The Astros are moving right-hander Collin McHugh to their bullpen for at least “a few outings,” manager A.J. Hinch told Mark Berman of Fox 26 and other reporters Saturday. They’ll likely promote righty Corbin Martin from Triple-A Round Rock to start in McHugh’s place against Texas on Sunday, Hinch added. Martin’s not on the Astros’ 40-man roster, but because the team has two openings, it won’t need to create room for him.
McHugh’s demotion comes in response to a four-start slump in which his ERA shot from a season-best 1.96 on April 16 to 6.37. In his most recent performance, a 12-2 loss to the Royals on May 7, McHugh yielded eight earned runs on seven hits, including two homers, with three walks and three strikeouts in three innings. The long ball has haunted McHugh for a few weeks, as he gave up eight in his four-start slide after surrendering just one in his first three outings of 2019.
Until this season, home runs hadn’t been a problem for McHugh since the Astros added him off waivers entering the 2014 campaign. He was a quality rotation piece with the club from 2014-17, a 606 1/3-inning, 102-start stretch in which McHugh pitched to a 3.70 ERA/3.60 FIP with a 10 percent home run-to-fly ball rate. McHugh then shifted to the Astros’ bullpen last year, when he was somewhat quietly among the majors’ most effective relievers and where he experienced an uptick in velocity. Despite that, the Astros moved McHugh back to their rotation entering this season because of the departures of Charlie Morton and the still-unsigned Dallas Keuchel to free agency and the Tommy John surgery Lance McCullers Jr. underwent.
As an impending free agent, another good season as a starter could have put the soon-to-be 32-year-old McHugh in line for a respectable payday during the upcoming winter. While there’s still time for McHugh to rebound as a starter or reliever in advance of the offseason, he hasn’t done himself any favors with his bloated HR-fly ball rate (21.6), a sub-40 groundball percentage or a 6.37 ERA/5.17 FIP in 41 innings. To his credit, though, he has registered 9.22 K/9 against 3.07 BB/9.
McHugh’s struggles will create a big league opportunity for the 23-year-old Martin, a native of the Lone Star State and former Texas A&M Aggie whom the Astros chose in the second round of the 2017 draft. That pick, No. 56, was one of the two selections the Astros received from the Cardinals stemming from a hacking scandal.
Martin has held his own at all levels of the minors since he turned pro, especially during 2018 in Double-A, where he posted a 2.97 ERA/3.29 FIP with 8.39 K/9, 2.45 BB/9 and a 47.3 percent groundball rate in 103 innings. That performance earned Martin a promotion to Triple-A to begin this season, and he hasn’t fallen short there either, evidenced by a 1.48 ERA/3.35 FIP with 10.36 K/9, 4.07 BB/9 and another 47 percent-plus grounder mark over 24 1/3 frames.
Thanks in part to Martin’s minor league excellence, both FanGraphs (No. 50) and MLB.com (No. 73) regard the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder as one of baseball’s 75 best prospects. Entering the season, FanGraphs’ Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen wrote that “Martin sits in the mid-90s, mixes in a plus slider, with an above average changeup and average command,” though they expressed some disappointment in his strikeout numbers. Martin’s now in line to join a Houston staff that, aside from Wade Miley, hasn’t had much difficulty punching out opposing hitters this season.