|Astros expect Altuve back as they try to avoid sweep|
The Houston Astros are ready to get second baseman Jose Altuve back in the lineup.
Altuve has been out since May 10 because of a strained left hamstring. He finished a rehab assignment Monday night at Triple-A Round Rock, met the Astros in Cincinnati on Tuesday night -- they lost to the Reds 4-3 -- and is expected to be activated from the injured list before the series finale on Wednesday.
Altuve, a six-time All-Star and the 2017 American League MVP, is hitting .243 in 39 games this season. The plan is for Altuve to play Wednesday, according to manager AJ Hinch.
"I feel pretty good," Altuve told reporters before Tuesday's game. "My confidence is up. I'm just ready to come here and play again and help the team. ... It's been forever, but at the same time it's helped me a lot that the guys have been playing so good and winning a lot of games."
Houston has the second-best record in the American League at 48-26 but has dropped the first two games of this interleague series and has lost three in a row for the first time since April 20-22.
The Astros will send out right-hander Gerrit Cole (6-5, 3.67 ERA) to stop the skid. He leads the majors with 140 strikeouts in 90 2/3 innings -- 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings. He has a 2.52 ERA in his past four starts, striking out 40 in 25 innings.
The former Pittsburgh Pirates starter has had little career success against the Reds, with a 1-8 record and a 4.97 ERA in 12 starts. That might not be overly relevant, though. His most recent start against Cincinnati came on Sept. 17, 2017, when he was pitching for the Pirates.
The Reds will be trying for their second sweep of the season and to match their longest winning streak (four games). They also swept a three-game set against the visiting Miami Marlins from April 9-11.
Cincinnati already has handed Houston its first series loss since the Minnesota Twins took three of four from the Astros at Target Field, April 29-May 2.
The Reds slugged three home runs off Justin Verlander in a 4-3 victory Tuesday night.
"These past two games have felt like a playoff game, honestly," Reds second baseman Kyle Farmer said on MLB.com.
"That's the mentality we should have every day. That's what (manager) David (Bell) is really telling us, and it's clicking for us. It's great to see guys swinging the bat well, pitchers throwing well, defense playing great. Everything is clicking for us right now."
Farmer's solo home run in the seventh inning extended the Reds' lead to 4-1, but proved to be the difference in the game when the Astros' Alex Bregman slammed a two-run homer in the top of the eighth.
On Wednesday, the Reds will start right-hander Tyler Mahle (2-7, 4.33). His longest outing among his 13 starts is 6 1/3 innings in San Francisco on May 12, and he hasn't pitched longer than five innings in any his past four starts.
Mahle voiced his displeasure to reporters after being pulled Friday after 4 1/3 innings and 96 pitches in what turned out to be a 7-1 loss to the Texas Rangers. He said Bell hasn't given him a chance to "battle through the game" at times.
Bell said he talked to Mahle about his concerns.
"Tyler Mahle is a great teammate," Bell said on MLB.com. "He's super competitive. He's tough. He's a big part of our staff. I don't want to change Tyler one bit."
--Field Level Media