Lance McCullers Versus Brett Oberholtzer for Astros

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The Houston Astros have a big decision to make over the next several days, and the decision they make could make or break their season. Do the keep the phenom Lance McCuller Jr. in the rotation, or go with the veteran Brett Oberholtzer, who is coming off a blister injury. Many people felt that McCullers would be sent down when Brett Oberholtzer is ready to return from his blister injury. As much as I am a fan of Oberholtzer, he has done nothing this season to get the job automatically. I know from my interview of Lance McCullers that he is very competitive and will do what it takes to stay in the big leagues.

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While Brett Oberholtzer is eligible to come off the DL at the end of the week; he will probably make a rehab start or two. When he is ready, what will the Astros do with him? Before being activated, he would have to build up his pitch count by throwing a couple of games at AAA. Last season with the Astros, Oberholtzer was 5-13/ 4.39 ERA/ 94 SO in 143.2 innings. He was acquired in the

Michael Bourn

trade and has been used in the rotation since 2013. He has had trouble staying healthy in 2015, so he only had pitched three innings this year before a blister shortened his outing.

Meanwhile, while Oberholtzer has been ailing, someone has stepped into the Astros rotation and has impressed his teammates. This pitcher is Lance McCullers Jr., who pitched six strong innings yesterday versus an offensively stacked Tiger lineup. McCullers gave up two runs on six hits, one intentional walk, and six strikeouts. His ERA following his first win was an impressive 2.53 through 10.2 innings pitched with eleven strikeouts.

I asked McCullers if he did anything different in yesterday’s game. He said, “No, I was just a little more efficient in the strike zone is all.” McCullers was also the beneficiary of a rare triple play, something the Astros have not done since August 19, 2004. McCullers on the triple play, “It was amazing, in that situation all you can ask for is a ground ball and hope for the best.”

‘It was amazing, in that situation all you can ask for is a ground ball and hope for the best.”-Lance McCullers

The Astros are looking for someone to fill the fifth spot in the rotation, and McCullers has stepped up to take the ball every fifth day. What does A.J. Hinch think about the situation? According to Brian McTaggart from Oberholtzer nearing rehab start, Hinch thinks that McCullers “could get one more (start) in before Oberholtzer returns. Hinch said it’s also possible Oberholtzer could end up in the bullpen.”

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This quote tells me that Hinch is aware of the talent that McCullers possess, and would like to keep him around until he proves he can’t handle it anymore. If I were the manager, I would want the arm of McCullers starting for me every fifth day. In yesterday’s game, he kept the hitters guessing by mixing in 80-84 mph curveball and 85-89 mph changeup with an overpowering fastball of 93-96. So far in his career, he has mixed in the fastball 61.3%, curveball 26.9%, and changeup 11.8% of the time. (Stats are from FanGraphs)

How does McCullers strikeout hitters, an example from yesterday’s game versus J.D. Martinez, the pitch sequence was 95-80-95-83 for the strikeout? While Roy Oswalt had the slower downward curveball, I see some similarities between the way the two guys pitch. From my interview, he admires Max Scherzer as a pitcher. If McCullers could be a mixture of Oswalt and Scherzer, he could be one of the better pitchers for the Astros for years to come.

Brett Oberholtzer could be the long man in the bullpen, or refining his pitching in Triple-A. However, McCullers needs to be given every chance to pitch for the Astros this year. Astros could go with a six-man rotation as well, to keep arms fresh for the stretch drive.

My interview with Lance McCullers Jr. can be found here.

Next: Interview with Astros 1B Prospect AJ Reed

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