When the regular season begins April 7, the Houston Astros will be without ace righty Lance McCullers Jr. On Monday, manager Dusty Baker confirmed McCullers suffered a “setback or two” while rehabbing from a flexor strain over the winter, according to Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle. The Astros expect McCullers to pitch in 2022.
McCullers, 28, suffered the injury in Game 4 of the ALDS last year. At the time the Astros said they were hopeful he would be able to rejoin the club later in the postseason, though McCullers was left off the ALCS and World Series rosters. A few weeks ago he admitted his rehab has been “choppy.” McCullers was not able to keep in contact with team trainers during the lockout.
“The people I would usually rely on for the rehab, I haven’t been able to speak to or communicate with,” McCullers said. “It’s been a little difficult, I’m not going to lie. The rehab’s been a little choppy. I was hoping to be a little bit further along than I am right now, but we have the unfortunate circumstance of being locked out. I’m still trying and still pushing and rehabbing away.”
McCullers set a career high with 162 1/3 innings last season. He missed 2019 with Tommy John surgery and never threw more than 128 1/3 big-league innings in a season from 2015-19. His injury history includes shoulder trouble in addition to multiple elbow issues. When healthy though, McCullers has been dynamite. He owns a career 3.57 ERA in parts of six seasons.
On paper, the Astros have the rotation depth to survive without McCullers. Justin Verlander is back following his own Tommy John surgery, and he’ll be joined in the rotation by Framber Valdez, José Urquidy, Luis Garcia, and Jake Odorizzi. Cristian Javier and Brandon Bielak are options to start as well.
The Astros went 95-67 a year ago and won their third American League pennant in five years. The club could lose Carlos Correa to free agency, though the two sides have rekindled talks in recent days. With or without Correa, Houston will again be the odds on favorite to win the AL West heading into 2022.