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Astros' Morton faces slumping Angels

HOUSTON -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch long ago reached the point of visible frustration in discussing the health status of right-hander Lance McCullers, but with the postseason approaching and McCullers' role dependent upon his availability, the questions kept coming.

Hinch announced on Friday that McCullers will start on Sunday in the series finale against the Angels. An All-Star during the first half of the season, McCullers has largely watched the second half from the dugout, undermined by back discomfort and arm fatigue. The latter ailment has limited McCullers to one start this month, but given his talent and potential as a rotation hammer behind Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, McCullers is vitally important.

A healthy McCullers provides the Astros (94-59) the rotation depth they need to challenge for a championship. If McCullers is limited in any way, the unknown of his being moved to the bullpen could reshape expectations for him individually and for Houston as a whole.

"Everybody is telling me that he's strong, he bounced back from his bullpen and the next test is a game," Hinch said. "We really don't have another option with the timeline that we have. We'll put him in there and see how it goes.

"We want to see him pitch a couple times; he only has time for two spots. It's important, very important, especially for him."

Meanwhile, right-hander Charlie Morton (12-7, 3.75 ERA) will start for the Astros on Saturday. Morton is 2-0 with a 3.74 ERA over four career starts against the Angels, including two this season where he has worked 10 combined innings while allowing three runs on nine hits with eight strikeouts.

Right-hander Bud Norris (2-5, 4.53 ERA) will make his second start of the season for the Angels (76-77). Norris, who worked primarily as the closer for a long stretch of this season, started against the Texas Rangers on Sept. 15 and allowed one hit over two scoreless innings.

Norris has 19 saves this season and is 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA in seven games (one start) against Houston, the franchise that selected him in the sixth round of the 2006 amateur draft.

Seeking something to spark his lagging offense, Angels manager Mike Scioscia tweaked his batting order on Friday, dropping second baseman Brandon Phillips to fifth in the lineup while replacing Phillips atop the order with right fielder Kole Calhoun. Friday marked the first time since his acquisition from the Atlanta Braves that Phillips batted someplace other than first.

Over those 16 games Phillips slashed .268/.278/.338. The Angels, meanwhile, were just 6-10 in those games and totaled just 11 runs over the four-game skid they carried into Houston. Calhoun, who most frequently bats second, hit atop the order for the fourth time this season.

"Just a comfort level for some guys," Scioscia said. "Although Brandon has led off before, getting him into a position hopefully in an RBI mix will be helpful. Kole's really comfortable at the top and we'll just see if it's something that can (get the offense going).

"There's some data that says it makes sense. Sometimes we're just going to reshuffle and hopefully get a little bit of a look."

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