Posted on July 26, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine

Houston Astros Dallas Keuchel

Image via espn.com

The best team in the American League is ready to add one of the best pitchers in baseball. No, it’s not a blockbuster trade less than a week before the trade deadline. Instead, Dallas Keuchel is set to rejoin the Astros after nearly two months on the DL. Astros manager A.J. Hinch told reporters Wednesday that Keuchel will be activated in time to start Friday’s game against the Detroit Tigers.

Keuchel has not pitched a major league game since June 2. Soon after that start, the lefty was placed on the DL with neck discomfort. It was his second trip to the DL this season. Keuchel had a shorter stint on the DL in May because of a pinched nerve in his neck. But he made just two starts before he was forced back to the DL. Nearly two months later, the lefty is ready to return for the stretch run before leading the Astros into the postseason.

Before being sidelined with the neck issues, Keuchel was having an amazing season. In 11 starts this year, the lefty is 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA. If he had enough innings to qualify, Keuchel would have the lowest ERA in the majors. He has bounced back from a mediocre 2016 season, and the Astros are hopeful he can pick up where he left off before the injury. Even in his two starts between DL stints, Keuchel allowed just one run over 12 innings. Nevertheless, Houston will take a cautious approach with the lefty upon his return.

“We’ll be careful with him getting him deep into games and stuff like that, and we’ll use the first couple of starts to ramp him up to that,” explains Hinch. “We’re confident enough to activate him off the DL and test him against the Tigers, so we don’t expect any problems, but until the adrenaline kicks in, we’re not going to know how exactly he feels.”

Keuchel made two minor league rehab starts in preparation for Friday’s return. However, those came in short-season A-ball and he threw just eight innings between the two starts. But he responded well to his most recent bullpen session, making the Astros confident that he’s ready to be activated.

With Keuchel returning to start on Friday, Houston’s rotation will be as healthy as its been all season. Collin McHugh will follow Keuchel by making his second start of the season on Saturday. McHugh had an uneven season debut last weekend against the Orioles. But the Astros are confident he’ll get back on track after missing the first half of the season with shoulder issues.

Meanwhile, Lance McCullers Jr. will start Sunday’s series finale. McCullers has helped carry Houston’s rotation while Keuchel and McHugh have been out. With those three poised to pitch on consecutive days, the Astros finally have the trio in place that they expected to lead their rotation this season.

“We haven’t been able to name those three as our starting pitchers together all year,” Hinch said. “So it feels good to be able to go into a series with those guys.”

Of course, the Astros don’t necessarily need Keuchel and McHugh to be at their best right away. Houston winning the AL West has long been a foregone conclusion. The Astros began Wednesday with a 17.5 game lead atop the division. But the Astros getting their rotation healthy is a big deal with regard to their postseason hopes.

If Keuchel can come back healthy and regain the form he had earlier in the year, it changes the outlook of the American League playoffs. His presence atop Houston’s rotation, especially if McHugh comes around as well, assures the Astros will be viewed as favorites in the American League playoffs.

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