McCullers punctuates comeback season with 6 dominant innings

Right-hander caps regular season on strong note, but Astros stymied by Aaron Nola

October 4th, 2022

HOUSTON -- The in-season comeback of starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., who didn’t make his first start until Aug. 13, and the quality of his work in eight starts to end the regular season has been a surprisingly good development for the Astros this year.

Surprising to many, but not McCullers.

“I’m confident in myself and feel like as long as I came out of my rehab healthy, I was going to throw the ball well,” he said. “It seems like a lot of other people are surprised, but I’m glad with the season up to this point. The rehab has gone well.”

In his eighth and final start of the regular season Monday at Minute Maid Park, McCullers delivered his fourth consecutive quality start by holding the Phillies to one run, six hits and one walk while striking out five batters in six innings in the Astros’ 3-0 loss. The Phillies clinched the final Wild Card spot in the National League with the win.

McCullers went 4-2 with a 2.27 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP with 50 strikeouts, allowing 37 hits and 22 walks in 47 2/3 innings this year. He missed the first 4 1/2 months while rehabbing a flexor tendon strain in his right forearm suffered in Game 4 of last year’s AL Division Series.

“I’m just happy that I was able to make it back,” he said. “I think for a long time ... I didn’t know what this year was going to have to offer for me. I came out [on] the other side of the rehab and feel like I’ve been pretty sharp. I feel like my stuff has been really good. I faced a couple of quality opponents here, especially down the stretch. … It’s good to see where my stuff is, considering where I was just in July.”

The first pitch thrown by McCullers on Monday was hit the other way into the Crawford Boxes by Kyle Schwarber for a leadoff homer, and that was enough to beat the Astros, who didn’t get a baserunner off Phillies starter Aaron Nola until Yordan Alvarez’s two-out single in the seventh. The loss denied Houston (104-56) a shot to tie the 2019 team for the team record for wins with 107.

“First pitch, you know, [I] probably should’ve thrown something different or executed better, but after that, I was overall solid,” said McCullers, who pitched for the first time since Sept. 21 because of an illness. “I felt like my stuff was good. A little bit of a long break, but we’re in for another [series] here [before the ALDS]. I feel like my stuff was sharp and [I was] happy with the overall result, but there’s always things to work on and get better.”

McCullers threw 94 pitches, including 40 sliders, 23 sinkers and 15 changeups. He threw only 12 curveballs. His fastball averaged 93.2 mph, topping out at 95.1 mph. McCullers finished his outing with a flourish, striking out Rhys Hoskins, Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto -- the Phillies’ 2-3-4 hitters -- swinging in the sixth inning.

“He threw the ball great,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He had his changeup working, his sinker. It was coming out of his hand good. You can tell by the way it was coming out of his hand. He feels good if his arm feels good. Usually, he has his breaking ball working. Like I said, he threw the ball great; Nola threw the ball better.”