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Tough calls await for Astros' postseason 'pen

Hinch: Catching duties will remain 'time share' between McCann, Maldonado
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

DETROIT -- Considering the A's are still pushing his team in the American League West standings, Astros manager AJ Hinch isn't ready to focus too much on the composition of his postseason roster at this point, but it's safe to say he has some difficult decisions ahead, especially concerning the bullpen.

"It's different this year given that we're still in the division race to talk and think about that too much," Hinch said. "Obviously, everybody can jot down ideas or thoughts or hopes, but you really have to win the division first and then you start to factor in. Given the situation in our rotation, that's easily determined, but the bullpen is very competitive and the bench is very competitive.

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DETROIT -- Considering the A's are still pushing his team in the American League West standings, Astros manager AJ Hinch isn't ready to focus too much on the composition of his postseason roster at this point, but it's safe to say he has some difficult decisions ahead, especially concerning the bullpen.

"It's different this year given that we're still in the division race to talk and think about that too much," Hinch said. "Obviously, everybody can jot down ideas or thoughts or hopes, but you really have to win the division first and then you start to factor in. Given the situation in our rotation, that's easily determined, but the bullpen is very competitive and the bench is very competitive.

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"You want guys to play well doing down the stretch, but you want guys focused more on winning the division and less on making the playoff roster. By winning the division, that means we've played well down the stretch, which puts the pressure on us to pick the team moving forward. You try to largely keep the idea of the playoffs and playoff rosters and scenarios and travel and all that stuff for other people outside our clubhouse."

The Astros would carry 11 pitchers in a potential American League Division Series, including starters Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton. That leaves seven bullpen spots.

Video: HOU@DET: Rondon K's Goodrum to strand a pair in 7th

The Astros' bullpen, which entered Wednesday as the only bullpen in the big leagues with an ERA below 3.00 (2.88), has been retooled since last year's postseason, with right-handers Joe Smith, Ryan Pressly, Hector Rondon and Roberto Osuna added since the end of the World Series and all playing key roles.

Lefty Tony Sipp has had a strong season and would make the playoff roster, unlike last season, when he was left off. Starter-turned-reliever Collin McHugh has been terrific in relief this year, and veteran Will Harris has pitched better lately. Lance McCullers Jr., who made his final start of the season Aug. 4, is rehabbing from an arm injury and will be used in relief in the playoffs.

Also in the mix are Brad Peacock and rookie Josh James, who can touch 100 mph, throws strikes and brings an element of the unknown. Former All-Star reliever Chris Devenski has likely pitched his way out of a playoff roster spot at this point, but Hinch still has some hard decisions to make.

Video: MIN@HOU: Peacock strikes out Polanco to earn save

Hinch happy with catching 'time share'
Hinch said his catching situation has grown into a "time share" between veterans Martin Maldonado and Brian McCann, with Max Stassi serving as the third catcher. Hinch said Maldonado and McCann will continue to share the bulk of the catching the rest of the regular season. In 11 games since McCann was activated from the disabled list Sept. 1, Maldonado has started six games and McCann five.

Maldonado, who hits right-handed, has caught almost primarily when the Astros are facing a lefty. Wednesday marked his fifth consecutive time catching Cole, and he's caught Verlander's last eight starts and Morton's last four. Maldonado's ability to control the running game with his arm makes him a weapon. McCann is catching Keuchel, who controls the running game well.

Video: HOU@BOS: Astros turn strike-'em-out, throw-'em out DP

"It's mostly matchup in a lot of different scenarios -- maybe a team runs a little bit more or maybe I like the way a guy has caught," Hinch said. "McCann and Keuchel have matched up very well the last few times, but I can go either way."

McCann is 3-for-13 at the plate in six games since coming off the DL after missing two months with right knee surgery, but Hinch said he's blocking the ball better, is moving better behind the plate and his swing path is better.

"He's got leverage now with his legs," Hinch said. "Things that point us in the right direction. He missed a large [amount] of time and he needs some at-bats to get his timing and rhythm back, but I like how he's moved around and how he's bounced back."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

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