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Keuchel to rejoin Astros' rotation on Friday

Peacock available out of bullpen this weekend; long-term rotation unclear
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

PHILADELPHIA -- The beard is back.

Former American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, who hasn't pitched in nearly two months because of discomfort in his neck, will be activated from the disabled list and return to the mound on Friday, when the Astros open a series against the Tigers in Detroit, manager A.J. Hinch announced on Wednesday.

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PHILADELPHIA -- The beard is back.

Former American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, who hasn't pitched in nearly two months because of discomfort in his neck, will be activated from the disabled list and return to the mound on Friday, when the Astros open a series against the Tigers in Detroit, manager A.J. Hinch announced on Wednesday.

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This will be the first start for Keuchel (9-0, 1.67 ERA in 11 starts) since June 2, and his return gives the Astros a completely healthy starting rotation for the first time this season. Collin McHugh will make his second start of the season on Saturday in Detroit after missing the first 3 1/2 months with a right elbow injury.

Having Keuchel back means the Astros will have Brad Peacock available in relief, but Hinch was non-committal about the rotation past Sunday.

"It feels a little weird to actually have my name penciled in for a Major League start, but I've been looking forward to this day for a while," Keuchel said. "It's one of those things where the excitement is really building. I didn't want to let myself get too excited, but at the same time, I feel great with how I've progressed and what I've done for two [rehab] starts. It's go time."

Keuchel missed two starts in May, spending time on the DL with a pinched nerve in his neck, and he was scratched from a June 7 game in Kansas City upon experiencing a reccurrence of the neck problem while warming up in the bullpen. The left-hander couldn't have imagined at the time that he wouldn't pitch again for close to two months, but the Astros were cautious with him, considering they had a huge lead in the AL West standings.

The Astros entered Wednesday's series finale in Philadelphia with a 17 1/2-game lead over the second-place Mariners, having padded their AL West lead by 4 1/2 games while their ace recovered.

"The hardest part was definitely how well we were playing," Keuchel said. "It really does kind of eat at you every day that you're not out there. I'm a starting pitcher, so for four days anyway I'm not doing anything to help the team out. I just go out and get my routine done, but to not be able to pitch the fifth day was really worrisome.

"It's exciting, for sure. This team is great. We've held strong; the offense is unbelievable. It's time for the pitching staff to take back over, and hopefully we'll lead this charge to the playoffs."

At one point, the Astros had four starting pitchers -- Keuchel, McHugh, Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton -- on the DL at the same time. The weekend series at Detroit will feature the Astros' top three starters entering the spring, with McCullers set to pitch on Sunday.

"We haven't been able to name those three guys as our starting pitchers together all year, so it feels good to be able to go into a series with those guys," Hinch said.

Keuchel said his velocity during his two rehab starts was 87-91 mph with his fastball, and he touched 92 mph. That's right where needs to be to compete, but he also knows to back off a little and conserve some energy for when he needs it most.

"The older you get, the wiser you're supposed to get," the 29-year-old Keuchel said. "Hopefully, this is a little bit of a class lesson for myself and what I need to do to get ready."

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

Houston Astros, Dallas Keuchel