Astros tab rookie McCullers to start Sunday
Right-hander has been with Double-A Corpus Christi to limit his innings
HOUSTON -- Rookie right-hander Lance McCullers Jr., who hasn't started a game for the Astros since allowing six runs to the Rangers in one-third of an inning on Aug. 3, will return to the rotation Sunday against the Dodgers and three-time National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw.
McCullers threw 53 pitches over three innings in a start Tuesday at Double-A Corpus Christi, allowing one run, one hit and three walks in his return to game action. He has been throwing bullpens on the side at Corpus Christi for the last 2 1/2 weeks because the Astros wanted to limit his innings.
"He's been throwing pretty extensive bullpens," manager A.J. Hinch said. "It's not a quality issue. It's more of a rest, intensity issue we've been trying to avoid the last couple of weeks. He's in good enough shape to start a Major League game."
The addition of McCullers returns the Astros to a six-man rotation, at least for the immediate future. Hinch said he'll throw six starting pitchers for the three-game series against the Dodgers this weekend and next week's three-game series against the Yankees.
Mike Fiers will start Friday's series opener against the Dodgers and Scott Kazmir will get the call on Saturday (vs. Zack Greinke). Presumably, the Astros' rotation at the Yankees next week would be Scott Feldman on Monday, Dallas Keuchel on Tuesday and Collin McHugh on Wednesday.
"We're going to go series by series," Hinch said.
Not every pitcher enjoys the extra rest, and Hinch said that will be weighed into how the club pieces together its rotation going forward. The Astros had 42 games remaining prior to Wednesday, with four off-days left on the schedule, which will also provide the starters with extra rest.
"It's not out of the question to insert guys here or there and make it a six-man for a particular stretch," Hinch said. "There's one stretch in September when we play 20 out of 21 days. To be honest, we have a seventh [starter Vincent Velasquez] who deserves just as much opportunity and we determined we're going to put him in the 'pen. I'm not ashamed of the quality of starting pitching that we've been able to maintain."
Like McCullers, the Astros sent Velasquez to the Minors to limit his innings after he went 1-1 with a 3.67 ERA in nine games (seven starts). Hinch said the team expects Velasquez to be in the bullpen, mostly likely in September.
Ailing Gomez given a rest
Center fielder Carlos Gomez, who had started 16 of 17 games since the Astros acquired him in a trade with the Brewers, was held out of the starting lineup Wednesday with an illness.
Hinch said Gomez has been under the weather the last couple of days and was coughing after Tuesday's win.
"I decided to give him a breather … literally," Hinch deadpanned. "He'll never not want to play, but I don't want him getting dehydrated, having a cold and coughing. He could use a day."