McCullers labors on tough day for Astros

April 15th, 2021

HOUSTON -- A day that began with news that the Astros were going to be without four key position players for Wednesday’s series finale against the Tigers ended with starting pitcher getting an IV because he had become ill during the game.

If that weren’t enough to make manager Dusty Baker have a sleepless night, the Tigers -- led by former Astros manager A.J. Hinch -- polished off a three-game sweep of Houston with a 6-4 win at Minute Maid Park in which the Astros stranded the bases loaded to end the game.

Afterwards, McCullers, the Astros’ Players Association representative, said he thought the game should not have been played. The Astros on Wednesday placed Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martín Maldonado and Robel García on the injured list due to health and safety protocols.

“I was dealing with a lot today,” McCullers said. “I don’t really understand why we played tonight, quite honestly. Seems like the rules are different for different teams, depending on who it is, based off the COVID issues. Lots of questions and things we have to get figured out as a team. Hopefully in the next few days we do.”

The Nationals had four games postponed to start the season after four players tested positive for COVID-19 and seven others were under quarantine because of contact tracing. Earlier on Wednesday, Astros general manager James Click said he was in close contact with Major League Baseball about whether the game with the Tigers would be played.

“They don’t believe there is a health and safety reason not to play,” he said.

That sent the Astros scurrying to bring up five players -- in addition to players they will take with them to Seattle on Thursday that will be on the taxi squad -- from the team’s alternate training site in Corpus Christi, Texas.

“I’ll just say we felt that it would have been better if we weren’t out there today,” McCullers said. “I think it would have been the smartest thing today [to not play], but we were overruled.”

McCullers gave up six runs and three walks and hit two batters in 3 2/3 innings against the Tigers, who built a 6-0 lead quickly. He said he received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine “a couple of days back” and has been feeling ill for a few days.

“It’s not really an excuse,” he said. “I just have been feeling under the weather. Haven’t really been 100 [percent] to do my normal stuff. Still felt like I was going to be able to throw the ball well and give us a good chance to win. Unfortunately, it didn’t go that way, but I’ll get back to the drawing board and be better the next time out.”

McCullers, who signed a five-year, $85-million contract extension last month, said everything felt off for him against the Tigers and he didn’t have any pitches working. He threw 46 strikes and 41 balls.

“We’ll figure it out,” he said. “The season is young. I’ve got to figure out the command a little bit. I feel like that’s the only thing that’s holding me back right now. The first couple of games, I was able to manage it because my other stuff was playing up, but obviously today we see what happens when I don't have wipeout stuff and I’m still walking guys.”

Baker said McCullers didn’t let anyone know he was feeling ill until the game was over.

“Lance is a warrior,” Baker said. “He was sick as a dog. His legs were wobbly. He could hardly catch his breath and hopefully he’ll be well and much better the next start.”

Baker removed outfielder Michael Brantley from Tuesday’s game because he wasn’t feeling well, but the illnesses to McCullers and Brantley aren’t believed to be COVID-related.

“It’s been going around our clubhouse,” Baker said. “Hopefully, we’ll get better on the road.”