OAKLAND -- The Astros are still counting on using rookie pitchers Lance McCullers and Vincent Velasquez down the stretch, though it appears Velasquez would likely be tabbed in a relief role while McCullers will rejoin the rotation at some point. Both are at Double-A Corpus Christi.
It's been well documented how the Astros are being careful with both of the youngsters, sending them to the Minor Leagues to limit their innings. McCullers has been working with pitching coach Doug Brocail at Double-A Corpus Christi, and Velasquez on Wednesday threw in relief for the Hooks.
Velasquez, who threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief for the Astros on Saturday, tossed three scoreless innings Wednesday. He hasn't started since throwing six innings against Boston on July 21 at Minute Maid Park, and manager A.J. Hinch said he'd likely be used in relief later this season in Houston.
"We could always stretch him back out if we need to, but we've got a few starter options," Hinch said. "He brings a lot of dynamic to the bullpen, too. It's not just about the innings. It's also about what we feel he can do for us in the final stretch of the season. Coming out of the 'pen, he could be a little dynamic velocity-wise than what we have."
Velasquez, who throws in the upper 90s, is viewed as a starter down the road, and Hinch wants the option of being able to build him up to 85-90 pitches if needed this year. In nine games (seven starts) with the Astros this year, he's 1-1 with a 3.67 ERA.
"We've got to strike the balance of getting him accustomed to being up a couple of days in a row versus spot starting or entering the rotation," he said.
McCullers has been terrific for the Astros, but didn't escape the first inning Monday in Arlington and was sent down. It was a move made to, again, preserve his innings. He's 5-4 with a 3.17 ERA in 14 starts for the Astros.
"We're really focused in on conditioning and rest and recovery [at Corpus Christi]," Hinch said. "As it starts to trend towards the time we're going to considering bring him back, we'll obviously increase pitching activity and get him ready to start again for us."