JUPITER, Fla. -- With last year's injury concerns behind him and featuring a more fluid delivery, Astros right-hander Lance McCullers pitched in a game for the first time since Aug. 2 of last year by firing two scoreless innings in his Grapefruit League debut Thursday against the Cardinals. The Astros won the game, 3-0.
McCullers, who missed the final two months of last season following an elbow sprain and has been on an individualized throwing program, mixed his arsenal well, throwing 16 of 24 pitches for strikes. He retired all six hitters he faced, striking out Stephen Piscotty in the first inning and Jedd Gyorko and Anthony Garcia in the second.
"It was good," McCullers said. "I was a little amped up in the bullpen pregame, but when I got out there for the game I felt comfortable. I thought me and [catcher Brian] McCann were on the same page. I really enjoyed throwing to him. That's twice he's caught me [in the spring] so far and we seem to have a really nice chemistry going. It's great to be out there again."
A scout at the game at Roger Dean Stadium said McCullers' curveball was "nasty," and his evolving changeup was improving.
"You've got to gear up to hit Lance," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "You have to deal with a lot with the fastball and breaking ball and giving something different with a little bit of movement down should be good for him. He got a couple of swings and misses out of [his changeup] today, which is a good sign. He's got to feel his way through a new pitch."
McCullers will now gear up to pitch every five days heading into the regular season. His next start is tentatively set for Tuesday against the Mets in West Palm Beach.
One area McCullers said he would like to improve in is throwing more first-pitch strikes, but he has three more exhibition starts to iron things out.
"I feel good," McCullers said. "I think the main thing is I'm bouncing back from starts and from bullpens better. I think that I'm able to get more work in midweek, which is pretty crucial for developing my other pitches and my fastball. It was a good first start. I hope I feel great tomorrow and go back to the drawing board, talk with [McCann], watch some video, see what I can do well, see what I can do better and next start in four days."