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How excited is Lance for ST? 'I've been dying'

Pitcher talks Tommy John recovery, fatherhood and more
@brianmctaggart
December 23, 2019

HOUSTON -- After missing the entire 2019 season due to recovery from Tommy John surgery, Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. is eager for the start of Spring Training, which will come with a clean bill of health and a chance to re-establish himself as a top-flight starter for Houston. By

HOUSTON -- After missing the entire 2019 season due to recovery from Tommy John surgery, Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. is eager for the start of Spring Training, which will come with a clean bill of health and a chance to re-establish himself as a top-flight starter for Houston.

By the time Spring Training comes around in February, McCullers will also be a father for the first time. He and his wife, Kara, are expecting the couple’s first child -- a daughter -- around Christmas, so it’s been an interesting year for the 26-year-old hurler, to say the least.

The right-hander has yet to put together a full healthy season in the big leagues. He’s made 22 starts in three of his four big league seasons, making the All-Star team in 2017 before the Astros won the World Series that year. He went 10-6 with a 3.86 ERA in 25 games (22 starts) in '18 and blew out his elbow in August, though he returned to pitch through a torn ulnar collateral ligament in the postseason.

McCullers recently took some time to discuss some of these topics and more with MLB.com.

MLB.com: Obviously, it’s been a big year for you. You’re back throwing. Just give us an idea where you’re at with your recovery from Tommy John surgery.

McCullers: I finished my rehab in November. I finished facing hitters down in Florida. I was throwing a fastball, changeup, curveball -- all my stuff. Got back up into the low 90s [mph]. I felt really confident where I was physically and mentally, and now I took a couple of weeks off. I’ve been training the whole time, still, but we just started throwing this week [before Christmas], and I feel great, and I’m ready to roll into Spring Training and ready to carry a big load for the team this year.

MLB.com: How anxious are you about Spring Training after not being able to do anything last year?

McCullers: I’ve been dying. I’m ready for the season to start tomorrow if it could. I’m very anxious and ready to keep going.

MLB.com: Gerrit Cole, who was a big part of this team the last two years, has signed a nine-year, $324-million deal with the Yankees and leaves a big hole in the rotation for 2020. Are you guys ready to fill that gap?

McCullers: Of course. Gerrit was an amazing teammate. He’s obviously an amazing pitcher. I have nothing but love for Gerrit and his family. He obviously got a record-setting deal, and he deserved every penny of it, and I wish him nothing but success. But we’ve got to focus on what we have. We have a lot of amazing talent. I think we have the best offense in baseball, best defense in baseball. We’re going to have a great bullpen, and, obviously, we’re going to have a great rotation with Justin [Verlander], [Zack] Greinke and myself, and I think maybe [Jose] Urquidy and some other guys. We’re very confident in what we have here, and we’re going to be in World Series contention, as well.

MLB.com: How does Cole look to you clean-shaven?

McCullers: I’m going to miss the beard, I’m not going to lie. I’m going to miss the beard and the flowy hair. He looks good. I know he’s happy and looks very happy. In this game, it’s just a part of it, you know? People come and go because of many different situations. We’re a big fraternity of ballplayers and as long as he ends up where he wants and he’s happy, that’s all that really matters.

MLB.com: How excited are you about becoming a father?

McCullers: Crazy excited. My wife is getting very close. … We’ve been anticipating this for a long time, especially since we’ve been hanging out in the offseason now. We’re waiting and we’re ready to meet her. … It’s excitement. It’s a little bit of anxiousness, a little bit of nervousness, but at the end of the day my wife and I, we feel like we can give our children the life they deserve, and we just want them to be happy and healthy, and we’re ready for this next step in our life.

MLB.com: Do you have a name picked out yet?

McCullers: We do, but I’ll let my wife announce it when she wants to. We’re very excited and very blessed, and she’ll be a Houstonian.

MLB.com: Have you envisioned how you’re going to feel the next time you’re out there back pitching at Minute Maid Park, when you’re on the mound doing what you love?

McCullers: I haven’t. I’ve been trying to stay in the moment. It’s been around 400 days or so since I had surgery and probably 390 of those days I’ve been absolutely grinding, trying to get myself in the best physical and mental shape to get back. I’ve been trying to stay in the moment and focus on today, but it’s coming, and I’m going to be very excited.

MLB.com: The Astros were eight outs away from winning the World Series. How tough was it to not be able to help them close it out?

McCullers: Yeah, sure. I had a little bit of buyer’s remorse pitching in the postseason [injured] two years ago as opposed to maybe getting the surgery in August and then being able to be back to pitch in the postseason this past year. The reason I did that was [because] I was very close to that group of guys. I had a lot of great friends on that team like Dallas [Keuchel] and Charlie [Morton] that I knew more likely than not were not going to come back, so I wanted to finish the season out with them and I felt like I had a little bit of an obligation and responsibility to toe the rubber for the guys in whatever capacity I could. I definitely wish I would have been able to help [in 2019]. Everyone did a great job. It just didn’t go our way. The Nationals played a great Series from start to finish. We played a great Series from start to finish, and they just edged us out.

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