IT'S HAPPENING

Latest news gives Houston Astros a big boost with A's coming to town

Astros Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Chas McCormick
He's baaack! Composite Getty Image.
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The Houston Astros host the Oakland Athletics this weekend at Minute Maid Park, and it looks like there will be a big reason to celebrate for Astros fans.

Jose Altuve has been activated and will play for the first time this season after fracturing his thumb in the World Baseball Classic.

Brandon Bielak (0-1, 3.29 ERA, 10 SO) will be on the mound for the Astros and Altuve will make his debut against LHP Ken Waldichuk (1-2, 7.02 ERA, 36 SO).

The Astros are still waiting for Michael Brantley and Lance McCullers to play this season. After being shutdown, Michael Brantley is feeling better. He's dealing with inflammation in his surgically repaired shoulder. A target date for his return has yet to be determined.

McCullers is making good progress and seeing his velocity improve, but there is still no timeline for his return.

It will be interesting to see what the Astros do with Mauricio Dubon, who has done a fantastic job in Altuve's absence. He currently leads the team in hits, runs, and doubles.

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With both Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers making their way back from surgeries that sideline that Astros pitchers last season, and given the team's thin depth in their starting rotation, Houston fans and media have waited on bated breath for scraps of information to leak out of the notoriously secretive organization regarding their progress.

In a week full of mostly Hurricane Beryl-related bad news, the Astros organization had some discouraging news of their own when manager Joe Espada told the media that Lance McCullers has been shut down from pitching after his arm did not respond well to his latest bullpen session. The team says they are "formulating a plan for what's next."

Another Astros starter making his way back from injury is HOF-bound Justin Verlander. Verlander has been on the IL since June 16th with neck discomfort and, while there was initial hope that JV would only miss a start, his status has become increasingly murky as he is still apparently not close to returning.

Shifting from the health questions of the starters to the performance questions of the bullpen, some Houston fans have voiced concern via social media that Astros big-ticket 9th inning pitcher Josh Hader is not looking like a "shut-down" closer. Hader gave up more home runs in the first week of July (3) as he did the entire month of June (2).

In this week's episode of Stone Cold Stros, Charlie Pallilo and Brandon Strange discuss how the fluid dynamics of Astros pitching is impacting the competitive landscape of the division race. To watch the conversation, just click the video YouTube embedded in this article. To listen to the entire episode on podcast, search "Stone Cold Stros" in your favorite podcast app or click one of the following links.

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