Astros' makeshift bullpen to be tested by Angels (Jun 10, 2017)

BY AP • June 10, 2017

HOUSTON -- With injuries ravaging their rotation, the Houston Astros have been forced to manage a revolving door of relievers while maintaining the best record in the majors.

From left-handers Ashur Tolliver and Reymin Guduan to righties Jordan Jankowski and Dayan Diaz, debuts have come in bunches for Houston. On Friday night in their 9-4 loss to the Los Angeles Angels (32-32), the Astros (43-19) welcomed their top pitching prospect to the show, with right-hander Francis Martes allowing four runs on four hits and two walks with two strikeouts over 3 2/3 innings.

"I think it's more their comfort with our team and the role in which they have," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of acclimating the new pitchers. "Being familiar with your teammates is very important. Me being familiar with them -- I know their strengths and weaknesses and we do a good job of communicating throughout the organization with the Triple-A coaches and manager and Double-A as well. We feel like we're all on the same page and we've got them right where we need them when we need them."

Right-hander Mike Fiers (3-2, 4.84 ERA) will start the middle game of the series for the Astros. He allowed three runs on four hits and four walks over five innings while earning a 5-3 win over the Angels on May 7. Fiers is 2-2 with a 5.30 ERA in six career starts against the Angels.

Right-hander Ricky Nolasco (2-6, 5.05 ERA) will make his 13th start of the season and second against the Astros in 2017. He has been the losing pitcher in each of his last four starts, but in 10 career games (nine starts) against Houston, Nolasco is 7-1 with a 3.75 ERA. He beat the Astros onApril 18 by allowing two earned runs in six innings, improving to 5-0 with a 2.61 ERA in six games at Minute Maid Park.

In the bullpen, right-hander Keynan Middleton has provided the Angels a boost of late. Over his last nine games, Middleton has posted a 0.96 ERA over 9 1/3 innings with 11 strikeouts against just two walks. Opponents have produced a .432 OPS during that span, with Middleton recording two holds during the three-game series at Detroit.

Middleton was a bit of a revelation for Triple-A Salt Lake last season, and after some early scuffles in spring training and with the Bees before his May 5 debut, Middleton has found the form that made him a potentially intriguing relief option.

"Keynan needs to grow into that role if we're going to have the depth that we need," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Middleton and high-leverage innings. "That doesn't mean that he's going to go back to being a ninth-inning guy or be a closer, but we definitely need to have a group of pitchers that continue to grow.

"This is the best we've seen him throw. This is the way he was throwing towards the latter part of last year when he jumped on everybody's radar. We saw the stuff was there. We saw the power slider as well as the fastball. There's no doubt that he's made improvements (from where he was) in spring training."



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