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Must C Clutch: Abreu hits a go-ahead homer in the 8th

Had things gone just a little bit differently, perhaps slugger Jose Abreu would be wearing orange and blue when the Astros and the White Sox open a three-game series at Minute Maid Park on Friday night.

The Astros were in the running to sign Abreu, finishing as runners up to the White Sox by most accounts, and will get their first look at the rookie phenom who is hitting .271 with a Major League-leading 15 homers and 41 RBIs.

"I hope to see him walking back to the dugout more than circling the bases," joked Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who made a push to sign Abreu. "When a player like that gets so much fanfare, it's going to be fun for our fans to see him in person."

The Astros will start Collin McHugh, who continues to be one of the best feel-good stories of the year. Since getting called up, he's 2-1 with a 2.81 ERA and has struck out 27 batters and walked six in 25 2/3 innings.

"It's about executing pitches," he said. "The more I can execute the game plan we have, the more successful we're going to be. I'm getting better at that and really hitting my spots better and working with my mechanics through the game."

Considering Abreu is becoming one of the most featured hitters in the game, McHugh is looking forward to facing him.

"I've seen him on video; I've seen him on SportsCenter; I've seen him just about everywhere," he said. "He's a good hitter. They have a couple of guys in the lineup who can really swing it with some power. If we can go execute pitches against them, maybe we can get some quick outs."

The White Sox designed former Astros infielder Jeff Keppinger for assignment on Wednesday, securing more playing time for young and unproven infielders like Marcus Semien, with prospects like Micah Johnson and Matt Davidson knocking on the door.

"They've done enough where you want to give them that experience, and this time to be able to do that," Chicago manager Robin Ventura said. "I think that's part of it. Semien and some of the guys even below, it's their time to have an opportunity."

Semien is hitting .214 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 36 games.

"I try and have as much confidence as I can, no matter what roster moves are made," Semien said. "Jeff, I played with him last September and then in Spring Training this year and I learned a lot from him. He was great to me. As far as the roster move, I'm indifferent about it. My confidence is continuing to grow no matter what."

White Sox: Beckham on a tear at the plate
Second baseman Gordon Beckham has been one of the team's hottest hitters lately. He enters Friday's series opener having hit safely in nine of his past 10 games, including a homer on the first pitch of Wednesday's 4-2 win in Oakland.

Ventura said Beckham has done a good job of staying focused despite trade rumors and talk of young infielders moving up the ranks in the organization.

"He's a Major League player," Ventura said. "When you hear whispers that come from the outside about different guys who are doing well in the Minor Leagues, you still have to go out and compete. He's done a good job of doing that. I think his mind has been pretty clear in going out to play instead of feeling like there's pressure or anybody behind him."

Perhaps with Keppinger being designated for assignment, Beckham's spot with the White Sox is more secure going forward.

Astros: Sipp remains perfect for the Astros
Left-handed reliever Tony Sipp set down five straight batters in Wednesday's 5-4 win over the Rangers. He's retired all 17 batters he's faced since joining the club. That includes 10 by strikeout.

He's the first Astros pitcher in history to not allow a baserunner in his first four appearances with the club and the first to start a season with four perfect outings.

"Tony has done a tremendous job," manager Bo Porter said. "It's pretty staggering what he's been able to do pitching out of the bullpen."

Sipp, who signed with the Astros earlier this month, is taking it all in stride.

"I don't feel unhittable," he said. "I've been on both sides before. One day you have everything, and the next day you feel you can't get a strike across the plate. Baseball is more about momentum, and right now momentum is going in the right direction and we're trying to keep it there."

Worth noting
• White Sox leadoff man and center fielder Adam Eaton (right hamstring strain) is expected to rejoin his teammates on Sunday in Houston after rehabbing for three days with Triple-A Charlotte.

• The Astros have exactly 11 hits in five consecutive games and nine times total this season, which is their season high.

• Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez, who delivered the walk-off hit on Wednesday, is hitting .291 in his last 31 games.

• Astros starting pitchers have allowed four runs or fewer in each of their last 10 starts, posting a 3.15 ERA over that span.

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