Lance McCullers Jr. last pitched in Game 4 of the ALDS, as the Astros right-hander suffered a flexor pronator muscle strain that sidelined him for the remainder of Houston’s playoff run. Tests at the time of the injury didn’t reveal any structural damage, and McCullers continued to give positive news when speaking The Houston Chronicle’s Chandler Rome (Twitter link) and other reporters today before serving as an honorary captain for the NFL’s Houston Texans.
McCullers revealed that an MRI taken within the last two weeks didn’t show any damage, and Dr. Neal ElAttrache indicated that the graft McCullers received during his November 2018 Tommy John surgery is still in good condition. The right-hander said that he is “about a month” away from beginning to throw, which represents a longer rest timeline than the six-to-eight weeks McCullers projected in late October.
Still, it would seem like McCullers is still tentatively on pace to proceed relatively normally during Spring Training, and then be ready for Opening Day. (Obligatory caveat that the lockout could potentially delay the opening of spring camps and potentially the start of the 2022 season.) Needless to say, the Astros would keep a close eye on any pitcher recovering from a forearm injury, but McCullers will perhaps receive particular attention given the one TJ procedure already on his health history.
That earlier procedure cost McCullers the entire 2019 season, though he has pitched well since his return to action. The right-hander posted a 3.35 ERA, 26.5% strikeout rate and 10.5% walk rate in 217 1/3 innings in 2020-21, with his fastball still sitting at its pre-TJ velocity. Health-wise, McCullers had avoided any major issues prior to this forearm problem — a minimum 10-day IL stint in 2020 due to a neck strain, and he missed about three weeks this past season with shoulder soreness.
The Astros can only wonder what might have been if McCullers had been available against the Braves in the World Series, but the concern now is getting McCullers set for the start of the next season. He will rejoin a rotation mix that includes Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia, Jake Odorizzi and theoretically Justin Verlander, though Verlander’s reported two-year agreement with Houston wasn’t officially finalized prior to the lockout, and it is still unclear exactly what is causing the delay.