75ºF

McCullers Jr. expects to build off of successful return to the mound

Lance McCullers Jr. #43 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington on March 31, 2018 in Arlington, Texas.
Lance McCullers Jr. #43 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington on March 31, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

HOUSTON – It’s been a long journey back for Astros right-hander Lance McCullers Jr who last pitched in a game in early August of 2018. That November, he was undergoing Tommy John surgery on his elbow.

The rehab wouldn’t be easy and full of difficult days but that road ended Sunday when McCullers Jr. started against the St. Louis Cardinals in West Palm Beach.

“He was trying to stretch it out, wanted to throw another five or six pitches. He was smooth with his delivery,” said manager Dusty Baker. “ He didn’t have any labor at the bottom and didn’t overthrow. His velocity was good at 91 or 92 miles per hour. His breaking ball was good and changeup was good. He was very satisfied. I’ll be more relaxed when he can extend a little more.“

McCullers Jr. was very happy with his first outing.

“Very happy with it and felt really good. Executed mostly what I wanted to do,” said McCullers Jr. “Only one or two pitches I didn’t execute the way I wanted to. Really happy and being there with the guys. It’s been a long time. First time to warm up to start a game since August of 2018. I tried to prepare as a normal start. I’ll find my routine and just happy with how I felt overall.”

While McCullers Jr. was fired up to be back, he will continue to ease into his spring routine. His bullpens will be closely monitored and if the schedule remains intact, he will start every fifth day during the spring schedule.

“I’m working on a lot of things that Strom and I are working towards and through. I was trying to work on those in the bullpen. I felt good in the pen and was trying to lead it up to game time. The goal is to get five starts in the spring and get to five innings or at least that pitch count area. My next stop is five days from now,” he said.

McCullers Jr. is an important piece to this Astros starting rotation in 2020. With the loss of Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley to this group, McCullers Jr. will be counted on to produce. For the Astros righthander, it is all about staying healthy. If that is the case then he will fit nicely in the rotation behind Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke.

“I got to the point last November facing batters but it’s different in-game atmosphere. Very good to be out there if you are a part of the rehab team. Couldn’t have felt any better. My Velo was better than I thought it would be. I think there is more left there. My body feels excellent and looks forward to the next start.”