|Astros, Rangers set to compete in rubber match|
The Houston Astros will host the Texas Rangers in the rubber match of a three-game series Thursday.
Left-hander Framber Valdez (3-3, 4.08 ERA) is the scheduled starter for the Astros (24-25). After going 3-0 with a 2.93 ERA over a four-start stretch, Valdez has scuffled of late, allowing 13 earned runs over his last 12 innings with opponents posting a .976 OPS.
This will mark his second appearance this season against Texas, with Valdez limiting the Rangers to three runs with eight strikeouts over seven innings in a 6-5 loss on Sept. 1. Valdez did not factor in that decision and is 0-2 with a 6.92 ERA over five appearances (two starts) in his career against Texas.
Right-hander Jordan Lyles (1-4, 7.80 ERA) will start the series finale for the Rangers (18-31). Lyles has followed openers in two of his previous three appearances, going 0-1 with a 5.89 ERA with a .717 OPS allowed during that stretch. His ERA would be the highest in the majors if he qualified.
Lyles is coming off the longest relief outing by a Texas pitcher in 12 seasons after surrendering five runs on nine hits and two walks with five strikeouts over seven innings last Friday in a 10-6 loss to the Oakland Athletics. Lyles is 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA over three appearances, including one start, against the Astros, for whom he pitched from 2011-13.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward will continue the delicate balance of striving to win games while also giving opportunities to rookies who could have promising futures. Texas had five rookies in the lineup in the series opener with three position players -- center fielder Leody Taveras, shortstop Anderson Tejada and left fielder Nick Solak -- starting again on Wednesday.
"We're still trying to obviously win games," Woodward said. "I'm trying to put it to where we have the best chance. With that being said I'm trying to obviously get these guys at-bats. I'm trying to figure out how to get as many at-bats with these guys while giving the guys that I want to see more. Some of these guys are playing every day like Taveras and Tejeda, for the most part."
Astros right-hander Justin Verlander faced live hitters Wednesday for the first time since he landed on the injured list with a right forearm strain on July 25 following his lone start of 2020.
Verlander threw 75 pitches, including 50 in the bullpen as part of his normal warm-up routine, while logging two innings on the mound. The Astros will re-evaluate Verlander on Friday at the earliest to determine his level of soreness and discomfort before making an assessment on his immediate future. Initial published reports had Verlander sidelined for the remainder of the year.
Alongside right-handers Jose Urquidy and Lance McCullers Jr., who logged seven shutout innings in his return from the injured list in the Astros' 1-0 loss to the Texas Rangers on Wednesday, a potential return of Verlander could be a boon to their postseason hopes and might set their American League Wild Card Series rotation.
"Slowly but surely I hope we don't run out of time to get these guys back and in tip-top shape," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "But I'd rather have them back at the last minute than I would with no time. It's big. It's big for the confidence of this club. Then you could put other guys in an area where they can help us, especially in the bullpen. That'd be great to get these guys back."
--Field Level Media