McHugh determined to get off to fast start

Astros starter has been better in the second half in career

McHugh determined to get off to fast start

VIERA, Fla. -- Astros right-hander Collin McHugh has been a better pitcher in the second half of the season compared with the first half throughout his career.

McHugh would like to get off to a fast start this year and that begins by putting together consistent outings such as Thursday's 4-3 victory over the Nationals. He surrendered only two hits and struck out a pair in three scoreless innings.

His career first-half ERA is 4.20 compared to a more respectable 3.87 in the second half. Last year those numbers were even more exaggerated. A rough month of May ballooned McHugh's first-half ERA to 4.50 before he rebounded with 3.11 in the second half.

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"Get better now, get better early," McHugh said. "Spring Training you have to be willing to work on stuff. If you come out of the gates just a little flat it can jump on you quick. I've seen it, I've seen a month get away from you and you can't get it back no matter how good you are down the stretch."

Manager A.J. Hinch attributed McHugh's slow starts in the past, in part, to small sample sizes in which a string of bad starts can throw numbers off. But he also said at times McHugh has gotten into trouble when he relied too much on his cutter and got a little too predictable.

During Thursday's start, McHugh worked on incorporating his changeup more into his arsenal, mixing it into counts where he would not normally throw it. He used it on a 2-1 count to Bryce Harper in the first inning that resulted in a high fly out to right field.

"It can generate soft contact," Hinch said. "Guys are up there understanding the fastball-cutter combo, it's similar velocity. [The changeup] gives the hitter a different look, gets them off their rhythm just enough for soft contract in the air."

Jamal Collier is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.