With Justin Verlander out for the foreseeable future, the time is now for Lance McCullers to take control of the Houston Astros starting rotation.
Hearts across Houston sunk Sunday afternoon when the Houston Chronicle’s Chandler Rome reported that Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander had suffered a season-ending elbow injury. However, Verlander denied these reports in a Twitter post, saying he just has a forearm strain and hopes to return to the mound in a few weeks.
While it is unclear how serious Verlander’s injury really is, the bottom line is that the Houston Astros should prepare to be without the 2019 AL Cy Young winner for the foreseeable future. Being without their number one starting pitcher is a huge hole for the Houston Astros to fill and they are in desperate need of someone who will step up as the team’s new ace. Lance McCullers Jr. is that guy.
In 2018, McCullers was seen as a young and upcoming pitcher who was an ace in the making but he took a major step back as he suffered a forearm injury that required him to undergo Tommy John’s surgery. Instead of letting this injury derail his career, the 2017 All-Star worked harder than ever, going through a grueling rehab process, and it paid off.
After nearly two years of not appearing in a major league game, McCullers returned to the bump Saturday afternoon against the Seattle Mariners and earned the win, pitching six innings while only giving up two runs and striking out six.
Although McCullers has only pitched in one game so far, he has shown glimpses of not only
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returning to his All-Star form but morphing into the ace the Astros desperately need. The 26-year-old has this capability because of his electric stuff.
Everyone knows that McCullers has one of the nastiest curveballs in the game, especially the Yankees, but people often forget the major improvement to his changeup in 2018. Although his changeup only made up 16.1 percent of his pitches in 2018, it was nasty. Opponents batted .136 with a .182 slugging percentage and a 42 percent whiff percentage against McCullers changeup. On top of that, McCullers did not allow a single home run off his changeup and struck out 21 batters with it.
The six-foot-one right-hander reminded people how nasty his changeup is in the fourth inning of his start against the Mariners when he struck out Kyle Lewis with it. Take a look.
If McCullers is able to get his feel for his changeup then he will take the next step as a starting pitcher. Being able to mix this changeup with his top-notch curveball and his two-seamer, which sits in the mid-90s and has good movement, will allow McCullers to generate a bunch of swings and misses, making him extremely hard to hit.
McCullers has all the stuff to step into the number one spot in the Astros rotation, but more importantly, he has the right work ethic and will do whatever he can to help his team.
McCullers appears as hungry as ever to help the Astros bring another championship back to Houston. There is no doubt that McCullers will put in the work and do whatever it takes to step up and rise to the occasion in Verlander’s absence. Do not be surprised if by the end of this year McCullers establishes himself as the Astros ace and is in the conversation for the Cy Young Award.