Posted on September 6, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Houston Astros have seen their starting rotation suffer their fair share of injuries this year. But things finally seem to be settling back into place with the postseason around the corner. The Astros activated Lance McCullers Jr. off the 10-day DL on Wednesday after more than a month away with back discomfort. McCullers is scheduled to start Wednesday’s game against the Seattle Mariners. His return marks the final piece of Houston’s rotation falling into place before the playoffs.
For much of the first half of the season, McCullers was sensational. In six starts during the month of May, McCullers was 4-0 with a 0.99 ERA. However, he went on the DL with back discomfort in June and had all kinds of struggles when he returned. In four starts in July, he posted a 9.64 ERA. That prompted the Astros to put him back on the DL. This time, they gave him more time on the DL to rest to make sure he’s ready to pitch physically.
“I felt like I’ve been ready to go mentally for a long time now,” says McCullers. “I just felt this time around we wanted to give the process more of an opportunity to work. I’m not going to say we rushed last time, but we maybe didn’t do our full due diligence.”
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The fact that the Astros have held a substantial lead atop the AL West most of the season made it easier to give McCullers more time on the DL. The Astros also welcomed back Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh back from injury during McCullers’ DL stint. Of course, the Astros also traded for Justin Verlander during that time, giving the Astros another starter who’s capable of pitching like an ace on any given day.
Naturally, there’s some uncertainty with McCullers after missing more than a month. Not to mention the fact that it’s been nearly three months since he was performing at a high level. McCullers also wasn’t overly impressive during two recent minor league rehab starts. But he insists the time off has served him well and that he’s ready to prove over his next few starts that he can be an asset for the Astros during the playoffs.
“I feel a lot better than last time,” McCullers said. “I’m definitely prepared. I’m definitely going to be consciously working to become a better pitcher so when the brightest lights are on I’m going to show up.”
If the McCullers of the first part of the season shows up down the stretch, Houston’s rotation is going to be awfully scary heading into the playoffs. The Astros appeared to be on cruise-control for the middle part of the season. But the acquisition of Verlander and return of Carlos Correa may have helped get them refocused.
More importantly, the Houston rotation suddenly looks like one of the best in baseball. Verlander has had a strong second half. Keuchel was great his last time out after he struggled in August. McHugh has been consistently good since he came back at the end of July. If McCullers can prove that he’s healthy and return to form, the Astros could match up with any rotation they may face during the playoffs.