Trout saw Altuve's potential back in Minors

Trout saw Altuve's potential back in Minors

HOUSTON -- Angels center fielder Mike Trout first played against Astros second baseman Jose Altuve in Double-A five years ago, when Altuve -- still 5-foot-6, but probably a little less filled out -- torched through the Texas League with a .361 batting average.

"They couldn't get him out," Trout said. "I knew he was going to be good."

The two have since sparred as division rivals and have played together on four All-Star teams, growing a little closer each time.

Down the stretch they could go head-to-head for the American League's Most Valuable Player Award.

Trout entered Friday's series opener at Minute Maid Park leading Major League position players with a 5.9 Wins Above Replacement, per FanGraphs. Altuve ranked third, at 5.1, trailing only Trout and reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson (5.8).

Trout and Altuve are each in the top five in the AL in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging.

Trout -- who finished in the top two in AL MVP voting each of the last four years -- has basically remained steady, batting .320/.425/.566 with 19 home runs and 17 stolen bases. Altuve, who hasn't finished any higher than 10th in voting, is having a breakout year, batting .357/.427/.563 with an AL-leading 25 steals and 15 homers, which already equals his career high.

"He hits everything," Trout said of Altuve, 15 months older and eight inches shorter. "I was talking to a couple of the pitchers. You try to switch up your approach, the way you want to attack him, but he hits it anyway.

"He stands really far from the plate, so people think you can just throw a fastball in the outside corner and he won't hit it. But he gets to it, and he can drive it. And he's hitting for power."

Skaggs may start on Tuesday: Angels manager Mike Scioscia wouldn't say so definitively, but it appears Tyler Skaggs' next start will be for the Angels as long as he feels good coming out of his between-starts bullpen session, which will take place either Saturday or Sunday.

Skaggs would line up to start on Tuesday, with Jered Weaver going on Saturday, Tim Lincecum going on Sunday and Hector Santiago going on Monday.

The 25-year-old left-hander has put together back-to-back scoreless outings for Triple-A Salt Lake, giving up two hits and three walks while striking out 26 in 12 2/3 innings. If he needs more time, the Angels will presumably go with Jhoulys Chacin, who has served as a long reliever all month.

Love for Piazza: Scioscia and Mike Piazza, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday, played on the same Dodgers team toward the end of the 1992 season, when Scioscia was winding down what would be his final season in the Majors and Piazza arrived as a September callup.

"I knew he had the potential to do what he did," Scioscia said. "The only question mark at that time with Mike was defensively, behind the plate, whether he was going to be able to stay at catcher. But you knew that his bat played, whether he was playing first base or third base. And he worked incredibly hard to become a Major League receiver."

Odds and ends
• Reliever A.J. Achter cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Salt Lake on Thursday. It's the third time Achter has been outrighted to the Minors after being designated for assignment and clearing waivers since he was claimed off waivers on Dec. 17.

Nick Tropeano has yet to receive a second opinion on the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, which sustained a medium- to high-grade tear. That will probably take place early next week. The usual course of action is season-ending Tommy John surgery.

Alden Gonzalez has covered the Angels for since 2012. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.