12h51 : Starter Astros Lance McCullers Jr. left his last start of the club’s Division Series victory over the White Sox after four innings due to some strain in his forearm. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman is now reporting (Lien Twitter) that McCullers is unlikely to be available for the next AL Championship Series against the Red Sox, which is scheduled to begin on Friday. However, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that he might be able to come back for the World Series, if the Astros advance.
This doesn’t appear to be a long-term concern, as Heyman reported this morning an MRI suggested McCullers “should be fine in the long run.” This matches the pitcher’s initial assessment of the injury, as he told reporters on Tuesday he didn’t believe the issue was with his ligament. McCullers missed the entire 2019 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Given this history of injuries, it’s no surprise that the Astros are playing things cautiously with McCullers over the next few days. He remains a critical part of the franchise’s long-term future, having signed a five-year, $ 85 million extension in March that will take effect from 2022.
Still, his (alleged) absence will be felt over the next series, as McCullers is arguably the Astros’ best pitcher. This season he worked 162 1/3 innings of 3.16 ERA / 4.01 SIERA balls. As he usually does, the right-hander posted well above average strikeout and ground ball rates (27% and 56.4%, respectively). This offset a high 11.1% walk percentage to allow McCullers to post the fifth season under 4.00 ERA in his six-year MLB career.
In the absence of McCullers, Houston should look to a combination of Framber Valdez, Luis garcia, Jose Urquidy and Zack Greinké to start against Boston. Jake Odorizzi was a healthy scratch for the Division Series, although he could be brought back to the ALCS roster in place of McCullers to offer an additional starting relief and / or multi-innings option.