McCullers could start ALDS Game 1 or 2

October 3rd, 2020

Astros manager Dusty Baker didn’t say how the team’s pitching rotation would line up for the American League Division Series against the A’s, starting on Monday, but he hinted on Friday that right-hander could start one of the first two games at Dodger Stadium. McCullers didn’t pitch in the series win over the Twins -- he would have started Game 3, if needed.

McCullers hasn’t pitched since Sept. 26 in the penultimate game of the regular season, which means he would have had eight days off if he starts Game 1 on Monday and nine days if he starts Game 2 on Tuesday. Ultimately, setting up the pitching rotation is a collaborative effort between Baker, pitching coach Brent Strom and the front office.

“You just don’t want him off too long,” Baker said. “You want to give him some rest. I’ve always been told, especially pitchers, they rust out before they wear out. You certainly don’t want them to rust out.”

McCullers threw to hitters on Thursday in Minnesota -- the day after the Astros swept the Twins at Target Field -- to try to stay sharp. The Astros worked out again in Minneapolis on Friday before boarding a charter flight and making their way to Los Angeles.

After missing all of the 2019 season following Tommy John surgery, McCullers went 3-3 with a 3.93 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 11 starts this year, posting a 2.18 ERA and 0.94 WHIP with 45 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings in his final eight starts of the season. He didn’t allow an earned run in 17 2/3 innings in his final three starts. McCullers’ last postseason start was at Dodger Stadium in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series.

Manager in Maldonado’s future?
Baker, who is 15th all-time in managerial victories with 1,892, said veteran Astros catcher Martín Maldonado appears to have the chops to become a manager one day himself. Baker has relied heavily on Maldonado to guide a young pitching staff that has seen 15 rookies take the mound this year, including 10 Major League debuts. That’s most rookies to pitch for the Astros in a single season.

Maldonado, 34, started 46 of Houston’s 60 games in the regular season and both games against the Twins in the AL Wild Card Series. He could conceivable start every inning of every game in the postseason, as long as he stays healthy and unless there’s a blowout.

“Maldy knows how to catch, knows how to direct a pitching staff, he knows to follow a game plan and, if necessary, deviate from the game plan according to the game situation,” Baker said. “I’ve always said a catcher is the most important guy in my equation. He’s my field general. He’s the guy that carries out the orders from above. ... That’s why a lot of catchers end up being fine managers and coaches.

“He asks me a bunch of questions and I try to have the answers for him, and I think some day if he wants to be, he could be a fine field manager because of his demeanor and his knowledge. He’s open to learning about the game.”