Astros rookie to make starting debut against Angels

HOUSTON — After completing 125 games using the same five starting pitchers, the Astros will on Saturday showcase a second rookie making his first career start since Aug. 26.

Right-hander Josh James, the Astros’ sixth-ranked prospect according to MLB.com, will make his big-league debut against the Angels at Minute Maid Park. James has split time between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Fresno this season, combining to go 6-4 with a 3.23 ERA.

What earned James, a 34th-round pick by the Astros in 2014, this opportunity is his eye-popping strikeout totals. James has recorded 171 strikeouts over 114 1/3 innings this season, including 133 over 92 2/3 innings with Fresno. He averaged 15.8 strikeouts per nine innings with the Hooks prior to his promotion to the Grizzlies, where he’s fanned 12.9 batters per nine.

James’ fastball previously sat between 92-94 mph. He’s now up to 95-97 mph and occasionally reaches triple digits on the radar gun. He joins left-hander Framber Valdez as ascending prospects to make their debuts for the Astros (82-53) over the past two weeks.

“I’m excited to meet him,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “I’ve never met him. I’ve never seen him in person but our people to a man will tell you his stuff is real, it’s high-end stuff. He’s performed his way to this opportunity.

“He’s punching out everybody in the minors. His stuff is creeping up to where now he’s in the mid- to upper-90s. Brian McCann actually caught him on his rehab stint so there’s going to be some familiarity when B-Mac catches him, and he’s just performed his way to the big leagues. The next test for him is going to be at this level. He’s conquered everything else and he’s the best available and has outperformed a lot of pitchers along the way to the top of the list.”

Right-hander Felix Pena (1-4, 4.52 ERA) will start for the Angels (66-69), who are seeking to clinch a series victory. He was charged with the loss last Sunday against the Astros in Anaheim after allowing three runs on five hits and two walks with five strikeouts over six innings. That start was the first of his career against Houston. He has worked six innings in three consecutive starts.

With rookie right-hander Shohei Ohtani set to make his first start in nearly three months on Sunday and veteran right-hander Matt Shoemaker poised for reinstatement from the disabled list this weekend, the Angels plan to utilize a six-man rotation for the foreseeable future.

Ohtani last pitched on June 6 before suffering a right UCL sprain. Shoemaker has been on the disabled list since April 3 with a right forearm strain. While both are ready to return, they will be limited by pitch counts, which means all hands will be on deck in the Angels bullpen.

“With Shohei in, we’re going to be looking at six guys in our rotation but that doesn’t mean all of them are going to get an extra day,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “We’ll give a guy an extra day when we feel they need it or when we can do it.

“Those two guys are probably going to be short starts so we’re going to need a bunch of guys.”