Astros face Angels with AL West title on horizon (Sep 13, 2017)

BY AP • September 14, 2017

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Houston Astros will try to creep closer to their first division title in 16 years when they meet the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday in the second contest of a three-game series at Angel Stadium.

The Astros trimmed their magic number to clinch the AL West to five with a 1-0 victory against the Angels on Tuesday night.

Houston right-hander Justin Verlander pitched eight shutout innings in the series opener, and the Astros will turn to Mike Fiers as a late replacement for starter Lance McCullers Jr. on Wednesday.

Astros manager A. J. Hinch said after the series-opening win Tuesday that McCullers felt "symptoms" while playing catch before the game.

"He's got a little bit of arm fatigue, arm soreness," Hinch said. "We're not overly concerned, with the exception that I'm not going to have him go out there if he doesn't feel good."

Fiers (8-9, 4.87 ERA) has defeated the Angels twice this season and is 3-2 with a 4.40 ERA in seven career starts against them.

He had his best start of the season June 10 against Los Angeles, not allowing an earned run over 7 1/3 innings of a 3-1 victory at Houston. Fiers threw five innings at Angel Stadium on May 7 and earned the victory after giving up three runs and four hits in the 5-3 win.

In his most recent outing, Fiers gave up two runs in one inning during a relief outing Friday at Oakland. His most recent start was on Sept. 3, when the New York Mets got to him for six runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings.

McCullers (7-3, 3.97 ERA) was 4-0 with a 0.99 ERA in May and threw 22 consecutive scoreless innings during that stretch to help him earn his first All-Star berth, but he missed all of August with back discomfort. He returned last Wednesday and allowed three runs and four hits in 5 1/3 innings of a 5-3 victory against the Seattle Mariners.

Fiers should be able to throw strikes with confidence. Verlander said after his one-hit effort Tuesday that the Houston defense is a difference-maker.

"This defense is really special," the Astros newcomer said. "It makes our job easier to pitch to contact and know, if the ball stays in the yard, we've got a good chance to make a play on it."

The Angels will send left-hander Tyler Skaggs to the mound in hopes he can repeat his most recent effort. Skaggs (1-5, 4.86 ERA) allowed three runs and six hits in six innings of a 3-1 loss to the A's on Sept. 6. He matched his season high with nine strikeouts and walked one.

"That's much more in line with what he can do," Angels manager Mike Scioscia told the Orange County Register after the game. "I thought he made some great adjustments between (starts). He had great tempo with his delivery. His command was much better. First-pitch strikes. Every marker was in a positive direction."

Skaggs was shaky in his previous three outings, including a 7-6 win against the Astros on Aug. 26. He allowed five runs (four earned) and six hits in five innings, but was spared the loss when the Angels came from behind in the eighth inning.

Skaggs is 2-2 in five career starts against Houston with a 3.38 ERA, his best numbers against any AL West team.

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