McCullers' stingy streak ends vs. Indians

Righty allows 4 runs as Astros are unable to finish season sweep

July 22nd, 2021

HOUSTON -- When it comes to games that had him boiling over with frustration, Wednesday’s outing against the Indians will be near the top of the list for Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. when all is said and done in 2021.

McCullers left the game with a two-run lead after 100 pitches with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth inning and watched reliever Bryan Abreu record a pair of strikeouts before Ernie Clement -- the Indians’ nine-hole hitter -- cleared the bases with a three-run double to left-center.

That closed the book on McCullers and helped spoil the night for the Astros, who couldn’t finish off the season sweep of the Indians and lost the series finale, 5-4, at Minute Maid Park.

“I felt like I pitched pretty well,” McCullers said. “Just not much to show for it.”

McCullers allowed four runs in five-plus innings, which are the most runs he’s given up since allowing a season-high six runs on April 14 against the Tigers. The right-hander had given up two runs or fewer in his previous six starts.

“He was battling tonight,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He had that one 30-pitch count inning, which prevented him from going deeper into the game. He gave up a squibber down the third-base line to [Cesar] Hernandez [in the third]. He gave up a ground ball to right field and a ground ball between third and short. He threw the ball well. He certainly deserved better.”

McCullers threw only seven curveballs, which is the fifth-fewest he’s thrown in a regular-season game in his career. Of the four times he threw fewer curves, three were in relief at the end of the 2018 season when he was pitching with a torn ulnar collateral ligament that eventually required Tommy John surgery. The other came Sept. 4 of last year when he didn’t record an out in a start vs. the Angels in Anaheim.

On Wednesday, he threw 49 percent sliders after throwing only 28 percent sliders when he faced the Indians on July 2.

“The slider was working good early and I was getting a lot of really good results with it,” McCullers said. “I wanted to stick with that. I still got some outs on the heater. Not as many as last time [against the Indians]. More swings-and-misses or foul balls today on it as I got deeper in counts. Just trying to get some of those punchouts. I don’t think they hit anything super hard.”

The Astros, who got solo homers from Jose Altuve and Kyle Tucker, were able to tie the game in the sixth before Hernandez rocketed a homer to right field in the seventh off Austin Pruitt to put Cleveland ahead, 5-4. Pruitt, making his second outing since 2019, was pitching in his hometown of Houston for the first time with the Astros.

“It kind of puts a damper on the first time as an Astro, throwing at Minute Maid Park,” he said. “That’s just part of it. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in these games and just something to learn from.”

Baker said the Astros would have normally used Cristian Javier in that situation in the seventh, but Javier threw 27 pitches on Tuesday and was unavailable.

“We were kind of hog-tied with the decision,” he said. “[Pruitt] was throwing the ball well, except he threw a changeup to Hernandez down the heart of the plate and usually Hernandez’s weakness is the changeup. He just put it in a bad location.”