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McCullers healthy, eager to pitch for Astros

Righty expected to work out of bullpen for Blue Jays series
Special to MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Astros right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. joined the club on Saturday, feeling healthy, and available to pitch in relief as soon as Monday.

McCullers completed his third and final simulated game on Friday at the club's Spring Training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla. He has no more bullpen sessions scheduled before pitching in a game during the upcoming three-game series against the Blue Jays that begins on Monday at Rogers Centre.

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HOUSTON -- Astros right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. joined the club on Saturday, feeling healthy, and available to pitch in relief as soon as Monday.

McCullers completed his third and final simulated game on Friday at the club's Spring Training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla. He has no more bullpen sessions scheduled before pitching in a game during the upcoming three-game series against the Blue Jays that begins on Monday at Rogers Centre.

View Full Game Coverage

"I felt good over the three times I was out there," McCullers said. "There were some ups and downs, but that's part of getting back into pitching shape. I was happy with the way my body responded each time, and the way I looked and felt the last time [on Friday]. I want to pitch again."

Following the series against the Blue Jays, the Astros will close out the regular season with a four-game set against the Orioles starting on Thursday at Camden Yards.

On Friday, the 24-year-old McCullers threw around 25 pitches, amounting to 1 1/3 innings. He said he was pleased with his breaking ball, worked on his fastball and changeup, and he was landing the pitches in the zone to both right-handed and left-handed batters. No Major League starting pitcher throws his curveball at a higher rate than McCullers.

McCullers' velocity was also where he wanted it. His average fastball this season has been 94-95 mph.

McCullers couldn't wait to share the encouraging news with manager AJ Hinch, pitching coach Brent Strom and head athletic trainer Jeremiah Randall.

"I felt really good yesterday," McCullers said. "I was really excited yesterday, I came in immediately and texted AJ, Strommie and Jeremiah. Because that's what we were waiting for. We were waiting for me to feel really good. That was a big step for us yesterday."

Video: HOU@LAD: McCullers leaves game with elbow discomfort

McCullers, a 2017 All-Star, had been on the disabled list since Aug. 5 with a muscle strain in his right forearm. He is 10-6 with a 3.93 ERA in 22 starts with Houston, and he has 138 strikeouts in 126 innings.

"We delayed the timetable a little bit," McCullers said. "But it gave myself the best opportunity to come back and be effective, and be a force for us down the stretch and into the playoffs. I had to wait a little longer than we initially thought, but I'm happy with the way I'm feeling."

Correa eager to return
Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, who won't play in this weekend's series against the Angels. was subdued on his 24th birthday on Saturday, expressing his desire to finally get his back issue solved and hopefully return to the lineup soon for the final seven games of the regular season.

"I'm trying to get better, healthy," Correa said. "My back just got tied up again and I want to make sure I'm ready to go for the playoffs.

"It's been a rough year for me when it comes to staying on the field, and being healthy out there. It's been the toughest year of my career. When I came back, it's a grind every day. The training room, the weight room. I try to make it feel better. I have to sit this series out to hopefully make me feel better."

Since coming off the disabled list on Aug. 10 with lower back soreness, Correa has not been the same player who was a 2017 All-Star, with only four extra-base hits in 140 plate appearances following his return. He went on the DL on June 26, missing 36 games.

In his fourth Major League season, Correa became the first shortstop in Major League history to reach the 20-home run mark in each of his first three seasons.

"When I'm healthy, I know what kind of player I can be," Correa said.

Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com based in Houston.

Houston Astros, Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr.