The Astros have shut down Collin McHugh after the right-hander experienced continued pain during his latest throwing session, manager A.J. Hinch told reporters (Twitter link via FOX 26’s Mark Berman). While the team hasn’t formally indicated that McHugh’s season is over, the latest setback certainly calls into question whether he’ll be able to contribute again in 2019 — be it in the regular season or in the playoffs.
McHugh has been on the injured list since Aug. 31 due to elbow discomfort — his second such IL placement in 2019. The 32-year-old opened the season with a chance to reclaim his spot in the Houston rotation but struggled badly in eight starts, pitching to a 6.37 ERA (5.27 FIP, 4.46 xFIP) through 41 innings of work. McHugh managed a strikeout per inning with respectable control in that time, but he also served up nine long balls in those 41 frames (1.98 HR/9).
Houston dropped McHugh to the bullpen in mid-May, and he landed on the injured list after just two appearances — ultimately missing six weeks due to the aforementioned elbow troubles. That hiatus notwithstanding, McHugh has been sharp since moving back into a bullpen role. In his past 33 2/3 innings, he’s worked to a 2.67 ERA (3.43 ERA, 4.22 xFIP) and averaged 10.7 strikeouts and 4.2 walks per nine innings pitched. Most importantly, he’s managed to once again keep the ball in the yard, as he’s yielded only three home runs in that span.
Today’s news not only clouds McHugh’s chances of returning to the team in 2019 — it calls into question whether he’ll pitch again as an Astro at all. McHugh is set to become a free agent at season’s end, so it’s in his best interest to get back to the mound and demonstrate health in some capacity if he can. Two IL stints for elbow issues in his platform year will be a red flag, to some extent, for all interested parties anyhow, but finishing the year on a healthy note would obviously be preferable.
It stands to reason that McHugh will draw interest from teams both as a starter and a reliever this winter, but that level of interest will surely be dependent on the health of his elbow. If he’s unable to throw before the offseason begins, he could potentially set up some throwing sessions for teams to watch over the winter as a means of proving that his elbow is back up to full strength.