WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros pitcher Lance McCullers has enough confidence in his curveball that he threw 24 of them in a row to close out the American League Championship Series last year against the Yankees. In his first Grapefruit League start of 2018, McCullers still had his curveball
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros pitcher Lance McCullers has enough confidence in his curveball that he threw 24 of them in a row to close out the American League Championship Series last year against the Yankees. In his first Grapefruit League start of 2018, McCullers still had his curveball in mothballs.
The right-hander threw 27 pitches -- all fastballs and changeups -- in two scoreless innings in Wednesday's 4-2 loss to the Twins at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Last year, he came into camp ready to throw breaking balls in spring games, but he hasn't worked on his curveball this year, so he can focus on spotting his fastball and changeup.
"I kind of handcuffed myself," he said. "I haven't thrown them yet. I haven't even started working on it really. I'll get to that as camp keeps moving on. Being able to see I can still pitch effectively with the two pitches I had today is good for me."
Astros manager A.J. Hinch said McCullers is fiddling with his changeup grip and figuring out how much velocity he can take off of it.
"He needs to be able to throw it with a full arm speed and be able to get some swings," Hinch said. "He gets some ground balls on it usually. It can be an effective pitch, and certainly when somebody is sitting breaking ball on him -- which is what most guys do -- it'll be a nice weapon."
There was a Hall of Famer wandering the halls of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Wednesday morning. Former Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year, is in camp for a few days as a special instructor.
"I'm an old, tired, broken first baseman, but I have a little bit of knowledge I can [use to] help some of the young kids -- and even some of the veteran kids," he said.
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Before taking the field, Bagwell shared a hug with Jose Altuve, the 2017 AL Most Valuable Player Award winner. Bagwell (in the National League in 1994) and Altuve are the only players to win MVP Awards with the Astros.
"All the defenses you see out here and all the shifts and all that, there is no way to defense that kid," Bagwell said of Altuve.
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When asked if Altuve could ever match Bagwell's club-record single-season batting average of .368 from 1994, Bagwell said: "He doesn't walk that much, so he's got to get two hits almost every game. I'll take .346 again if he hits that."
Bagwell will work mostly with the team's young first basemen, but he said he's excited to see outfielder Kyle Tucker, who's the team's top prospect among position players.
"The main thing is, as great as last year was, there's an opportunity here for us to continue this," Bagwell said. "The way the Astros play baseball, we're a good team and we're going to be a good team for a while. The organization is one of those organizations where when the guys step on the field, they just know they're better than the team they're playing against. That's a great feeling to have."
With Yuli Gurriel having undergone surgery in Houston on Wednesday to remove the hook of the hamate bone in his left hand, Astros catcher Max Stassi knows the kind of recovery Gurriel will be facing.
Stassi underwent the same surgery on his left hand two years ago while at Spring Training. He had the surgery in mid-March and returned to game action in the Minor Leagues in early May, though he played in some games in extended spring training. Stassi said his recovery took about five weeks before he could get into a game, which is the approximate prognosis for Gurriel.
"It's a pretty common deal," Stassi said. "It can happen with one swing, and you get this excruciating pain in your hand. I hope that he'll just bounce back and start right where he left off."
Left-hander Player Page for Buddy Boshers and right-hander Matt Ramsey, who are both battling for a spot in the bullpen, had mixed results Wednesday. Boshers was tagged for two runs, one hit and one walk in one-third of an inning, and Ramsey allowed one walk and struck out two batters in one inning.
"Very acrobatic. Very athletic. Just make sure he comes down in once piece. That was a pretty good collision with the ground, but he bounced back up like he always does." -- Hinch, on left fielder Tony Kemp's high-flying catch in the seventh inning.
Charlie Morton will make his first start of the spring when the Astros face the Boston Red Sox at 12:05 p.m. CT on Thursday at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, live on MLB.TV. Morton, who won Game 7 of the AL Division Series and the World Series, will likely throw two innings against Boston, which is managed by former Astros bench coach Alex Cora.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.