Lance the scrapper: Starter tough to top at home

Young right-hander strikes out 10 in dominant 7-inning start vs. Mariners

July 4th, 2016

HOUSTON -- Lance McCullers missed his last projected start, a Tuesday road game against the Angels, after suffering a blister on his right index finger.

You certainly couldn't tell Monday afternoon.

The right-hander was lights out against Seattle, striking out 10 batters to help secure a 2-1 win for the Astros. It was the fourth double-digit strikeout game of McCullers' career, his second this season, as well as the eighth consecutive game in which McCullers struck out more than five batters.

"I always want to pitch well, whether back-to-back days or if I have to miss a start," McCullers said. "I'm glad I pitched well and that we got a good team win today. It's always good to start off with a 'W.'"

McCullers dominated primarily with a knuckle-curveball that was responsible for his first nine strikeouts of the game.

"He went to his breaking ball when he needed to, which is a lot," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "A lot of times, these guys have advanced scouts too, so they're expecting these breaking balls and still having a hard time making contact, so that'll tell you [how good it is] It's got tremendous tilt. It's got tremendous finish."

Along with the strikeouts, McCullers helped the Astros win by fielding the ball well in key situations.

In the top of the first with one out and the game still scoreless, a ball momentarily got away from catcher Jason Castro on Robinson Cano's third strike, but Castro quickly tracked it down, fired to first to get Cano, and Leonys Martin, who had tripled to lead off the game, was thrown out standing up as first baseman Marwin Gonzalez threw home to McCullers for a 2-3-1 double play.

"[McCullers] got out of it on a play I've never seen in my life in this game, which will teach you that you never know everything," Hinch said.

He had to field the ball well once again in the top of the seventh. With the Astros leading 2-1, McCullers allowed three straight runners on base, but got Dae-Ho Lee on a comebacker that he fired home to start a 1-2-3 double play. He then induced a harmless fly out to left by Adam Lind to preserve a 2-1 lead.

"I guess I was pretty lucky it came back to me," McCullers said. "That was huge. That was the game right there."

Not bad for the youngest active starting pitcher in the AL, but McCullers has been good at home his entire career. He's 7-2 with a 1.95 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 16 career starts at Minute Maid Park. With Monday's win, he became the only pitcher in club history to allow three runs or less in each of his first 16 regular season home games.

"He's learning," Hinch said, "and he's getting better and better and better."