KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Playing second fiddle to the maestro named Dallas Keuchel was a role right-hander Collin McHugh played beautifully last year. The cerebral right-hander, who was plucked off baseball's scrap heap two years ago, went 19-7 with a 3.89 ERA in 32 starts last year as the Astros' No.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Playing second fiddle to the maestro named Dallas Keuchel was a role right-hander Collin McHugh played beautifully last year. The cerebral right-hander, who was plucked off baseball's scrap heap two years ago, went 19-7 with a 3.89 ERA in 32 starts last year as the Astros' No. 2 starter.
While Keuchel piled up the awards -- American League Cy Young Award, three-time AL Pitcher of the Month, AL Gold Glove Award -- McHugh quietly piled up wins and finished just one victory behind Keuchel, who led the AL with 20.
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Still, McHugh is hardly a recognizable name to those who aren't hardcore Astros fans or baseball fans, and he's OK with that.
"I think we're in the right spot we want to be," McHugh said. "As a rotation, we've kind of made a name for ourselves the last couple of years, and to be part of a rotation like that is an honor. But you feel like you have a responsibility to go out and not just do what you did last year, but try to improve. In my game, I know for sure there's room for improvement."
So how do you improve on a season in which you reach 200 innings, finish second in the AL in wins and go 10-2 with a 3.11 ERA in your last 14 starts?
"No one's mastered this game," manager A.J. Hinch said. "The league has seen him now a couple of years in a row, and he's matching quality with quantity when it comes to innings. I'm excited for him. There's a steadiness to his preparation and his approach, and I hope he can rub off on some of the young pitchers."
McHugh's cutter remains his top weapon, and refining the rest of his pitches is a work in progress. The 28-year-old said fastball command remains the key to his success.
"I think that's kind of the building block of every pitcher's repertoire," he said. "You have to start from the bottom and work your way back up, and for me, that big block at the bottom is fastball command. You've got to refine it, you've got to get better at it early in the season and kind of build on that base."
Any time you mention McHugh, it's important to remember where he came from. McHugh didn't win a game in the Majors before 2014 -- 0-8 with an 8.94 ERA in 15 games, nine starts -- but he has gone 30-16 with a 3.39 ERA in 57 starts with the Astros over the past two seasons. It's been a rags-to-riches ride he's hoping to carry into 2016.
"Every once in a while you've got to pinch yourself and remind yourself you're here and this is real and you have a job to do," McHugh said. "Last year is last year. Wins are going to come and go. There are going to be years you pitch better and you get less wins, and there's going to be years you don't pitch as well and get more wins because the team behind you is better. My goal is to be as consistent as I can be and just go out and pitch my game and let the results speak for themselves."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.