4:16PM: Brown spoke with reporters (including Danielle Lerner) today about McCullers’ injury, and didn’t give any more specifics on when in 2024 McCullers could return. The right-hander will begin throwing in November.
2:53PM: The Astros announced that Lance McCullers Jr. underwent forearm surgery on Tuesday, which will end the right-hander’s 2023 season. The procedure removed a bone spur and, more significantly, repaired McCullers’ damaged right flexor tendon.
McCullers has been rehabbing a muscle strain suffered early in Spring Training. Houston GM Dana Brown said last month that the team was looking at the All-Star break as a very rough estimate for when McCullers would be fully ready to return, but in the interim, McCullers suffered a pair of setbacks — he went from mound work to throwing off of flat ground, and was then shut down altogether due to continued soreness in his right arm. A subsequent MRI presumably revealed the flexor tendon damage, and thus McCullers will now close the books on his 2023 campaign without a single pitch thrown.
As Brown explained in a team press release, “each time [McCullers] built himself up to an increased pitch total off the mound, the pain would come back. It’s unfortunate, but we look forward to him being back on the mound next season.” Perhaps noteworthy is the fact that Brown and the release’s initial paragraph didn’t specify when McCullers could be back in 2024, which would seemingly hint that the righty won’t be ready for the start of Spring Training.
This will mark the second lost season for McCullers in the last five years, as he also missed all of the 2019 campaign due to Tommy John surgery. A flexor tendon strain suffered during the 2021 playoffs also limited McCullers to 47 2/3 innings last season, though he did return in time to make some starts down the stretch and throughout the postseason during the Astros’ World Series championship run. The press release noted that the Spring Training injury represented a re-aggravation of that same 2021 injury, so hopefully the surgery will finally correct the issue that has plagued McCullers for the better part of two years.
Between McCullers’ procedure and Luis Garcia’s Tommy John surgery, the Astros have lost two members of their projected starting five to season-ending injuries. Jose Urquidy has also been on the 15-day IL since the start of May due to shoulder inflammation, and while an MRI came back clean, Urquidy isn’t expected back until perhaps the All-Star break. (On the plus side, Urquidy did tell Danielle Lerner of the Houston Chronicle that he is hoping to throw a bullpen session in about a week’s time.) If these injuries weren’t enough, former top prospect Forrest Whitley might also miss the rest of the season due to a lat strain.
Somewhat remarkably, Houston’s makeshift group of starters has still been one of the better rotations in baseball, in the latest testament to the organization’s minor league depth. Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier have led the way as more experienced arms, but rookies Hunter Brown and J.P. France and swingman Brandon Bielak have all pitched well. The latest edition of the MLBTR Podcast addressed what the Astros might do at the deadline in regards to adding starting pitching, including whether or not they might prioritize hitting over pitching in the wake of Yordan Alvarez’s oblique strain.
Between McCullers’ abbreviated 2022 season and now his lost 2023 season, it has been an unwelcome start to the five-year, $85MM extension the right-hander inked in March 2021. McCullers is still owed $51MM between 2024-26, and if he is able to put his flexor problems behind him, there is plenty of time to better make good on the Astros’ investment. Of course, it is also yet to be seen exactly how much of the 2024 season McCullers could miss, or whether or not he’ll be able to fully stay healthy given all the accumulated wear and tear on his arm in recent years.