After MRI is fine, McCullers to rest a bit

Astros righty says it's too early to tell if he'll be ready for start of season

After MRI is fine, McCullers to rest a bit

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. was able to breathe a sigh of relief Friday when an MRI performed on his sore right shoulder showed no structural damage, he said. The pitcher said Saturday he's going to take a few days to rest before getting back on the mound.

"It's good news to hear that it's normal soreness and he's going to be on the mend," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "It certainly is a sigh of relief."

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McCullers, who's been on an individualized throwing program this spring and has yet to pitch in a game, threw live batting practice March 3 and said he felt "in midseason form." He threw again Sunday and felt great, but the shoulder was sore Monday.

"I didn't really bound back as quickly as we were hoping really, just dealing with some right shoulder soreness that's been kind of lingering," said McCullers, who saw a doctor Friday. "Everything's fine."

McCullers on first spring action

McCullers, 22, said he plans to take a couple of days of rest and recovery, but said there's no timetable as far as getting on the mound. He said it was too early to determine if he would be ready for the start of the season, but considering he would have to get his pitch count built up, he could be facing a tight timeframe.

"Right now, I'm just focused on trying to get back to where I was last week when I threw my [live BP], and I can't really worry about that and want to start the season with the club, obviously," he said. "That's the 100 percent goal right now, but like I've discussed, 150 games are more important than those first one or two if it comes to that."

Hinch said some pitchers need seven or eight spring outings to get ready for the season, and some need three of four. It's based on their strength and readiness when they come to camp.

"Obviously, we're getting towards the middle of the spring, and the next three weeks are very critical," he said. "We'll find out based on how the program is adjusted and we'll talk to our medical group and Lance and [pitching coach Brent Strom] and come up with a game plan. The key is to get him clear of any sort of soreness."

McCullers (6-7, 3.22 ERA in 2015) threw 164 combined innings last year between the Minor Leagues and the Astros after only 97 the previous year. The Astros planned to bring him along more slowly than the rest of the pitchers to monitor his workload.

He's locked in as the Astros' third starter entering the season, but the club has pitching depth. Scott Feldman, Mike Fiers and Doug Fister are battling for the final two spots, so the team has options if it decides it wants to bring McCullers along slowly.

"We have the same guys that are the candidates up for the rotation that were before, the same depth we've had before," Hinch said. "There is no change in the names or the numbers. His throwing program has been altered and pushed back a couple of days."

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.