FORY MYERS, Fla. – Pitcher Collin McHugh says he regrets he didn’t do more to stop the Houston Astros from breaking sign stealing rules in 2017 and 2018.
"To know, to put myself in the shoes of the guys who pitched against us in 2017 and to know that our hitters made that job that much harder that year, it's hard to swallow," McHugh said Friday, a day after agreeing to a $600,000, one-year contract with the Boston Red Sox.
“I feel for them and I understand the anger,” McHugh said. “I understand when people are mad. ... I get it. I've been there. I know what it feels like to be out there and feel like a team has your signs. It's a lonely place. So, I think from that perspective, knowing that happened to my fellow pitchers that year, I understand and I empathize with them and with the fans."
McHugh is worried about the impact of the Astros' actions on young fans.
“You've got to be willing to stick up for what you believe in and what you believe is right and what you believe is wrong," he said. “I think a lot of the guys on that team, including myself, are looking back now and wishing we had been as brave in the moment as we thought we were beforehand."
A 32-year-old right-hander, McHugh was 58-35 with the Astros from 2014-19. He said Astros pitchers were led to believe other teams were stealing Houston's signs.
"It was really awkward," he said. “Sign stealing is universally across the board bad for pitchers. And we know that it made our jobs harder. And we truly believe, or were made to believe, that it was happening to us, too. We don't know if that was true or not. But that's not justification for doing anything.”
“Looking back, I don't know what we could have done as pitchers,” he added. “”It wasn't really our territory but maybe we could have gotten together and somehow tried to stop it.
McHugh started 3-4 with a 6.37 ERA in eight starts last year with Houston and was sent to the bullpen after a 12-2 loss to Kansas City on May 7, when he allowed eight runs in three-plus innings. He went 1-1 with a 2.67 ERA in 27 relief appearances with 40 strikeouts and 16 walks in 33 2/3 innings. That left him 4-5 with a 4.70 ERA for his season, which ended when he was placed on the injured list Aug. 31 due to right elbow soreness.
He is recovering from a flexor injury in his pitching am and is not expected to be ready for opening day. He had talked to Alex Cora, then Boston's manager, earlier in the offseason about signing with the Red Sox. Cora was Houston's bench coach in 2017 and was identified by Major League Baseball on Jan. 13 as a heavily involved in the sign stealing. Cora left the Red Sox that week and was replaced by Ron Roenicke.
MLB also is investigating an allegation Boston stole signs in 2018
McHugh still has friends on the Astros, who have been the target of criticism from players and fans. Houston manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended for one season each, and the team then fired them. The Astros were fined $5 million and stripped of their next two first- and second-round draft picks.
"It's tough," McHugh said. "I've thought about it a lot because a lot of those guys are real close. We're still really close friends and I feel for them because it's going to be a tough season. It's going to be a long road ahead and I know it's not going to be an easy road for them."