Lance McCullers Jr. will miss Opening Day with a forearm strain
The Astros pitching depth will be put to the test early. Lance McCullers Jr. revealed he underwent an MRI on Tuesday and will be shut down for a few weeks with a muscle strain. Nothing is structurally wrong, but LMJ will not throw for few weeks, meaning he will not be ready for Opening Day.
The Astros do still possess a great deal of depth in the rotation, but this will go a long way to showing how much they will miss Justin Verlander. Verlander was dominant, yes, but he also was incredibly durable and went deep into games. When Verlander was healthy during his time in Houston, he was a lock to go six innings a game.
Without McCullers in the rotation, the Astros have only five arms to begin the season: Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Luis Garcia, José Urquidy and Hunter Brown. Valdez and Javier are an elite 1-2 duo at the top of a rotation while Garcia and Urquidy are great back-of-the-order arms.
Brown is the question mark. If he's anywhere close to the pitcher he was in Sugar Land and in his brief September call-up, the Astros should be just fine.
Outside of Valdez, no Astros' pitcher has thrown more than the 164.1 innings Urquidy threw last season. Without McCullers, Houston is back to a five-man rotation. Only one of the five has shown a consistent ability to eat innings over the course of a season.
McCullers spoke candidly of the prognosis:
"I'm not going to lie. It's been a rough couple of days, having come to the reality that I'm not going to be able to be a part of the team to open the season. Then I'm going to have to undergo another rehab. When the one thing you're great at, you're not able to do because the vessel you do it through, which is my body, sometimes won't let me, that's a very tough process."- Lance McCullers Jr.
While it's reassuring no structural damage exists, this is a big blow to Houston to start the season. Garcia, Urquidy and Brown will have to step up in a big way to help weather the storm.