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Spring Training Recap (3/1): The Return of Lance McCullers Jr.

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A highly anticipated return and unusual finish was in store for the Astros first game this March.

Houston Astros Photo Day Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

So, on this muggy Monday in Houston, there are zero Astros games today. Exactly zero. For some, that development is depressing news. For others, it represents a quick breather on what will be a long season for the club. On the bright side, the Astros won in walk-off fashion yesterday in a different fashion and Justin Verlander is scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut tomorrow. As a fan, sometimes you take what little that one can.

As it pertains to Sunday’s game, the Astros welcomed back a familiar face in Lance McCullers Jr., who last appeared in a game way back on October 17, 2018 during Game 4 of the ALCS against the Red Sox. A lot (good, bad, and terrible) has obviously transpired in the 501 days between his appearance on that fall day at Minute Maid Park to the highly anticipated return from Tommy John surgery in Florida.

  • Club wins a franchise-high 107 games in 2019
  • Brandon Taubman’s infamous and inexcusable outburst towards women reporters
  • Another trip to the World Series and a disappointing conclusion
  • The “banging scheme” sees the light of day
  • Gerrit Cole and others departs via free agency
  • A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow are suspended and fired in the sign-stealing fallout
  • Penalties of various assortment for the organization and subsequent PR nightmare
  • Dusty Baker and James Click are hired as the new field manager and general manager

There is plenty of context and nuance that I left off that list above, however those are the important events to take place since we last saw McCullers on a major league mound. But enough about the past for now, let’s take a quick look at what McCullers did on March 1, 2020.

Of his sixteen pitches, ten were for strikes. His fastball sat in the low nineties with an occasional burst to roughly 94 MPH. McCullers also worked in his other offerings, which included striking out Cardinals’ hitter Paul Goldschmidt via the former’s patented curveball. All in all, it was a step in the right direction for the right-hander who will be counted upon often to help fill the void left in the rotation by the departures of Cole and Miley.

For the most part, outside of McCullers’ return, there wasn’t much of interest to note in this game. Ronnie Dawson did drive in a pair of runs thanks to a triple in the bottom of the sixth. Joe Smith had a rough outing with two runs allowed. Catcher Chuckie Robinson did end the game in unusual fashion when he drew a bases-loaded walk to drive in the winning run against St. Louis. The result ultimately doesn’t mean anything, but it was fun to see a bit of an uncommon end to a baseball game. If my B-Ref Play Index skills are correct, then there have only been two regular season games in the last four seasons when a game concluded via a walk-off walk. Frankly, I’m impressed with myself that I finished with a nearly 500 word recap about a random Spring Training game in early March.