Astros to find ways to limit McCullers' innings

Club wants rookie right-hander fresh for end of the season

Astros to find ways to limit McCullers' innings

CLEVELAND -- Astros rookie right-hander Lance McCullers said he's on board with any plans manager A.J. Hinch or the front office have in terms of limiting his innings in the second half of the season, which could mean missing occasional starts.

McCullers, who was originally scheduled to start Friday in St. Petersburg, Fla., against the Rays, will be pushed back until Sunday and pitch on six days' rest. He has thrown a combined 87 1/3 innings this year between Double-A Corpus Christi and the Astros, pushing his career high of 104 2/3 in 2013.

The Astros want to make sure they have a healthy and effective McCullers in September and possibly the postseason. They have more off-days in the second half of the season than any other team and can use that to their benefit.

"I think we're going to have a little bit of an interesting time trying to manipulate the schedule a little bit to stretch me out a little bit further as the year goes on," McCullers said. "I'll just have to get used to it."

Hinch said McCullers (4-2, 2.16 ERA in 10 starts) might not start the first two series following the All-Star break, but he said the club doesn't have a specific hard cap on the number of innings McCullers would be limited to this year.

"We'll pay attention to what we see and what we know," Hinch said. "Every player is different. We are trying to gauge some parameters, but those are some very dangerous numbers to start throwing around. A lot of things can change over the next couple of months. It's no secret we're going to try to steal a couple of off-days, push him back a couple of days."

Even though the Astros are searching for another starter on the trade market to plug into their rotation, they feel they have enough options to throw an occasional sixth starter in the mix. They called up Brett Oberholtzer to start Thursday's game in Cleveland, sending rookie Vincent Velasquez down to get some rest in an effort to monitor his innings as well.

McCullers and the Astros share the same goal: be available to pitch in September.

"I'm hoping to do something that allows everyone to do what they want and allows me to pitch down the stretch," he said.

• Third baseman Luis Valbuena, who's been out of the starting lineup for three games in a row while he deals with a sprained left big toe, did a full day of baseball activity Wednesday and could return to action in Thursday's series finale.

• Right-handed relief pitcher Chad Qualls, who's on the disabled list with a pinched nerve in his neck, made his first rehab start for Corpus Christi on Tuesday and threw six of nine pitches for strikes in one perfect inning. He'll start again for the Hooks on Thursday and could be activated for Friday's game against the Rays in St. Petersburg.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.