Thursday. McCann was placed on the disabled list Aug. 14, his second stint on the DL this season — he missed seven games in late May with a concussion.

With his production in a steady decline for roughly two months, McCann might benefit from the break. His OPS hit .860 on June 18 and began to drop immediately thereafter. He is batting .120 this month and his OPS for the season has slipped to .720, his lowest since April 6.

“We did some work (Tuesday), he threw to bases. Just watching him move around, he’s doing a ton better with the knee,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s caught some bullpens and he’s just generally shown that (he’s ready).”

Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (11-2, 2.58 ERA) has the starting assignment for the Astros on Thursday night. He is 0-1 with a 5.73 ERA over two career starts against the Nationals.

After enduring a rough patch following his reinstatement from the disabled list, Keuchel is 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA over his last two starts. He has more strikeouts (10) than hits allowed (nine) in those 13 2/3 innings.

Right-hander Stephen Strasburg (10-4, 3.24) will start the series finale for the Nationals. He is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA over two career starts against the Astros.

On Saturday, his first start after missing nearly a month with an elbow impingement, Strasburg suffered a 3-1 loss to the San Diego Padres. He gave up two runs on four hits, with eight strikeouts, over six innings.

The Nationals (75-49) continue to lean on the contributions of newcomers adjusting to life atop the standings.

Right-hander Edwin Jackson, who opened the season with the sub-.500 Baltimore Orioles, allowed two runs over six solid innings in the Nationals’ 6-1 loss Wednesday. Left fielder Howie Kendrick, liberated from the cellar-dwelling Philadelphia Phillies, belted a crucial two-run double to help the Nationals claim the series opener Tuesday.

And right-handed reliever Brandon Kintzler pitched the decisive eighth inning Tuesday night, and continues to thrive as a setup option after saving 28 games for the Twins this season.

“They pick up probably 10, 20 games in the standings,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “And it’s a lot easier, I think, to play for a common goal than just play for yourself. I think it does a lot because all of us at some point in time have won in our lives.

“Everyone knows the feeling of playing for a team and playing for a common goal. You’ve got to be a different person to be selfish and play for yourself and continue to be as motivated. It’s a lot easier to be motivated when you’re playing for a goal and for each other.”