Astros right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. has been out for three weeks because of a forearm strain, and his return isn’t imminent. Manager A.J. Hinch told Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle and other reporters Sunday that McCullers won’t throw a bullpen “any time soon,” and if the 24-year-old returns this season, he’s unlikely to rejoin the Astros’ rotation. “It would be hard to get him built back up as a starter,” Hinch said, alluding to the lack of time remaining in the regular season, while general manager Jeff Luhnow added (via Rome) that he expects McCullers “to be back and ready for postseason in a relief role.” Fortunately for Houston, it does have the starting depth to survive McCullers’ absence from its rotation, and it’s worth noting he worked as a reliever at times during the team’s run to a World Series title last fall. In one of the most memorable performances of the 2017 playoffs, the curve-throwing McCullers closed out the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS with four scoreless innings.
- Speaking of the Yankees, Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News talked to a scout about their top pitching prospect, lefty Justus Sheffield. The Yankees have recently been using the 22-year-old Sheffield in relief at the Triple-A level to get him ready to work out of the big league bullpen in the coming weeks, though the scout expressed doubt that he’s poised to make a sizable impact in that role right now. “His pitches/approach were same as when starting, they didn’t play up at all,” the scout said after seeing Sheffield pitch in relief. “Lefties weren’t fooled at all, meaning everything was squared up, including a long home run by the eight-hole hitter.” Sheffield will face “an adjustment period” when he does come to the majors, continued the scout. Widely regarded as one of the game’s best pitching prospects, Sheffield has logged an impressive 2.66 ERA/3.21 FIP in 84 2/3 Triple-A innings this season, though he has done so without posting dominant strikeout and walk numbers (8.5 K/9, 3.83 BB/9).
- This will go down as a lost year for Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who will miss the entire season on account of heel issues. Tulowitzki spoke about his status for 2019 on Sunday, telling Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet and other reporters that he expects to be Toronto’s starting shortstop. The soon-to-be 34-year-old seems unwilling to consider a position change, stating: “I just said I’m a shortstop. If someone’s better than me, I’ll pack my bags and go home.” Unfortunately for the once-elite Tulowitzki, the Jays arguably do have someone better in the fold now in Lourdes Gurriel Jr. The 22-year-old has been terrific as a rookie this season and looks as if he could be part of the long-term solution for the club. On the other hand, the injury-prone Tulowitzki was subpar when he last took the field, as he hit just .249/.300/.378 in 260 plate appearances in 2017.
- Rays outfielder Mallex Smith has been hospitalized with a viral infection, but manager Kevin Cash issued an encouraging update Sunday, informing reporters that he’s “doing considerably better” and could be released from the hospital today (via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times). Cash added that the Rays are hopeful Smith won’t stay on the disabled list for much longer than the minimum of 10 days. Prior to this weekend’s scare, the fleet-of-foot Smith had quietly been enjoying an outstanding season. The 25-year-old leads qualified Rays hitters in OPS (.810) and has totaled 27 steals and 3.1 fWAR over 426 PAs.