Astros tab McCullers, Valdez in Games 1, 2

Houston takes live BP; players comfortable in hotel quarantine

October 5th, 2020

The pitching matchups have been set for the first two games of the American League Division Series, with right-hander starting Game 1 for the Astros on Monday against right-hander Chris Bassitt of the A’s. Left-hander will start Game 2 on Tuesday against lefty Sean Manaea of the A’s.

Astros manager Dusty Baker said he wanted to get McCullers on the mound as soon as possible after he didn’t pitch against the Twins in the Wild Card Series. This will be McCullers’ first start since facing the Rangers on Sept. 26 in Arlington eight days ago.

“He’s plenty rested,” Baker said. “He’s been a big-game pitcher. He’s been here before, and he’s been throwing the ball great his last three starts.”

Baker said Cristian Javier will be available out of the bullpen at the beginning of series. It’s likely and will pitch Games 3 and 4, in some order.

McCullers returns to Dodger Stadium
McCullers will make his third career start at Dodger Stadium on Monday, and the first two were quite memorable. He started Game 7 of the 2017 World Series and hit four batters and allowed three hits in 2 1/3 scoreless innings, while also driving in a run. The Astros won, 5-1, to win the World Series.

The next season, McCullers threw four scoreless innings at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 4, 2018, and injured his right elbow, which eventually led to Tommy John surgery. Monday will mark his first playoff start since his Game 7 outing in the Fall Classic three years ago. McCullers pitched in relief in the 2018 postseason and missed all of last season.

“I’ve spoken a lot in the past about [how] there’s no guarantees with this surgery, this rehab I went through,” McCullers said. “I did believe that I would come out on the other side a better pitcher, better teammate, and I believe I’ve done that. Just a full-circle moment for me being back in the postseason.

“The last postseason I pitched in, I knew going into the postseason I was going to need Tommy John. That was 2018. As soon as that postseason was over, I knew was going to need T.J. It’s almost refreshing for me being able to know I’m going into this healthy and feeling really good.”

In his final three starts of the season, McCullers didn’t allow an earned run, walked four and scattered seven hits while striking out 24 batters in 17 2/3 innings. Alas, the Astros didn’t score a run while he was on the mound in that stretch.

Hitters try to keep sharp
The Astros will have had four days off between sweeping the Twins in the Wild Card Series and Game 1 of the ALDS on Monday against the A’s. Before the team left Minneapolis to travel to Los Angeles on Friday, Houston’s relief pitchers threw live batting practice to the hitters to keep everyone sharp.

“That was two-fold,” Baker said. “For the hitters, to keep their timing, and for the bullpen guys, to feel like they’ve had some work and are comfortable.”

When the team worked out at Dodger Stadium on Friday, some of the pitchers on the taxi squad threw to the hitters as well.

“They’ve got a lot of swings to see live pitching, and it really helps a lot to aid to your timing,” Baker said.

The Astros hit .221/.283/.377 as a team and averaged 3.6 runs per game in the final 23 games of the regular season. Against the A’s this year, Houston hit just .205/.259/.326 with seven homers in 10 games. They averaged 2.5 runs per game.

“It comes down to execution, putting good at-bats together, swinging at strikes, being selectively aggressive,” Astros third baseman said. “They’ve got a really good team. So do we. When you have good teams, it just comes down to execution.”

Astros, A’s in close quarters
Now that the Astros and A’s have entered somewhat of a bubble environment for the ALDS, they find themselves staying at the same Los Angeles-area hotel. It’s unlikely either team will have interactions with the other because of strict protocols on social distancing to guard against the coronavirus.

Unlike during the regular season, when the Astros were pretty much limited to staying in their rooms on the road, there are some areas set up where to mingle with each other. The hotel staff is quarantined at the property and is being tested for the coronavirus like the players.

“The hotel we're in is nice,” McCullers said. “MLB has done a really good job. We have our areas to be able to relax. The food situation, everything like that has been good. Obviously, before now, this season, being stuck into your room and things of that nature were the difficult part. But I think the guys, we've adjusted to it. It was tough the first couple of road trips.

“When you're on the road, typically, it's a lot of dinners and exploring cities and things of that nature to kind of take up your downtime, whereas now it's just kind of sitting in a room and looking out the window. But the hotel here is nice, and MLB, they have done a good job. And our players have done a good job all season. We haven't really had many issues with COVID-type things.”