Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. has been activated from the 60-day injured list to start the Astros’ game against the Athletics on Saturday, per a team announcement. In corresponding moves, outfielder Michael Brantley (who just underwent season-ending shoulder surgery) was moved to the 60-day IL, while right-hander Seth Martinez was optioned to Triple-A.
McCullers will be taking the hill for the first time since October 12, when he tossed four innings in Game 4 of the ALDS — a 10-1 win that clinched Houston’s series win over the White Sox. A flexor tendon forearm strain then sidelined McCullers for the remainder of the Astros’ postseason run and for much of this 2022 season, as a setback during the rehab process delayed the right-hander from making his debut until Saturday.
A healthy McCullers represents a nice late-season boost to a rotation that is already arguably baseball’s best. McCullers’ impending return allowed Houston the luxury of moving Jake Odorizzi at the trade deadline, as the Astros can slot McCullers right into a six-man rotation that also includes Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Cristian Javier. That pitching depth also extends to the bullpen, as on most teams, Martinez’s 2.48 ERA in 32 2/3 innings would merit a larger role, not a demotion to the minors.
Even amid all these other quality arms, McCullers can certainly factor into the Astros’ starting plans for this year’s postseason, as the Astros again look to make a deep October run. McCullers has a 3.35 ERA over his last 217 1/3 innings in the regular season, since returning from the Tommy John surgery that erased his entire 2019 campaign. In 2021, McCullers factored into Cy Young Award voting for the first time, finishing seventh on the ballot.