Astros-Tigers Preview

DETROIT -- Viable.

The Houston Astros and Detroit Tigers see that as their watchword during a three-game weekend series between two resurgent teams seeking to overtake their respective division leaders.

Houston trails Texas in the AL West while Detroit is stalking Cleveland in the AL Central. Neither can claim first place by Monday's non-waiver trade deadline, but both will remain contenders regardless of how the series plays out.

The Astros are seen as more of a buyer than the Tigers, who are limited by their $200 million payroll and limited trade chips, but neither club will be in sell mode. Detroit may make a minor cosmetic move but Houston would not surprise if it made a nice splash before the trade deadline.

Detroit and Houston were off Thursday, a plus for both sides.

Tigers' manager Brad Ausmus used the day off plus another scheduled break Monday to rearrange his rotation as he awaits the return of injured starters Jordan Zimmermann and Daniel Norris, both of whom will have one final rehab start this week prior to rejoining the staff. He is also using the breaks to push back rookie Michael Fulmer and further limit his starts and innings.

Exactly which day Fulmer pitches again has not been determined and may be contingent on where Ausmus wants to slot in Zimmermann and Norris next week.

Astros' skipper A.J. Hinch has two regulars nursing sore hamstrings -- third baseman Luis Valbuena and center fielder Carlos Gomez. Valbuena was injured Tuesday and Gomez had to come out of Wednesday's game early.

"It's a mild strain," Gomez told "We have the advantage of the off-day (Thursday) and (then) we have a night game. Like I said before, I had it in the past. I know how I feel. I don't think this is going to be something that will take me long to heal. In the past, I have had it worse than that and I was ready in six or seven days, and they put me on the DL. In this case, I don't think it's necessary."

Valbuena won't play Friday, Hinch said earlier in the week, but is possible for one of the next two games.

"It's not comfortable when the bench is pretty much empty with the exception of (Evan) Gattis as a pinch-hitter/catcher," Hinch said to "We've got some fortunate timing, if I can call it that, because we're expected to put (right-hander Doug) Fister on the paternity leave soon. His wife is going to deliver his first child in the next couple of days, so we might have a transaction in Detroit that will probably be a position player."

Fister worked Wednesday, so he won't pitch in Detroit. If he's placed on paternity leave Friday, the Astros can bring up a position player for the weekend.

Valbuena's strain is higher in the hamstring than Gomez's, which is just above the back of the knee.

"He's unlikely to play Friday," Hinch said of his third baseman, "and we'll assess him on Saturday. Where it's located, sort of behind the knee really low, makes for some tricky diagnosis."

That would give rookie Alex Bregman, just up from the minors, at least one more start at third. He's been working out in left field and likely will play the left side of the infield, outfield and do some designated hitting -- if he hits.

Right-hander Collin McHugh will pitch for Houston against southpaw Matt Boyd of Detroit.

Right-hander Mike Fiers and southpaw Dallas Keuchel will go Saturday and Sunday, respectively, for the Astros while the Tigers counter with right-handers Justin Verlander and Mike Pelfrey.

McHugh (7-6, 4.18 ERA) has never beaten Detroit but has only started three times against it, going 0-2 with a 3.72 ERA. He won his last start, against the Los Angeles Angels.

Boyd has been a fill-in starter for the Tigers this season and is currently holding place for the return of Zimmermann and Norris He is 1-2 with a 4.63 ERA in eight starts but is 1-0 with a 1.17 ERA over his last three starts. Boyd has started just once against Houston, not getting a decision in a five-inning outing in which he gave up five runs on six hits.

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