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McHugh fans five in crisp spring debut

Minor Leaguer Birk goes 3-for-3 in Astros' win; Keuchel to make first spring start March 5
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Considering Collin McHugh didn't make a Spring Training start last year until late March, his crisp performance in Saturday's 6-1 win over the Braves in his Grapefruit League debut was full of encouragement.

McHugh struck out five batters and allowed one hit and one walk in two scoreless innings, throwing 22 of his 30 pitches for strikes. His fastball command was pretty good, and McHugh worked his changeup, curveball and slider, which he continues to refine.

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Considering Collin McHugh didn't make a Spring Training start last year until late March, his crisp performance in Saturday's 6-1 win over the Braves in his Grapefruit League debut was full of encouragement.

McHugh struck out five batters and allowed one hit and one walk in two scoreless innings, throwing 22 of his 30 pitches for strikes. His fastball command was pretty good, and McHugh worked his changeup, curveball and slider, which he continues to refine.

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"It's hard to argue he wasn't at his best," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "Coming out of the gate, throwing that kind of strikes and putting away hitters, I was very impressed. It's nice to have him healthy going into the spring. That's a very valuable guy."

Video: ATL@HOU: Hinch on McHugh, start to Spring Training

Last year, McHugh came to camp with arm fatigue, and in his only Grapefruit League start, he got rocked for three runs and five hits in 1 2/3 innings against the Cardinals . He was placed on the DL when the season started with a posterior impingement of his right elbow and missed 3 1/2 months.

"I felt this great this whole offseason," McHugh said. "I've had no lingering hangover from what happened last year in terms of my rehab. I've been really pleased with the way I've bounced back, the way I've been able to recover from my bullpen [sessions], my live BPs, and hopefully tomorrow and in the next couple of days, recovering from an outing off the hill."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Worth noting

• The Astros rallied for four runs in the seventh inning Saturday on the strength of their younger players in camp -- Minor Leaguers wearing jersey numbers in the 70s and 80s, and even guys who had no names on their backs who were brought over from a Minors camp that started Friday.

"They're right off the freeway and right into the heat of Major League camp," Hinch said.

Video: ATL@HOU: Birk on showing up to camp, three-hit game

That include Ryne Birk, a 13th-round Draft pick by the Astros in 2016 who was pulled over from the Minor League side and went 3-for-3 in the win over the Braves. Birk grew up in Katy, Texas, a suburb of Houston, and he attended nearby Texas A&M.

"It was pretty cool, especially when they told me yesterday I was coming up here to back up some of the big leaguers today," Birk said. "I didn't know if I was going to get in or not, and luckily A.J. let me play for a couple of innings and I got the bat on the ball for a couple ABs."

Video: ATL@HOU: McHugh, Hinch on start, status for rotation

• Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel won't make his Grapefruit League debut until March 5 against the Marlins, Hinch said Saturday. Keuchel is on an individualized throwing program and will make five Grapefruit League starts, while Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole will make six starts each.

Lance McCullers Jr. will also make five starts, beginning Wednesday against the Twins, but he will pitch in relief after Keuchel on March 5. Charlie Morton will also make five starts this spring, starting with a game against the Red Sox on Thursday.

Cole, who will start Sunday against the Tigers, threw 203 innings last year -- more than any other Astros starter -- but he didn't pitch deep into October like they did. Verlander will start Monday's split-squad game against the Mets in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Francis Martes will start the game in Jupiter against the Marlins.

• Troy Snitker, the Astros' hitting coach at Double-A Corpus Christi, carried the lineup card out to the plate prior to Saturday's game. His father is Braves manager Brian Snitker, who carried out the lineup card for Atlanta.

Quotable

"It was nice to get him back on the field. I hate how last year ended for him, and obviously he wants to put his head down and do his work and make a good impression. I thought his stuff was pretty good, his slider was pretty good. He needs to spend some time with these guys to get over what happened last year," -- Hinch, on David Paulino, who threw two scoreless innings Saturday and struck out three in his first game action since he was suspended for 80 games midway through last season

Video: ATL@HOU: Paulino gets Albies swinging in the 3rd

Up next 

Cole, acquired in a trade with the Pirates last month, will make his Astros Spring Training debut when the club faces the Cardinals on MLB.TV at 12:05 p.m. CT Sunday in Jupiter. Cole went 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA in 33 starts last year for the Pirates, allowing 55 walks and 31 homers while striking out 196.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

Houston Astros, Collin McHugh