McCullers uses 'B- or C-stuff' in hitless start

Astros rookie walks four, strikes out four in series finale against Mariners

McCullers uses 'B- or C-stuff' in hitless start

HOUSTON -- It was a battle from the first pitch for Lance McCullers. His overpowering arsenal just wasn't working in Sunday afternoon's 13-0 victory over Seattle. Catcher Hank Conger graded the rookie's stuff at a B or a C.

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That's all fine with Astros manager A.J. Hinch.

McCullers carried a no-hitter through five innings before an elevated pitch count, coupled with long offensive innings from his teammates, forced Hinch to pull him after 90 pitches and replace him with Tony Sipp to start the sixth.

"That wasn't the best we've seen of Lance, and that's a great sign," Hinch said. "When he can battle through his innings, gets through five scoreless, hitless. A few walks in there that he won't be happy about. If those are his bad days, it's a pretty good day."

McCullers set a career high with four walks and struck out only four, the fewest he's fanned since he was inserted into the rotation on May 18. He went to three-ball counts on seven of the 18 hitters he faced and issued leadoff walks in the second, third and fourth innings.

McCullers stranded two of those three walks at first base, though, and got a 4-6-3 double play to erase the other free pass in the third.

"Not a whole lot," McCullers quipped when asked what pitches were working on Sunday. "I knew that I didn't have the same stuff that I usually did, but thankfully I had good defense behind me today and Hank helped me battle through."

Conger said he had to calm McCullers after each of the walks and remind him of where he needed to be aggressive with hitters.

"With him, he's got power stuff," Conger said. "He wants to get amped up and wants to let it rip. For him, he just has to really hone down and remember to attack hitters."

At 21 years and 225 days, McCullers became the youngest pitcher to toss five or more hitless innings since Phil Hughes with the Yankees on May 1, 2007. His 40 strikeouts are the most ever by a Houston pitcher through his first six career starts.

McCullers brushed them all off after Sunday's game. He said his only goal is to help pitch the team to the postseason.

After Sunday, Conger said he knows that goal is possible.

"To go out there and pitch the way he did with his B- or C-stuff out there, I think most importantly gives him confidence knowing he could go out there every fifth day and put up a fight," Conger said.

Chandler Rome is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.