Preview: Twins at Astros
HOUSTON --Houston Astros right-hander Charlie Morton completed a bullpen session on Tuesday, the next step in his progression toward a timely reinstatement from the 10-day disabled list.
Morton (13-3, 3.14 ERA) landed on the DL on Aug. 29 with right shoulder discomfort. He has exceeded his single-season high for strikeouts with 185 and is approaching prior benchmarks for starts and innings, with 26 starts and 152 innings on his ledger this season. Morton made 29 starts and logged 171 2/3 innings in his age-27 season in 2011 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
After earning his first All-Star Game nod following a strong first half that saw him go 11-2 with a 2.96 ERA, Morton posted a 4.23 ERA over five starts last month. His 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings in August were by far his lowest mark for any month this season. The signs that he was fatiguing and in need of a reset were clear, so the Astros (86-53) provided Morton a break.
Should Morton return from the DL as scheduled, he'll pitch at Boston on Saturday.
"Everything is pointing in the right direction," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We'll see how he feels (Wednesday). There's going to be no declaration or decision, but I love seeing the fact that he's on the mound.
"We want to feel like he's got freedom in his arm stroke. We want him to feel like he can recover, he's maintaining his strength. He's thrown a ton of bullpens in his career so he's going to know exactly how he feels going into a normal start. I want to hear from him that all systems are go and he feels comfortable and that he's going to be good on Saturday."
Rookie left-hander Framber Valdez (2-1, 1.26 ERA) will start the series finale for Houston on Wednesday against the Minnesota Twins. Valdez suffered the loss in his previous start, the second of his career, on Aug. 31 against the Los Angeles Angels after allowing one run on two hits and three walks with three strikeouts over five innings. He produced that exact same line in his first career start five days earlier against the Angels after making his big-league debut on Aug. 21 at the Seattle Mariners.
Right-hander Jake Odorizzi (5-9, 4.41 ERA) gets the start for the Twins. He is 3-0 with a 0.72 ERA over four career starts against the Astros, recording the 4-1 victory on April 10 at Target Field after allowing one run on five hits and five walks with four strikeouts over six innings.
Odorizzi has just one win over his last nine starts, posting a 4.66 ERA during that stretch.
The Twins (63-75) employed the "opener" strategy for the second time in three games and again experienced unfavorable results. Right-hander Trevor May made his first start since Aug. 14, 2015 and allowed four runs in the first inning. Twins manager Paul Molitor opted to use rookie right-hander and Houston native Kohl Stewart out of the bullpen instead of giving him a fifth start since his big-league debut on Aug. 12. Stewart worked five scoreless innings of relief.
"Kohl did a really nice job," Molitor said. "I was a little concerned about him with all the people he had here at the ballpark, but he made them happy. He did a nice job. We didn't push it. We got him through twice through the lineup. He did a really nice job of keeping us in the game."