Notes: McCullers, JV see intrasquad benefits

July 15th, 2020

HOUSTON -- One of the benefits Astros pitchers can take away in having to settle for instrasquad games -- instead of the exhibition games like they had in Spring Training in February and March -- is the instant feedback they can glean from teammates. That was a point of emphasis Tuesday for ace .

Verlander, in his second-to-last start of Summer Camp before likely getting the ball on Opening Day July 24 against Seattle, threw five scoreless innings Tuesday at Minute Maid Park, striking out six batters while allowing three hits and throwing 67 pitches (46 strikes). Among the regulars in the lineup Verlander faced were Josh Reddick, Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel.

“The guys haven’t seen too much live pitching yet but still, as good as these guys are, I trust what they’re seeing even at this point in time,” Verlander said. “The feedback has been pretty good on the mound and off.”

Starter , who threw opposite Verlander on Tuesday and gave up four hits, walked three and hit one batter in five scoreless innings (74 pitches), said Carlos Correa texted him and told him he would share some feedback. Michael Brantley told McCullers the four-seamer he threw him in the fourth inning looked good coming out of his hand.

“Any time you have conversations with perennial All-Stars and MVPs and that type of caliber player, it’s only going to benefit you,” said McCullers, who will make his next start in Monday’s exhibition game in Kansas City. “Any time you can simulate game competition like we have been, especially against good competition and have dialogue after the fact with those kinds of guys, it’s a huge benefit.”

Strom sees star potential in Whitley
Right-hander , the Astros’ top-ranked prospect and 19th overall per MLB Pipeline, threw in an instrasquad game for the second time Tuesday and continues to impress pitching coach Brent Strom. The Astros brought Whitley over from the University of Houston, which is the alternate training site for the 56-man player pool.

“I think Forrest Whitley is going to be a star,” Strom said.

Whitley has made numerous tweaks to his mechanics through the years and hit Spring Training in 2019 trying to get rid of a slapping motion he made on his back during his follow-through. Strom isn’t worried about Whitley slapping his back like he was a couple of years ago.

“I kind of see why it happens. It’s unique, there’s no question about it,” he said. “He’s got himself in great shape. He was 97 [mph] the other day. He was electric. He’s got a great changeup, made some guys look really bad. This is an accomplished young man.”

Strom said Whitley, a first-round pick in 2016 who’s only 22 years old, is finally starting to come into his own.

“He was given so much press early in his career and sometimes, that’s difficult to live up to,” he said. “Astros fans are going to be excited to see this guy when they watch him and he’s starting games with electric stuff. He’s a man on a mission. He wants to prove himself.”

After missing 50 games following a suspension and then sustaining a pair of oblique injuries in 2018, Whitley’s 2019 didn’t go much smoother. He went a combined 3-7 with a 7.99 ERA, 44 walks and 86 strikeouts across four levels last year. He began the year at Triple-A Round Rock and had a 12.21 ERA in eight games (five starts) before being placed on the injured list with shoulder fatigue.

The Astros sent him back to the Gulf Coast League in July and he moved up to Class A Advanced Fayetteville before finishing the year with Double-A Corpus Christi. He ended on a good note with a second consecutive strong performance in the Arizona Fall League (2.88 ERA in six starts).

Worth noting
• Astros outfielders George Springer and Myles Straw and infielder Abraham Toro each missed Tuesday’s workout at Minute Maid Park while awaiting COVID-19 test results.

• Strom said Josh James, who reported to camp on Monday, will start the team’s exhibition game Tuesday against the Royals in Kansas City. James is built up to pitch about four innings, Strom said, and is expected to claim one of the final two spots in the rotation.

• The Astros had planned to place a runner at second base to start an inning during Tuesday’s intrasquad game but had to cut it short because of lack of pitching. Tied games this year will begin with a runner at second base in the 10th inning. Baker said the team will attempt to practice that situation in the next scheduled intrasquad game on Thursday.