McCullers training for 2016's 'heavier workload'

Coming off rookie year, pitcher fit in workouts throughout offseason -- even on honeymoon

McCullers training for 2016's 'heavier workload'

HOUSTON -- The gym was closed one day, so Lance McCullers had to improvise. The Astros pitcher had kept up his workout routine during his honeymoon trip late last year with his wife, Kara, and he wasn't about to disrupt things.

McCullers put his new bride on his shoulders and did three repetitions of squats right there in the middle of the hotel room.

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This was no time for cutting corners, no time for taking a day off. McCullers understands he needs to continue to get better as he tries to capitalize on a breakthrough rookie season with the Astros in which he went 6-7 with a 3.22 ERA in 22 starts.

Even if that meant packing up medicine balls and stretching bands and taking them with him on his honeymoon to Italy. Even if it meant running through the streets of Rome, Amalfi, Florence and Venice to find a gym, get a workout in and walk back to the hotel.

"You go on a two-week vacation right at the end of December, early January, and that's right in the middle of go time," McCullers said. "I wanted to make sure I could find a gym in every city we were at. There was really no other way, other than running places over there. They don't have a whole lot of cars, so I was running to gyms over there in Italy."

McCullers, who threw a combined career-high 157 2/3 innings between Double-A Corpus Christi and the Astros last year, is one of a handful of pitchers the Astros will have on individualized throwing plans this spring to help with rest and recovery.

While the team treats his arm with caution, McCullers made his sure his body was in tip-top shape in the winter. At home in Tampa, he worked out twice a day, six days a week with trainer Nicole Gabriel. McCullers also swung an axe during the winter to strengthen his core.

"I'm just trying to prepare my body, along with my mind, to be as strong as I could for the season coming up," McCullers said. "It's a long year, but trying to prepare myself to handle that workload. I wanted to continue to build off of my previous offseason, which is really good for me, and wanted to continue to get strong and be able to handle that workload, because it's going to be a little heavier this year."

It's important to remember that this is McCullers' first big league camp. The son of former Major League pitcher Lance McCullers, the 22-year-old hadn't pitched above Class A ball this time a year ago. Called up from Double-A last year, he had one of the best seasons by a rookie pitcher in team history, and even threw an 11-strikeout complete game on June 3 against the Orioles.

McCullers strikes out 11

This year, the Astros are banking on him to eat up innings in the middle of their rotation.

"My biggest goal is just be able to handle that workload," he said. "That's the big topic, the big thing A.J. [Hinch] and I keep talking about, how we're going to handle that. My biggest thing is just go out there every day and compete and make sure I'm doing what I need to stay healthy."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for 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.