The old cliché everyone hates hearing: you’ll never end a season with the same 25 players you started with.
The Astros proved that a reality pretty early in the season, with names like Asher Wojciechowski, Sam Deduno, Jed Lowrie, Robbie Grossman, Jonathan Villar, and Scott Feldman finding themselves replaced by someone else, whether because of injury or ineffectiveness.
While some of those names were expected to be gone at some point in the year, one name that nobody even considered being off of the roster in March was breakout pitcher, Collin McHugh. However, McHugh’s recent performances find him with an ERA over 5.00 and fans calling for his roster spot.
What’s behind all of these struggles? In my opinion, it’s the big inning early in games is what’s killing McHugh this year.
If you recall, McHugh was dominant in April, going 3-0 in four starts (one no decision) with an ERA of 2.92. Pretty good numbers from your #2.
McHugh gave up one earned run in each of his first two starts respectively, which means there were no big innings in those games. He then gave up three earned runs to Seattle in his third outing of the year, but all three runs came in separate innings, meaning McHugh avoided the big inning.
McHugh gave up three runs in his fourth start of the year against San Diego — all coming in one inning off of a homer. However, McHugh delayed the three-run inning until the fifth and the Astros gave him nine runs of support.
Then May rolled along and signs of cracking started to show. May saw McHugh pitch to the tune of a 5.08 ERA, as he watched it climb from 2.92 all the way to 4.24.
McHugh’s first start of the month came at home against Seattle. In the second inning, he gave up three runs, all solo homers. Fortunately for him, the Astros broke out for 11 runs against Taijuan Walker that day, but the first signs of struggles were starting to show.
McHugh pitched well in his second start, allowing just two runs over 7.1 innings of work and getting a win.
The former Mets and Rockies pitcher then returned home to MMP to take on the Giants on May 12, and he had his first bad outing of the season. In the second inning, McHugh gave up three runs. That’s a pretty big blow to recover from, and while the Astros were able to do so in his first start of the month, they couldn’t do so here. McHugh posted scoreless frames in the third and fourth before giving up five runs in the fifth. Another big inning that put the game out of reach.
In five of his seven starts since the Giants outing, McHugh has given up three runs or more in at least one inning. So that means that since the start of May, he has given up 3+ runs in an inning in seven out of ten starts.
How do you fix a problem like this?
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Most of these innings come at or very near the beginning of ball games, meaning that it could simply be a focus or routine issue. I know guys that would struggle in the first inning would start to throw more in the bullpen before the game so they have more of a feel for their stuff. Some pitchers would come out making sure they started off ahead of every batter.
The truth is, it’s not the same for every pitcher. McHugh still has the same stuff he did last year, he’s just got to find a way to limit the damage.
Once he does, watch out.
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