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McCullers: 'Didn't execute' third time through

MLB.com

TORONTO -- Lance McCullers Jr.'s flaws are few and far between. When healthy, the 23-year-old Astros right-hander is one of the game's most promising young arms.

Thursday's 7-4 loss to the Blue Jays did bring one issue to light that's been unique to McCullers' 2017 season, however, as he struggled to keep the upper hand on opposing hitters the third time through the lineup.

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TORONTO -- Lance McCullers Jr.'s flaws are few and far between. When healthy, the 23-year-old Astros right-hander is one of the game's most promising young arms.

Thursday's 7-4 loss to the Blue Jays did bring one issue to light that's been unique to McCullers' 2017 season, however, as he struggled to keep the upper hand on opposing hitters the third time through the lineup.

View Full Game Coverage

"I was kind of on cruise control, up until the fifth there," McCullers said after the game. "Like I said, it comes down to execution. At that point, my pitches, I was executing. I was more of a complete pitcher and I didn't do a good enough job. I had a chance there with [Kendrys Morales] up, with two strikes, to keep the damage as minimal as I could, and I couldn't do it."

McCullers actually bucked the third-time-through troubles his first two seasons. Entering play on Thursday, though, he was allowing an opponent OPS of .781 to hitters he was seeing for the third time in a game. That's compared to an OPS of .538 the first time and .556 the second.

Of course, given that McCullers has now reached 100 pitches in just eight of 30 starts since the beginning of 2016, and is typically flirting with a sub-three ERA when he's on the mound, those third looks haven't been all that frequent.

Jose Bautista led off the bottom of the fifth, bringing back the top of the order against McCullers. After Bautista and Russell Martin singled, they both moved up on a passed ball, and both were brought home by a Josh Donaldson single. An RBI double from Morales and an RBI single from Troy Tulowitzki quickly followed, ending McCullers' night just one out into the inning.

"I just didn't execute that inning," McCullers said. "I wanted to throw a purpose pitch and left it over the plate and up where [Bautista] got a hit. The inning kind of snowballed from there."

Prior to Thursday's game, manager A.J. Hinch was complimentary of the young starter's growth this season and singled out the use of his fastball and changeup. McCullers is known for his trademark curve, but he has shifted some of that usage to his changeup in 2017, and a diversified approach should only benefit him in situations like Thursday's fifth inning.

McCullers, named an American League All-Star on Sunday, enters the break with 16 starts under his belt, and says he's happy with about 13 of them. Now at 90 1/3 innings pitched, he's also well on his way to surpassing his career MLB highs from 2015, in which he made 22 starts covering 125 2/3 innings.

"Everyone's allowed a bad day at work," Hinch after the loss. "He didn't have a horrible day. Obviously it didn't end well for him and they piled together a couple of hits. Hung a couple of breaking balls and they put together a good plan against him."

Keegan Matheson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto and covered the Astros on Thursday.

Houston Astros, Lance McCullers Jr.