HOUSTON -- Astros rookie right-hander Lance McCullers could return to the big leagues soon and be in the mix in the rotation in September, manager A.J. Hinch said Tuesday. McCullers threw 53 pitches over three innings in a start Tuesday at Double-A Corpus Christi, allowing one run, one hit and three walks in his return to game action. He struck out five.
McCullers has been working out and throwing bullpens on the side at Corpus Christi since he was rocked for six runs and seven hits in one-third of an inning Aug. 3 for the Astros against the Rangers in Arlington. He was otherwise terrific for the Astros this year, going 5-4 with a 3.17 ERA in 14 starts, but the club sent him down to limit his innings.
"Getting him back on the mound in Corpus is a big step towards getting him to finish the season in the mix," Hinch said. "We've got 40-plus games to sort out. He's been one of our best pitchers throughout the course of the year. I know he's coming off a rough start in Texas a couple of weeks ago, but I think time and this outing in Double-A will be enough to put that in the rearview mirror. I make no promises on how it's all going to play out, but he could factor into the rest of the year after we cleared a couple of weeks off of his season to allow him to be a factor."
McCullers' outing Tuesday marked his first game action in more than two weeks.
"He's been doing a lot of work behind the scenes," Hinch said. "He needs to see some hitters and then we'll re-evaluate what the next plan is for him. We could see him here soon, though."
Meanwhile, another promising rookie right-hander, Vincent Velasquez, continues to acclimate himself to the bullpen at Double-A. Like McCullers, the Astros sent Velasquez to the Minors to limit his innings after he went 1-1 with a 3.67 ERA in nine games (seven starts) for the Astros.
Hinch said the team expects Velasquez to be in the bullpen, mostly likely in September. The Astros mapped out a schedule for Velasquez, but they haven't told him when he's going to be pitching.
"When the phone rings and they call down and say 'Get Velasquez going," he's going to get up and get on the mound and get ready and get in the game," Hinch said. "That's something that relievers have to learn, especially those that have been starters his entire career. He's doing fine. He just threw the other day and will throw again in the next couple of days in Double-A."
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.