TODAY: The procedure Baker mentioned was “a mild anti-inflammatory injection to alleviate nerve irritation in [McCullers’] neck,” according to Rome.
SEPT. 8: McCullers “had some procedure done” on his neck, manager Dusty Baker announced (via Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle). The surgery repaired “95 to 98 percent of whatever discomfort he was feeling,” according to Baker, though it’s still unknown when McCullers will return.
SEPT. 6: The Astros have placed right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. on the 10-day injured list due to neck nerve irritation, reports Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. Beyond the requisite 10 days on the IL, a timeline for McCullers’s return is unclear. Southpaw Cionel Perez was recalled from the taxi squad to join the active roster.
McCullers pitched Friday against the Angels, failing to record an out and exiting the game after facing just five batters. He walked three Angels hitters and conceded three runs, but stated after the game that his struggles weren’t due to injury.
While we don’t know precisely how long the Astros expect McCullers to be shelved, any injury to an already-thin Houston pitching staff is a significant one. The team has been without ace Justin Verlander for practically the entire season, and Jose Urquidy has only just returned from a bout with COVID-19. As such, Houston has had to rely on inexperienced starters like Cristian Javier, Framber Valdez, and Brandon Bielak.
McCullers, for his part, has had an up-and-down campaign in his return from Tommy John surgery, which cost him all of last year. There’s been a mix of good starts and bad starts, but the numbers indicate for the most part that the 26-year-old is not quite back to the form that earned him an All-Star nod in 2017.
While he’s been known as a strikeout pitcher for his entire career, he’s averaging only 7.7 K/9 in 2020. McCullers’ sinker velocity is down ever so slightly from previous years, but the more glaring disparity is in his sinker’s spin rate, which has taken a considerable hit from where it was two years ago. That, along with decreased curveball usage (at 35%, he’s throwing the curveball less than ever), has made it more difficult to generate whiffs.