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Astros’ emerging ace Lance McCullers hits DL with elbow strain

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Aug 2, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Jose Bautista (19) rounds the bases after hitting a home run off of Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers (43) in the third inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 2, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Jose Bautista (19) rounds the bases after hitting a home run off of Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers (43) in the third inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Astros will be without Lance McCullers for at least the next two weeks.

One of the best things about being an Astros fan/blogger is getting to watch young players rise through the minor leagues to achieve their dreams. One of those players is Lance McCullers Jr. who I had the honor of interviewing last year while he was still in Double-A. McCullers was also the first player interview that we did for Talking Stros on KTXF-DB The Reel. With his surprise early call-up last season, McCullers has become a fan favorite.

Out of Spring Training, most of us thought there would be a battle for the fifth starter between Scott Feldman and Mike Fiers. McCullers made the decision easy with his shoulder soreness that landed him on the DL to start the season. McCullers altered his arm angle to limit the strain on his shoulder, which has lead to one of the best curveballs in the game.

When McCullers returned this year, his strikeout rate has risen from 9.24 in 2015 to 11.78 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. He has thrown more curveballs this year, increasing from 36.3% in 2015 to 49.5% in 2016. Not only is McCullers throwing more curveballs this year, but he has also added 1.1 mph to his average speed of his curveball.

Could the increased usage of the curveball this year have led to his elbow strain right now? Some people might say that his delivery and arm action is more suited for the bullpen. McCullers right now is the ace of the Astros staff with Dallas Keuchel having a down year following his Cy Young season. Doug Fister has pitched well, but which pitcher would you rather have going in a one-game playoff scenario?

The answer this year has to be McCullers. Unfortunately, McCullers will not throw for two weeks and was placed on the disabled list. According to Brian McTaggart, it does not appear that surgery is an option. He will have to start fresh after the long shutdown, including probably a couple of rehab games when he is ready.

The good news here is that the Astros don’t appear to have any concerns about the dreaded Tommy John surgery. Maybe this could end up being a blessing. He could return in September to help with the playoff push. Before we get to that point, the Astros offense has to wake up. I’m not all doom and gloom like most of Astros Twitter yet, but we have to start hitting.

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When McCullers was placed on the DL, the Astros brought up Brad Peacock to serve in the Feldman role in the bullpen for a few days while Doug Fister is on paternity leave. Peacock was once a promising prospect for the Astros, but injuries and ineffectiveness have limited him. There is a chance that one of the following hitters could be sent down as well, Tyler White, Preston Tucker, or A.J. Reed.

Despite how bad the offense has been recent, A.J. Hinch has the preference for the extra arm out of the bullpen. Joseph Musgrove will make his first MLB start Sunday as he enters the rotation in McCullers spot. I see James Hoyt potentially staying with the Astros for the rest of August with Luke Gregerson‘s oblique injury.

Next: Astros: As Carlos Correa Goes, So Goes the Team

The pitching is doing its part, for the most part, the offense has to score more runs consistently if they want any chance of making the playoffs. Hopefully in a few weeks when Yulieski Gurriel joins the Astros, all the recent injuries and struggles will be a running joke. It’s not funny now.

***Stats from Fangraphs***

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