HOUSTON -- For most of the season, Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch has worked the line between managing the workload of his starters while letting his veteran pitchers do what they've always done, which is take pride in their ability to make their turn in the rotation on schedule.
As a result of optimal health, the Astros (97-57) feature three pitchers ranked in the top 10 in the majors in innings: right-hander Justin Verlander, who worked six strong in a 10-5 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday to run his season total to 208 innings; left-hander Dallas Keuchel (196 2/3 innings), and right-hander Gerrit Cole (194 1/3). Only four pitchers besides Verlander have worked 200 innings this season. The Astros could finish with three.
"There's something compelling for the starters to get to 200 innings," Hinch said. "So while it seems like that's fatigue there's also a great accomplishment that comes with that. There's great pride in those guys so they're as strong as they've been the entire season.
"Certainly, I'd like to have that time off if we win the division quickly and be able to set it up properly, but I don't have a lot of concern with those guys. Everybody else is pretty fine when it comes to inning totals, but I think everybody's sightline has changed over the last five to 10 years to where there are so few guys that can last deep into games or that are allowed to last in games to get to the 200-inning mark. They look a little more like a unique pitcher than the norm."
Right-hander Charlie Morton (15-3, 3.15 ERA) will start the regular-season home finale for the Astros on Sunday. He is 2-0 with a 3.27 ERA across two starts this month following a stint on the 10-day disabled list. Morton is five strikeouts shy of his first 200-strikeout season and nine innings from eclipsing his previous high of 171 2/3 pitched in 2011 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. With his 29th start, Morton will match the number he achieved with Pittsburgh seven years ago.
Morton did not factor into the decision in his lone start against the Angels this season, allowing four runs, five hits and two walks with five strikeouts in four innings of an 8-7 home loss on April 24. He is 3-0 with a 3.86 ERA against the Angels in six career starts.
Left-hander Tyler Skaggs (8-8, 3.69 ERA) will start seeking to help the Angels snap their four-game skid. He is 4-3 with a 2.96 ERA in nine career starts against the Astros, including 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in two starts in 2018. Skaggs' four wins are his most against any opponent.
Rookie designated hitter Shohei Ohtani hit cleanup for a fourth consecutive game, the 11th time this month and 18th time overall this season for the Angels (75-80). Ohtani entered Saturday with an .860 OPS batting fourth behind MVP candidate Mike Trout and, after going 1-for-4, is hitting .266 with three homers and 10 RBIs occupying that spot in the order.
"Right now, we're going with him behind Mike and he's fine," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Mike is getting pitched to and that's important. And Shohei adjusted and hopefully we're going to see guys on base or whatever Mike can create and that will help us to be productive."