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McCullers Jr. ready for big return to rotation in 2020

Houston Astros P Lance McCuller Jr.
Houston Astros P Lance McCuller Jr. (Getty Images)

WEST PALM BEACH, FL. – A new spring training is underway in West Palm Beach and one of the happiest guys to put the uniform on and get to work is righthanded pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. The road to get here has been quite the challenge after the 26 year old was forced to the sidelines all of the 2019 season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery.

The elbow issue developed in the latter part of the 2018 season that led to the decision to go under the knife and repair the problem. At that point McCullers Jr. was 10-6 after making 22 starts.

“There were days you’d wonder would I feel the same again, would I come out of the rehab,” McCullers Jr. reflected upon Friday morning inside the clubhouse. “Feels like your swimming in quicksand . At the end of the day time passes and you feel better and get back on a more normal routine. Going into those days and putting the work in just keeps you pushing.”

McCullers Jr. has been grinding hard throughout his rehab. Late last season he spent time in October and November traveling back and forth from Houston to Florida to get in mound sessions to live hitters. He last live session was November 5.

During his journey back he has been encouraged by all of the support he’s received from his Astros teammates.

“It means a lot, these guys were supportive of me all year,” said McCullers Jr. “ Being able to see that , they pulled for me and helped me keep my head up. Means a lot to have Jose’s support . I’ve been closer to the guys because of this. I’m very appreciative of that.”

McCullers Jr. also spoke Friday about his own maturity especially away from the field where he and his wife are now proud parents of 7 week old baby girl Ava.

“I’ve evolved mentally and physically. I’m not on social media as much and don’t do gaming as much anymore. I’m a father now and my priorities are different. I’m really excited to be back and contribute in front of the best fans in baseball.”

New Manager Dusty Baker knows what it would mean to have a healthy McCullers Jr. in 2020.

“I am watching. I’ve got my eyes on him. He’s on kind of a slow down program here even though Lance doesn’t know how to slow down. He’s a big part of this team and a big part of this rotation.”

What would it mean to Lance to successfully come back and be a major piece of this Astros starting rotation?

“It will be high up there. Look forward to that moment more than anything. I’m sure I’ll be nervous. I’m sure I’ll have those rookie feelings all over again. I just try to stay focused on today and one step at a time. I used to project myself into the future. Focused on today and getting a good bullpen in and then moving forward day by day,” said McCullers Jr.

“I’m looking forward to that role and being the guy these guys can count on,” he added. “To go out and give them the effort they deserve. I can’t predict results but these guys know that when I go out there the effort will be there and my intention will be there to give the best for these guys.”