Former college housemates will oppose each other Thursday as Drew Smyly and the Tigers try to complete a four-game sweep of Dallas Keuchel's Astros.
Southpaws Smyly and Keuchel, who played together at Arkansas, caught up over lunch at "Toast" in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham this week. The 24-year-old Smyly is 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA, while Keuchel is off to a 2-2 start to go with a 3.96 ERA.
"We just reminisced on stuff that I forgot that he reminded me of, and stuff that he forgot that I reminded him of," Keuchel said. "It's good to see him face-to-face instead of talking on the phone."
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long reached out to both pitchers this week, and Keuchel said he's sure the city of Fayetteville, Ark., will be keeping an eye on what happens at Comerica Park on Thursday.
Smyly said his old friend carries with him a certain energy that helps to liven up the atmosphere wherever he plays -- certainly a welcomed trait considering Houston's rough start.
"Our clubhouse [at Arkansas] was awesome," said Keuchel, whom Smyly described as a "clown." "Drew was one of those guys who was real quiet, but he'd jab at somebody and it would be really funny and the whole clubhouse would start laughing. He's really sneaky."
Keuchel, the Razorbacks' prankster, remembered placing a bucket of water above Smyly's bedroom door. Smyly was the quiet one, which reflects his nonchalant attitude about facing a buddy.
If you ask Smyly, they aren't even really the ones battling.
"I'm facing his team, not him," Smyly said. "It's exciting for Arkansas fans, with two former Hog players starting against each other. But I don't even look into it. It's just his team."
Keuchel agreed, but that's not to say he isn't happy about getting the chance to catch up.
"We had some good times [in college]," Keuchel said. "Some of those memories I'll never trade for anything."
Astros: Villar should be back Thursday
Shortstop Jonathan Villar is expected to return to the lineup Thursday after being out of the lineup Wednesday with what manager Bo Porter said was a jammed right thumb.
Villar has been one of the team's biggest bright spots this year, hitting .250 with five homers and 13 RBIs. He went 0-for-3 on Tuesday to snap a five-game hitting streak. He had reached base safely in 11 consecutive games prior to Tuesday.
Villar entered Wednesday leading the team in home runs, slugging percentage (.510) and OPS (.822), and he led all American League shortstops in home runs and extra-base hits (14), while ranking second in OPS.
Tigers: Sanchez to pick up intensity in second bullpen session
Anibal Sanchez showed off his right hand, where the ruptured blister on his right middle finger a week and a half ago created an ugly laceration and a stint on the disabled list.
"It looks normal," Sanchez said Wednesday with a smile.
Now comes the process of getting the right-hander's pitching back to normal. At this point, that timetable is still a little unclear.
Sanchez threw approximately 50 pitches Tuesday in what manager Brad Ausmus called a light bullpen session. He's scheduled to throw another session on Thursday, when he'll pick up the intensity a bit.
• The Astros have been outscored, 28-14, in the first inning this season.
• Miguel Cabrera had just two home runs through the season's first 27 games, but he has doubled his season total with one in each of the past two games.
Matt Slovin is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.