By Rich Shook, The Sports Xchange
DETROIT -- It's one of the more anxious days of the season for players -- the last game day prior to Monday's nonwaiver trade deadline.
Houston closes out its three-game series in Detroit on Sunday with lefty Dallas Keuchel of the Astros opposing Tigers' right-hander Mike Pelfrey. Houston dropped the first two games of the series.
There will be a certain amount of anxiety -- probably more in Houston's clubhouse than avowedly stand-pat Detroit's -- of players on the bubble or those who have heard their names tossed around in trade rumors.
"It's difficult," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said, "because you're uncertain of what can happen. There's a general excitement around it because of the possibilities that are out there.
"Especially when you're doing well or your team has a winning record or there's talks of buying. The line's drawn in the fact that if we do acquire somebody, then somebody in the clubhouse is going away, either to the minor leagues or in a trade.
"It's a little unsettling until the deadline. But you'd always rather be in it and be a buyer and be talking about making additions that you think are going to help your team get to the playoffs or into the World Series."
The Astros are said to be shopping for pitching (isn't everybody?) while the Tigers are more focused on getting three key injured players back -- right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, right fielder J.D. Martinez and lefty Daniel Norris.
"It can add to the excitement," manager Brad Ausmus of the Tigers said. "Even if it doesn't involve your team, just watching the moves around the country involving other teams. We'll just wait and see. You can't let that distract you."
Detroit will not be in action on trade deadline day; Houston goes home to host Toronto.
"There's a lot of unknowns," Hinch said. "There's a lot of rumors and I think every one of our guys follow them. They'll float by my office and ask a lot of questions. We'll all know soon enough when the deadline gets here."
"You say buy," Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander said, "I kind of meant the not-sell aspect. I see what Mr. Avila's (GM Al Avila) been saying and I completely agree with him. We've got one of the best hitters in the game (J.D. Martinez) coming off the DL soon. That's a big acquisition in and of itself. We've missed him for six to seven weeks now.
"Then you've got a couple guys, (Jordan) Zimmermann and (Daniel) Norris, that are big for this team as well. So hopefully get those puzzle pieces back where they need to be and we just roll. Keep playing good baseball.
"I have to commend Mr. Ilitch (owner Mike) and Al for putting together what we all thought at the beginning of the year was a great ball club. So you look at the big picture, we have a great nucleus of guys here. I don't think you have to add anything."
The Astros hope Keuchel can bring a little calm to the last day of games prior to the deadline and he's got a nice track record against the Tigers.
Keuchel (6-10, 4.57 ERA) is not having a Cy Young season but he did pitch well in a loss to the Yankees in his last start, allowing two runs in 7 2/3 innings.
He pitched eight innings of shutout ball at Detroit in their first meeting this season, going mostly soft, and over his career is 3-1 with a 3.03 ERA in five games against the Tigers.
Pelfrey has faced the Astros nine times during his career and is 3-5 with a 4.56 ERA. Houston beat him the first time they met this year. He tied for the league lead with 29 double plays thrown last year and is at 24 this year.
Ausmus said Saturday he will pitch Anibal Sanchez against the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday with rookie Michael Fulmer getting extra rest and going Wednesday. Thursday's starter is not known but the manager said it won't be Verlander, who will get an extra day off.
Houston, like Detroit, has an eight-man bullpen and this means it has only three bench players. That's hurting the Astros now because two of those are regulars who are injured and the third is a catcher, who is always the last man in.