The Astros could need a fifth starter to finish out the season.
Barring an unexpected development, Lance McCullers will likely not rejoin the starting rotation this season. Instead, the Astros could hope to have the age-24 right-hander available out of the bullpen in September.
The latest update on McCullers is linked to a “slow down” in his throwing program. As noted by Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, it doesn’t appear that McCullers will be on a mound to throw in the near future. Even a bullpen session doesn’t seem to be in the cards in the short-term.
Based on Hinch’s comments in Rome’s article, the Astros could be aiming to bring McCullers back in a relief role. This notion makes plenty of sense as McCullers’ pitches do play up in shorter spurts. And we all remember when he finished off the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS with 24 straight curveballs.
Unfortunately for McCullers, the latest news puts more of a damper on his 2018 season. The right-hander, after all, just set a new career-high with 126 innings pitched to go with a 3.93 ERA and 3.56 FIP. At least the injury, a strained right forearm muscle, occurred during an at-bat, not while throwing a baseball. Also, the “slow down” isn’t necessarily a “setback,” as stated by Hinch in Rome’s article.
"“I don’t know if it’s a setback as much as continued lack of progress to the level or the speed in which it’s OK to get on the mound,” Hinch said."
Despite the injury, McCullers should still figure into the team’s plans in the starting rotation. It would be challenging to give up on a starting pitcher that has had success like McCullers. That said, he does have the stuff to be an excellent reliever. Not a bad contingency plan.
In the meantime, the Astros will need a fifth starter at times to finish the season. Framber Valdez impressed in his first two major league appearances, including his start on Sunday against the Angels. Could the Astros utilize a bullpen day? Heck, I could see McCullers “opening” a game for an inning or two in September when he returns.