Astros: Lance McCullers progressing towards a return

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 04: Lance McCullers Jr. #43 of the Houston Astros pitches in the second inning of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on August 4, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 04: Lance McCullers Jr. #43 of the Houston Astros pitches in the second inning of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on August 4, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /
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Barring a setback, the Astros appear hopeful that Lance McCullers will make his return before the regular season ends.

Through early August the Astros were the lone team in the majors to use only five starting pitchers. That streak in today’s baseball is quite impressive. Unfortunately, it was snapped when McCullers landed on the DL on August 5th. Fast forward to mid-September and Houston is still waiting on the right-hander’s return to the active roster. But there is some good news on this front.

Per Brian McTaggart of MLB.com, McCullers threw another simulated game down at the team’s West Palm Beach complex in Florida. As noted by McTaggart, the age-24 pitcher threw thirty pitches while sitting “in the middle of his session to simulate pitching two innings.” Here is Astros manager AJ Hinch‘s quote on how he felt following McCuller’s simulated game.

"“He had another good day,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “It was very similar to what he had the other day. He’s still a little erratic getting back on the mound, but the fastball seems to be hovering in the low 90s, the breaking ball is there and the changeup.”"

There are also plans for McCullers to throw one more simulated game.

"McCullers will throw another simulated game Friday or Saturday, Hinch said. Ideally, the Astros would like to get McCullers into a game or two in the final week of the season out of the bullpen to gauge his readiness for being on the playoff roster."

The Astros are obviously hoping McCullers is healthy enough to contribute in the bullpen during the postseason. If healthy and effective, his addition adds another quality arm at Hinch’s disposal. Remember the 24 straight curveballs against the Yankees? Simply put, a team can never have enough quality arms in the postseason.

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The only catch will be the timing of McCullers’ return. If he does suffer a setback, I can’t help but wonder if we will see McCullers on a pitcher’s mound again this year. Is it plausible that we could see him in the later rounds of the postseason if the Astros advance? Perhaps.