Lance McCullers Jr. will be unavailable for Houston’s Opening Day.
Lance McCullers Jr. isn’t in the mix for Houston’s Opening Day game-action. That’s not to say he won’t be on the Opening Day roster, although that’s highly likely. The most approximate timetable, according to Brian McTaggart, is that McCullers will be “shut down for a few weeks.”
McCullers had an MRI last night and there's no structural damage to elbow. He said it was a small muscle strain. He hopes to rehab and be able to throw 150 innings this year, but he'll be shut down for a few weeks. https://t.co/juc3Y8bAgu— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) February 22, 2023
When healthy, McCullers is undeniably electric. In eight appearances through the end of last regular season, he was 4-2 with a 2.27 ERA and a 3.49 FIP. He posted a 1.238 WHIP and struck out 50 to 22 walks in 47 2⁄3 frames. In 2021, he was good enough to garner enough American League Cy Young votes to finish seventh in the race, after going 13-5 with 185 K’s in 162 1⁄3 innings. He also led the majors with 76 walks, but that was largely offset by his leading the AL with 6.8 hits allowed per nine innings and his better-even-than-Astros-pitching-staff-average 1.220 WHIP.
It’s the “when healthy” part that has stood in the way of McCullers becoming an actual “ace.” In addition to undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018, McCullers has suffered from a variety of ailments, including right shoulder (2016), right elbow (2016), lower back (2017), neck nerve irritation (2020), right shoulder (2021), and right forearm (2022), all of which landed him on Houston’s injured list for all or parts of the past seven seasons.
Unlike other teams, however, Houston is unlikely to hit the “panic mode” button. Although McCullers is likely a solid number two starter for most major league teams when healthy, in Houston, he’s the number three or four starter.
Updated Opening Day rotation prognostication
It’s not really a big mystery as to what Houston’s plans were for their 2023 starting rotation (V1). They were going with Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, McCullers, Luis Garcia, and José Urquidy. McCullers availability has opened the door for Spring Training competition. With two solid starts near the end of last season, still-rookie Hunter Brown has the inside track on the Astros’ ostensible number-five starting job. That’s assuming that you (like me) haven’t already written him down higher in the rotation (in pencil, of course).
The season is a war of attrition. Last year was an aberration. We were unbelievably healthy outside the Brantley injury. - Keep Tal’s Hill, TCB commenter
In addition to Brown, other notable possibilities from Houston’s 40-man roster include Brandon Bielak, current bullpen stalwart Bryan Abreu, J.P. France, & Seth Martinez. Whatever Dusty and company have in mind, the competition will play out during Spring Training.