Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. is no longer throwing from a mound, manager Dusty Baker informed reporters before today’s matchup with the Twins (relayed by Chandler Rome of the Athletic). Baker didn’t provide any additional specifics, noting only the club will “take it slow with Lance until we know that he’s 100 percent.”
It’s unclear how significant this latest development will be — the Astros are as cagy as any team about providing injury updates — but it represents a scaling back from where McCullers was a couple weeks ago. He’d progressed to bullpen sessions in mid-May but had moved back to throwing from flat ground of late. General manager Dana Brown recently pegged the All-Star Break as a loose estimate for his return to a big league mound; it’s unclear if or to what extent that timeline might now be delayed.
McCullers hasn’t pitched this year on account of a muscle strain in his forearm that was diagnosed over the offseason. It marked the continuation of arm issues for the 29-year-old, who was diagnosed with a flexor strain during the 2021 postseason. That cost him until mid-August last year. McCullers returned to make 11 starts between the regular season and playoffs to help the Astros to a World Series title but unfortunately again battled arm soreness over the winter.
The right-hander also has a Tommy John surgery in his history, having undergone the procedure over the 2018-19 offseason. There’s nothing to suggest he’s in danger of going back under the knife to address the current issue but it adds another reason for the Astros to be particularly cautious as they navigate any bumps in his recovery process.
McCullers has proven a very effective pitcher when healthy. He owns a career 3.48 ERA in 718 2/3 regular season innings and has a nearly identical 3.47 mark over 72 2/3 postseason frames. He allowed only 2.27 earned runs per nine innings over his eight regular season starts last year. McCullers’ upper mid-rotation form led the Astros to sign him to a five-year, $85MM extension in March 2021. That deal covers the 2022-26 campaigns. He’s making $15.25MM this season and will be paid $17MM annually over the next three years.
His absence is one of a number of rotation issues for the Astros. Houston lost Luis Garcia to Tommy John surgery earlier this month. José Urquidy is battling shoulder discomfort and might not be back until around the All-Star Break. Cristian Javier, Framber Valdez and Hunter Brown have been fantastic, but the injuries have forced Houston to lean on depth options like J.P. France and Brandon Bielak at the back of the staff. There’s virtually no experienced depth in the organization beyond that quintet, so the rotation figures to be a deadline target area for Brown and his front office.