Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. attends spring training after 2019 season-missing surgery

WEST PALM BEACH – Astros righthanded pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. is one of the happiest guys to put on a uniform for the spring training in West Palm Beach.

The road to recovery has been a challenge for the 26-year-old player, who was sidelined for the 2019 season healing from the Tommy John surgery.

In the 2018 season, McCullers Jr. developed an elbow issue that led to surgery. At that point, he 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. said Friday morning. “Feels like your swimming in quicksand. At the end of the day, time passes. 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 with live hitters.

During his journey back, he said he has been encouraged by all of the support 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. It means a lot to have Jose (Altuve)'s support. I’ve been closer to the guys because of this. I’m very appreciative of that.”

McCullers Jr. also spoke about his own maturity: being away from the field and welcoming a new baby, Ava, with his wife.

“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," he said. "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," Baker said. "He is on kind of a slow down program here even though Lance (McCullers Jr. ) doesn’t know how to slow down. He’s a big part of this team and a big part of this rotation.”

McCullers Jr. said sitting out for an extended time has him feeling like a first-year player.

“I’m sure I’ll be nervous,” he said. “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.”

He said he wants to be a player his teammates can count on.

“To go out and give them the effort they deserve," he said. "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.”