McCullers ‘ready to be back’ ahead of rehab

June 9th, 2021

When Lance McCullers Jr. was placed on the injured list with shoulder soreness on May 26, the Astros hoped he’d only miss one start. General manager James Click had described it as “erring on the side of caution.”

McCullers still hasn’t returned, which means the Astros will soon go through a fourth turn of the rotation without him. But the 27-year-old wants people to know that he has “zero” concerns about the injury, and he intends to be back quite soon.

“Wasn’t anything very serious. We just had to wait for the inflammation to clear,” said McCullers, who inked a five-year, $85 million extension this spring. “Just needed a couple of days and we started building up from there.”

That buildup has included a pair of bullpen sessions, and now McCullers is set for a rehab start on Thursday with Triple-A Sugar Land. He’ll throw in the range of four innings and/or 65 pitches.

If it was entirely up to McCullers, he might’ve skipped the rehab outing altogether.

“We were actually talking about -- well, I guess I was -- trying to just keep rolling through it,” McCullers said.

Instead, his next step will take him to Sugar Land. And then?

“I feel really ready to be back,” he said. “And I’m expecting [Thursday] to be my only [rehab start].”

No live at-bats? No problem for Brantley

Michael Brantley’s final game before he went on the injured list came May 23 against the Rangers. When asked if he’d faced any live pitching since then -- prior to his return to the lineup in Tuesday’s win -- Brantley cracked a smile and said, “No.”

Having spent more than two weeks without taking a live at-bat, Brantley stroked a double off Martín Pérez in his return to the batter’s box. It’s not supposed to be that easy.

“It’s not easy, but at the same time, I have a lot of experience in this league,” the 13-year veteran said. “I know what I need. I know what to do to keep my swing in shape. So at the same time, I [trusted] myself and I [knew] where I was at. I feel like I could put up competitive at-bats with a little bit of a layoff and hopefully, I continue to do that.”

Hamstring tightness is what sidelined Brantley, and the Astros want to make sure it doesn’t force him out again anytime soon. That’s why he was lifted for a defensive replacement in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s game before spending Wednesday’s game as a designated hitter. On Thursday, he’ll be given a scheduled off-day.

“I’m gonna try to be as careful [with Brantley] as I can -- as careful as [he] lets me be with him,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said Tuesday. “He’s pretty honest about things. … He’ll let you know exactly if he feels good or not.”

Bill’s big 9-0

Wednesday marks the 90th birthday of former Astros manager Bill Virdon, who is the club’s all-time leader in wins (544). He led Houston to its first two postseason appearances (1980-81) and recorded a .510 win percentage over parts of eight seasons.

During his playing career, Virdon was named the 1955 National League Rookie of the Year with the Cardinals.

He spent most of his 12-year career with the Pirates, though, and Roberto Clemente once said this of him: “He’s an underrated player. He doesn’t get the headlines, because he makes everything look easy.”