ARLINGTON -- Lance McCullers Jr. took an important step in his recovery from Tommy John surgery Tuesday, throwing on flat ground for the first time since he underwent the procedure on Nov. 6.
McCullers flew to Los Angeles on Monday to be examined by Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who gave him clearance to start his light throwing program. Back in Texas on Tuesday, the right-hander played catch with manager AJ Hinch, making 25-30 tosses at a distance of around 45 feet.
"I was expecting to feel some sort of soreness or weirdness in the elbow area, but I felt really good," McCullers said. "It was a good first day."
The throwing session occurred almost five months to the day of the surgery, indicating McCullers has not had to veer from the original timetable that was set for him soon after the procedure.
He'll continue on a throwing program for the next several months, a schedule that may require him to be away from the team for some or all of the road trips in the near future.
The recovery process after Tommy John surgery typically extends 12-18 months, and McCullers is still on track to be ready to rejoin the Astros' rotation at the beginning of next season. Returning this year continues to not be an option.
The 25-year-old McCullers left his start last Aug. 4 with right elbow discomfort and was later diagnosed with a forearm strain. He was out six weeks and came back to make three scoreless relief appearances in the final week of the regular season. He pitched five more times in relief in the postseason, though the team knew by then that he would eventually need elbow surgery.
The recovery process for pitchers who have Tommy John surgery can be excruciating, from the standpoint of being relegated to bystander/cheerleader status while their teammates compete on the field.
McCullers, a former top draft pick who played a large role in the Astros' World Series run in 2017, is feeling some of that this year as he watches his teammates from the dugout.
He's also grateful to the team for making sure he is around as much as possible while he balances the demands of the rehab process.
"You sit down at the Spring Training complex and you're far away from everybody," McCullers said. "Or I can be here with the guys and still support them and cheer them on. Of course I want to be playing, and yet it can be tough, knowing I'm not going to be back this year."
Little victories can loom large through the process. Tuesday's throwing session is an example of how a relatively innocuous exercise can provide a big mental lift.
"The rehab process has been going really well so far," he said. "Today was another positive step in the right direction."