"I don't know if I wanted to make the trip," McCullers said. " A.J. [Hinch] kind of told me, 'You want to go to Tampa, right?' He's like, 'Well, you're going.' I'm like, 'OK, I'll make the best of it.'"
Not even the allure of pitching a homecoming game seemed to motivate McCullers for the three-hour ride to Tampa. Amazingly, despite the fact he played high school ball a mile away from the Yankees' Steinbrenner Field and his family had season tickets behind the Yankees dugout for years, McCullers never had pitched there before Friday night.
"I had around 30 [people] here tonight," McCullers said. "My wife and I are like third-generation Tampa, so everyone with blood resides here. We're like the first people to branch off and move away from Tampa. It was nice, it was cool."
The Astros starter seemed to feed off the hometown crowd with yet another solid spring outing, going 4 1/3 shutout innings and only allowing one hit and a walk while striking out five.
"It's a process," McCullers said. "I feel like I'm in a good spot right now this spring. I think the biggest thing for me is I'm thinking pretty clear out there and I'm able to [locate] my pitches the way I intend to going into the game."
McCullers admitted he's trying to get hitters out with more than his patented curveball, even though four of his five strikeouts came via his breaking stuff. Still expanding his repertoire is a top priority.
"I feel like I'm mixing up my stuff pretty well," he said. "First couple of innings, I was mixing everything well and then I went to my breaking ball when I needed some punchies. If I'm able to take how I field all of my pitches into the season, I'll be able to mix and match how I feel using my touch.
"I feel really good at this point and I want to continue that."
"It's just one of the first springs for him to get ready when he entered healthy coming into camp and can work on his fastball command early," Hinch said. "He had specific goals, which I think he's making a transition within the big leagues where he's trying not to rely on the curveball as much.
"He knows he's in our rotation, he knows he's going to be a big part of that rotation. He can take the time to focus on some of the things he can do to get better, and he's taken that to heart."
Yankees rivalry renewed
The Astros didn't bring any of their starters, but it was the first time they played the Yankees since they beat them in the American League Championship Series last season, so did this game have a different feel than most spring games?
"A little bit," Hinch said. "If you look at the lineups, they're not playing their entire lineup, [and] we didn't bring some of our names that we could bring. I guess there's a little bit of excitement because you're facing a team that if people aren't predicting us, they're probably predicting them when it comes to the American League. I'm great friends with [Yankees manager] Aaron Boone, so it's nice to see him and the new coaching staff that's here.
"But it's Spring Training -- it's exciting but limited."
Astros infielder J.D. Davis continued to show off his power, hitting his third home run of the spring Friday, giving him the second-best spring total on the team. It continues his reputation for providing the long ball; he hit four homers in 62 at-bats after being called up last season and 88 home runs in 422 Minor League games.
Still, Davis knows his place on the Astros' crowded depth chart.
"My role is to provide a good bat off the bench," he said. "I know Yuli [Gurriel] is the first baseman; I'm not really here to take anybody's position. I'm here to help the team until he comes back. The best way I can do that is take good at-bats, play solid defense and just learn from the best.
"I think that is only going to make me better as a baseball player."
The Astros stay on the road Saturday, heading to Jupiter for a 1:05 p.m. ET game vs. the Marlins. Charlie Morton will get the start for Houston against Miami's Jose Urena.
Mike Nabors is a contributor to MLB.com and covered the Astros on Friday.