Fiers (8-9, 4.78 ERA in a team-high 27 starts) allowed six runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings in Sunday's 8-6 win over the Mets at Minute Maid Park, the latest in a line of rough outings. In his final eight starts, he was 1-5 with a 7.90 ERA. Fiers was terrific in his 10 starts prior to that, going 4-2 with a 2.16 ERA during a stretch in which the Astros had starters Dallas Keuchel, McCullers, Charlie Morton and Collin McHugh on the disabled list at various points.
"He's a pro," Hinch said. "Every starting pitcher is built to want to start games, and I told him, you know, we wouldn't be in the position we're in now if he hadn't taken over and really stepped forward when we needed it most. He had an incredible stretch in the middle of the season that solidified a lot of what we were doing and kept us going in the right direction with the injuries.
"I thanked him for that. I know he hasn't pitched as well as he can in his last five or six starts. There's a good start mixed in there. He was a pro about it. He understood it. He's been in the league a long time. He's not naïve. He said he would give us his best effort out of the 'pen."
When asked Sunday about his future in the rotation, Fiers was realistic.
"We got a lot of guys that can pitch here," he said. "The competition was always there. If you're not doing your job, you're definitely going to get replaced."
Hinch said McHugh will start Friday's series opener against the A's in Oakland, with Morton starting one of the doubleheader games on Saturday. Brad Peacock, who could also be in danger of being moved to the bullpen despite pitching relatively well as a starter, is likely to start the other game Saturday.
Starting Peacock on Saturday would mean Keuchel goes Sunday in Oakland and Verlander would make his second start for Houston on Sept. 12 in Anaheim.
Odds and ends
• Outfielder Jake Marisnick (groin) is improving and could return to action Tuesday or Wednesday, Hinch said. Outfielder/designated hitter Carlos Beltran (neck/back) is getting "better and better," Hinch said, and could be back in the lineup in the next day or two.
• The Astros have 33 active players on their roster, and that number could go as high as 36. Right-hander Michael Feliz and catcher Evan Gattis are on rehab assignments at Class A Quad Cities, which made the Midwest League playoffs, and could join the Astros this weekend. Hinch said reliever James Hoyt could also be recalled later this week.