What we're watching: Beckett aims for 15th victory

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– Josh Beckett can become the first major leaguer to 15 wins this year by beating Toronto and Ricky Romero tonight. He’s gone at least seven innings in six straight starts, allowing nine runs in the process. His ERA, which stood at 7.22 at the end of April, is now 3.10, the sixth-best mark in the AL, and he ranks third in WHIP and fifth in strikeouts. This will be his first start against the Jays in 2009. He went 0-2 with a 16.71 ERA in his two starts against the club last year.
– Pedro Martinez got a ton of support to beat the Cubs last week in his return to the majors. His second start will come against the Diamondbacks, a team he’s dominated in five career starts (3-1, 1.36 ERA). The opponent is also worth watching. Jon Garland, who still might find himself on a contender later this month, has gone at least six innings in 14 straight starts and allowed no more than three earned runs in eight of the last nine.
– Freddy Garcia will make his first major league start this year against the surging Royals, winners of three of their last seven games. Garcia, who has been robbed of velocity by shoulder problems, had a 1.80 ERA and a 19/1 K/BB ratio in 20 innings in the minors for the White Sox. In his lone Triple-A start, he gave up eight hits, walked none and struck out nine in six innings. If his command remains so strong in the majors, perhaps he’ll be able to hold his own for the White Sox. Little more can be expected.
Game of the Night
Seattle vs. Detroit – 23-year-old Felix Hernandez and 20-year-old Rick Porcello will duel for the first time tonight. King Felix, coming off his second 10-strikeout game of the year and first against an AL team since April 27, 2008, will be trying to improve to 13-4. He’s beaten Detroit twice this year to improve to 5-2 with a 2.91 ERA lifetime against the club. Porcello pitched just one-plus innings in his last start after Kevin Youkilis made his own contribution towards keeping the youngster’s workload in check. Two of his 10 wins this year have come against the Mariners.

Gerrit Cole set to begin throwing program

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 24:  Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates sits in the dugout in the second inning during the game against the Houston Astros at PNC Park on August 24, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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During the Pirates’ FanFest on Saturday, right-hander Gerrit Cole announced that he is back up to full health after being shut down with elbow inflammation in September. Per Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cole said he’ll start a throwing program on Monday as he works on regaining his form for the 2017 season.

The 26-year-old pitched through 116 innings for the Pirates in 2016, delivering a 3.88 ERA and 2.5 WARP before landing on the disabled list in June with a triceps strain and again in August with elbow inflammation. It was a steep drop for the right-hander, who saw a considerable spike in his ERA and BB/9 rate and struggled to strike out batters at the 8.7 mark he managed in 2015.

The upside? Inflammation was the worst of Cole’s issues in 2016, and while the newfound health issues didn’t help his case for an extension, a more serious injury doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.

The White Sox wanted Astros’ top prospects for Jose Quintana

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 27:  Jose Quintana #62 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning at U.S. Cellular Field on August 27, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.

It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:

We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.

While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.

Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.