USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - AL WEST - News and notes by Jay Paris

Hous­ton Astros

Brian McCann has re­turned, and the Astros are ea­ger to see what the vet­eran catcher can con­trib­ute down the stretch.

McCann, 34, had been out since July 3 af­ter fi­nally giv­ing in to knee surgery. His .206 bat­ting av­er­age to that point was at least par­tially at­trib­ut­able to the in­jury, but now he’s fit for the fi­nal month and maybe for an­other post­sea­son run.

“It’s night and day from how I felt early in the sea­son,” he said.

Man­ager A.J. Hinch said the play­ing time at catcher among McCann, Martin Mal­don­ado and Max Stassi will de­pend on who’s swing­ing the hot bat. But Hinch can’t ig­nore Mal­don­ado’s abil­ity to halt run­ning games with his de­fense.

❚ Right-han­der Chris Deven­ski has a new role af­ter miss­ing about a month be­cause of a ham­string in­jury. He’s now asked to re­tire left-han­ders in high-lever­age sit­u­a­tions while still be­ing avail­able to throw mul­ti­ple in­nings.

Los An­ge­les An­gels

The An­gels ro­ta­tion, which al­ways seems in flux be­cause of in­juries, got an­other scare Sept. 2 when right-han­der Sho­hei Oh­tani’s ve­loc­ity dropped no­tice­ably in the third in­ning of his re­turn to the ro­ta­tion.

But the An­gels were re­lieved to learn that there ap­peared to be no re­cur­rence of the sprained el­bow lig­a­ment that had kept him from pitch­ing in a game since June 6. His back had stiff­ened be­tween the first and sec­ond in­nings, and he had a sore ring fin­ger af­ter at­tempt­ing to knock down a come­backer.

Oh­tani could have four more Sun­day starts, which is his reg­u­lar day to pitch.

More pos­i­tive ro­ta­tion news: Righty Matt Shoe­maker was set to make his first start af­ter be­ing side­lined since March 31 by fore­arm is­sues, and the An­gels were upbeat about righthander Felix Pena’s con­tin­ued good show­ings. He worked at least six in­nings in four con­sec­u­tive out­ings and had a 2.88 ERA in that span.

❚ Al­bert Pu­jols is ex­pected to be fit for spring train­ing af­ter hav­ing sea­son-end­ing knee surgery. With Oh­tani cut­ting into his role as a des­ig­nated hit­ter, Pu­jols, 38, played 70 games at first base, more than twice as many as the pre­vi­ous two sea­sons com­bined.

Oak­land Ath­let­ics

With the ro­ta­tion be­set by in­juries — all of Oak­land’s open­ing-week starters have been on the dis­abled list — man­ager Bob Melvin turned to begin­ning games with re­liev­ers.

Left-han­ders Sean Manaea (shoul­der) and Brett An­der­son (fore­arm) were the lat­est starters to be side­lined, so Melvin leaned on his bullpen, turn­ing to Liam Hen­driks when the ros­ter ex­panded Sept. 1.

“With the starters go­ing down, we’re go­ing to have to use our bullpen any­way,” Melvin said. “Maybe it keeps the starter off against the top part or mid­dle part (of the lineup) one less time. We’ll feel it out.”

❚ Out­fielder Dustin Fowler was called up, but his old spot in cen­ter wasn’t avail­able be­cause of Ra­mon Lau­re­ano’s hot hit­ting. Fowler, who did re­turn to his lead­off role, was play­ing left.

Seat­tle Mariners

Ryon Healy has had a some­what di­min­ished role since Robin­son Cano re­joined the club, but the first base­man’s of­fense has heated up. In Healy’s first 47 at-bats af­ter Cano re­turned from his sus­pen­sion, he hit .362 with two home runs.

Cano has moved around the in­field and also has been the des­ig­nated hit­ter. The Mariners don’t want to play him at sec­ond base, his nor­mal spot, be­cause he’s in­el­i­gi­ble for the play­offs.

But first the M’s have to qual­ify for the post­sea­son for the first time since 2001, and they be­lieve get­ting Cano, an eight­time All-Star, into the lineup in some ca­pac­ity is pru­dent.

Healy didn’t dis­agree, even if his play­ing time is lim­ited. “I re­ally think at this point, our minds and fo­cus are on the big­ger pic­ture,” Healy said.

❚ The Mariners were en­cour­aged by how left-han­der James Pax­ton and right-han­der Felix Her­nan­dez looked when they re­turned to the ro­ta­tion. Pax­ton (bruised fore­arm) came off the dis­abled list and al­lowed three runs in five in­nings against the Ath­let­ics but had 10 strike­outs. Her­nan­dez, who had been re­moved from the ro­ta­tion be­cause of a string of poor per­for­mances but then re­sumed start­ing when Pax­ton got hurt, came into the week with con­sec­u­tive out­ings of six and seven in­nings and had a sea­son-high nine strike­outs in his most re­cent start.

Texas Rangers

With var­i­ous trade dead­lines ex­pired, it’s clear Adrian Bel­tre is go­ing to re­main with the Rangers the rest of the sea­son. Bel­tre would be in­el­i­gi­ble for post­sea­son play if he were to be ped­dled this month, and that’s a deal breaker for the future Hall of Famer, who has a no-trade clause in his con­tract.

What isn’t as clear is whether Bel­tre, a member of the 3,000hit club, will re­tire af­ter the sea­son. Bel­tre, 39, mainly has been lim­ited to des­ig­nated hit­ter in­stead of his usual spot at third base be­cause of a chronic ham­string in­jury.

Bel­tre has stressed that if he does play next sea­son, it will only be with the Rangers. The team hasn’t closed the door on his re­turn in 2019.

❚ Once the Rangers de­cided this sea­son was about re­build­ing and player de­vel­op­ment, they’ve been ac­tive on the trade front. Their lat­est shed­ding of right-handed re­liever Cory Gear­rin to the Ath­let­ics means Texas has ob­tained 10 mi­nor lea­guers, in­clud­ing eight pitch­ers, in six deals since July.

“Who wouldn’t sign up to be the man­ager of the Hous­ton Astros?”

A.J. Hinch Astros man­ager, af­ter sign­ing a four-year ex­ten­sion to re­main with the de­fend­ing World Se­ries cham­pi­ons through the 2022 sea­son


The An­gels’ Sho­hei Oh­tani’s back stiff­ened be­tween in­nings early and he had a sore fin­ger af­ter try­ing to knock down a come­backer Sept. 2 in his first start since June 6.

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