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Astros willing to trade starting pitching

The Astros would be willing to ship one of their starting pitchers in any possible deals to add some offense. The Astros have six healthy starting pitchers when you include right-hander Brad Peacock, who was recently sent to Triple-A Oklahoma City after a pair of shaky starts. That leaves right-handers Scott Feldman, Jarred Cosart and Collin McHugh and left-handers Dallas Keuchel Brett Oberholtzer, though Feldman’s three-year, $30-million deal makes him difficult to move.

Houston general Jeff Luhnow indicated Monday no deals were in the works. The non-waiver Trade Deadline is Thursday.

“Our offense has been struggling, so as we have conversations, we’ll explore options that might give us some help offensively,” Luhnow said.

The Astros, who have scored six runs in their previous four games, are especially thin in the outfield, where Dexter Fowler (intercostal strain), George Springer (quad strain) and Alex Presley (oblique strain) are all on the 15-day disabled and not expected to return until by Thursday.

“It’s absolutely a concern,” Luhnow said. “The best thing we can do for the Trade Deadline is to get Fowler, Springer and Presley back healthy. That could be an unbelievable coup for us. Hopefully, they’re not too far away.”

– Brian McTaggart

Astros not likely to move Qualls

While players like designated hitter Chris Carter or lefty reliever Tony Sipp could draw interest, one Astros player who will draw interest and likely won’t be moved is closer Chad Qualls, who has a 1.78 ERA and 11 saves this year. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in 31 of his last 33 outings (0.59 ERA in that span).

“I hesitate to use the word ‘untouchable,’ but he likes it here, he’s comfortable here and he’s pitching well,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “To have a guy who’s capable of pitching late in the game, in close games, we’re going to have opportunity going forward. This is a team that’s improving, and as the team improves you have more save opportunities, more opportunities to pitch at the end of close games. We need more Chad Qualls. We don’t need less.”

The Astros signed Qualls in December to a two-year, $6-million deal with a $3 million option for 2016. Qualls, who was drafted and developed by the Astros, wants to finish his career in Houston and be part of the team’s turnaround.

“That’s why I signed here in the first place is to help get this team back to its winning ways and start bringing some victories to the city of Houston, kind of like the old says,” said Qualls, who was a reliever on the 2005 World Series team. “Obviously, I want to be part of that and stay here. I would love to be able to stay here for 2 ½ years and even beyond that and retire as an Astros. That’s been my plan all along is that I prefer to stay here.”

Brian McTaggart

Astros, D-backs swap Minor League talent

The Astros announced today that Minor League third baseman Cesar Carrasco has been acquired from the D-backs in exchange for Double-A Corpus Christi lefty Alex Sogard. Carrasco has been assigned to Rookie Level Greeneville.

Brian McTaggart

Astros trade Minor League pitcher to Braves

The Astros have traded right-handed pitcher Andrew Robinson, who’s currently at Triple-A Oklahoma City, to the Braves, a source told MLB.com. It’s not know what the Astros are getting in return, but the deal is not a major one. Robinson, who played at Georgia Tech, is 4-4 with a 2.40 ERA in 26 combined games in relief this year at Double-A Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City.

Brian McTaggart

Astros sign reliever Crain

The Astros have agreed to terms on a one-year contract with free agent right-handed pitcher Jesse Crain, who played at the University of Houston.

Crain, an American League All-Star in 2013, posted an 0.74 ERA in 37 relief appearances for the White Sox with 11 walks and 46 strikeouts in 36 2/3innings pitched for an 11.29 strikeouts per nine innings ratio. Other highlights from 2013 included holding right-handed hitters to a .174 average (12-for-69), no home runs allowed and a  streak of 29 consecutive scoreless appearances from April 17 through June 22.

Crain’s season ended prematurely due to a right shoulder strain. The White Sox traded Crain to the Rays on July 29, but he did not appear in a game for the Rays.

– Brian McTaggart

Albers signs to return to Houston

The Astros have struck a one-year deal with an option for 2015 with veteran relief pitcher Matt Albers, who confirmed the deal for MLB.com.

Albers was drafted and developed by Houston before being traded to Baltimore after the 2007 season. Albers, who returns to Houston much in the same fashion as Chad Qualls did earlier this month, appeared in 56 games last season for Cleveland and was 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA. He’s pitched eight years in the Majors, including his first two with Houston (2006-07) and three with Baltimore (2008-10).

– Brian McTaggart

Astros pushing for Veras, acquire Bass

While the Astros are trying to sign veteran right-hander Jose Veras to a deal to return to Houston, the club on Wednesday added another arm to their bullpen mix by trading for right-handed pitcher Anthony Bass from the Padres.

The Astros acquired Bass and a player to be named later or cash considerations in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Bass, 26, made 24 appearances, pitching 42 innings in four stints out of the Padres bullpen in 2013. He also spent three months at Triple-A Tucson and made 15 starts for the Tucson Padres.

– Brian McTaggart

Astros show interest in Sizemore

Add outfielder Grady Sizemore to the list of players the Astros have contacted.

A source told MLB.com on Tuesday the Astros had talked to the representatives for Sizemore, who hasn’t played in the Major Leagues since 2011. He underwent back surgery and knee surgery in 2011 and sat out last year while he tried to get healthy.

An All-Star with the Indians from 2006-08 with the Indians, Sizemore hasn’t played more than half a season since appearing in 106 games with Cleveland in 2009, when he hit 18 homers, drove in 64 runs and batted .248.

– Brian McTaggart

Veras would like to return to Houston; Astros in on Morse

Free agent pitcher Jose Veras, who served as the Astros closer the first half of the season, said Tuesday his agent has been talking to Houston about a possible return to the Astros.

Veras, who lives in Miami, told MLB.com he would be thrilled to come back to the Astros, who signed him to a one-year deal a year ago and then traded him to Detroit in July. Veras saved 19 games for the Astros last year and posted a 2.93 ERA with 44 strikeouts and 14 walks in 43 innings.

“It feels like family there,” Veras said. “It’s a young team and they’re hungry to win. I feel part of the team. I doesn’t matter to me if we won or lose. When you play as a team and everybody cares, that’s the best part for me. I do my job to make the tam excited we won the game.

“It was my first time to get an opportunity to be a closer, and I appreciated that part. It felt like the best place I’ve been. I was talking to my agent and I feel excited the Astros are interested to bring me back to the team.”

The Astros have added Chad Qualls to their bullpen but would like to sign one more reliever. They’ve talked to the representatives of Jesse Crain, a Houston resident, and Chad Gaudin.

Meanwhile, a source told MLB.com the Astros have been talking with the agent for free agent outfielder/first baseman Mike Morse, who has a history with manager Bo Porter in Washington. Morse, 31, hit .215 with 23 homers and 27 RBIs in only 88 games split between the Mariners and Orioles last year and is two years removed from slugging 31 homers for Washington in 2011.

– Brian McTaggart

Astros bring back Qualls to bullpen

The Astros have signed free agent right-handed pitcher Chad Qualls to a two-year contract, which includes a club option for the 2016 season. The deal is worth a reported $6 million over two years with a $3.5-million option.

Qualls, 35, went 5-2 with a 2.61 ERA  in 66 relief appearances for Miami last season. He induced 11 double play balls, which ranked tied for third among National League relievers, and ranked fifth in the NL in ground ball percentage (77.7 percent). Qualls has now made 50 or more appearances in nine consecutive seasons (2005-13) and since his debut in 2004, ranks second among all Major League relievers with 663 career appearances.

“Improving our bullpen is a top priority this offseason,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “Bringing Chad back to Houston is a big step in that direction.”

Qualls returns to Houston, the organization that drafted him in the second round of the 2000 draft. He worked his way up the minors and pitched parts of four seasons for the Astros (2004-07). Over his first two campaigns (2004-05), he was an integral part of the Astros bullpen that carried the club to a National League Championship series in 2004 and a World Series appearance in 2005. Qualls made three appearances in the 2005 World Series, allowing just one run in 5.1 innings pitched (1.69 ERA). Overall as an Astro, he made 262 appearances and owns a 23-12 record with six saves and a 3.39 ERA.

Qualls has pitched for eight different organizations in his career, including time with Houston (2004-07), Arizona (2008-10), Tampa Bay (2010), San Diego (2011), Philadelphia (2012), New York-AL (2012), Pittsburgh (2012) and Miami (2013). In his 663 career appearances, Qualls has gone 45-37 with 51 saves and a 3.79 ERA.

– Brian McTaggart

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