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With rotation full, McHugh adjusts to 'pen role

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- When the Astros set their starting rotation to begin the season last week, veteran right-hander Collin McHugh was told he would be in the bullpen to start the year, which was always the expectation as long as there weren't any injuries.

McHugh had been a steady hand in the Astros' rotation the past four seasons, winning 48 games in 102 starts with Houston, including 19 games in 2015. Still, when the Astros traded for Gerrit Cole in January -- a few months after landing Justin Verlander -- McHugh became the odd man out of a rotation that also includes Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton.

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- When the Astros set their starting rotation to begin the season last week, veteran right-hander Collin McHugh was told he would be in the bullpen to start the year, which was always the expectation as long as there weren't any injuries.

McHugh had been a steady hand in the Astros' rotation the past four seasons, winning 48 games in 102 starts with Houston, including 19 games in 2015. Still, when the Astros traded for Gerrit Cole in January -- a few months after landing Justin Verlander -- McHugh became the odd man out of a rotation that also includes Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton.

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Describing his role as a "jack of all trades," McHugh said Wednesday he could pitch in long relief, make a spot start and even be used against certain hitters this year. Astros manager AJ Hinch figures to use McHugh to the extent he's effective.

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"I think for AJ, it will be kind of his new responsibility to figure out the best way to use me, the most effective and best way to keep me sharp, but also fit me into an already talented bullpen and rotation," McHugh said.

McHugh, 30, missed the first 3 1/2 months of last season with right shoulder tendinitis before going 5-2 with a 3.55 ERA in 12 starts. He threw in relief in Game 5 of the World Series last year, but McHugh has only six career relief appearances in the regular season, and none since he was with the Mets in 2013.

"I don't consider him simply a long guy," Hinch said. "I think he's a guy that can come in and get specific outs when called upon. He's got a lot of good pitches that can get hitters out. He can be a starter in the big leagues. … It's just the reality of the way we have stayed healthy going into the season. I'm going to use him as a Major League pitcher, and when those innings come up, I have full confidence he's going to be able to get outs."

Video: HOU@NYM: Hinch, McHugh on 9-5 loss against Mets

McHugh has said all spring he considers himself a starting pitcher, and nothing has changed. The Astros had 11 different pitchers start a game for them last year, with Keuchel, McCullers and Morton all having long stints on the disabled list. McHugh believes he will still get his shot to start.

"Knock on wood, everybody's been healthy," McHugh said. "Everybody's done a great job and prepared themselves well. As an Astro, you hope that's the case all season."

McHugh has been talking to his fellow relievers all spring about routines and the best way to get prepared for an outing. One of the pitchers he's frequently talked to is Brad Peacock, who had a breakout season in 2017 in the bullpen (3-0, 1.77 ERA in 13 appearances) and then the rotation (10-2, 3.22 ERA) when starters went down with injuries.

"There will be adjustments, but we've got a lot of good veteran guys down there who are going to help me out and figure out good routines and kind of lead me along how to prepare myself well to do that," McHugh said. "A lot of these guys have been doing it a long time."

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

Houston Astros, Collin McHugh