Injured McCullers to experience Opening Day

Injured McCullers to experience Opening Day

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Even though he's starting the season on the disabled list after being slowed by soreness in his shoulder, right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. will take part in Opening Day festivities in New York on April 4. Manager A.J. Hinch told McCullers he could travel to the Big Apple to experience his first Opening Day.

"I'm super excited to be in New York for the opening," McCullers said. "That was pretty cool [that] A.J. is going to let me go experience that. There's only one time you open the season for your first time. I think it's pretty cool he's letting me go out there. I'm just ready to go back out there and pitch again."

McCullers threw in the bullpen on Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., for the second time since experiencing the soreness. He could rejoin the team sometime after mid-April, but the Astros are certainly not going to rush him considering his workload last season and their pitching depth.

Evan Gattis, who has missed all of spring camp after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia in February, said on Monday that he'll open the season on a Minor League rehab assignment at Double-A Corpus Christi.

Gattis has been playing in Minor League games for more than a week, and he will stay in Kissimmee until Minor League camp is over on April 2 before flying back to Houston for a couple of days and then reporting to Corpus Christi. The Astros haven't placed him on the disabled list yet, but the move is expected.

The Astros still would like Gattis to start doing more catching drills, but he's only caught one bullpen session so far.

"I just show up and go to work and try to get the swing ironed out and everything like that," Gattis said. "Whenever I'm ready, I'm ready."

• Reliever Luke Gregerson, who struck out the side on nine pitches in his first Grapefruit League action of the spring on Sunday against the Tigers, will pitch on Tuesday in a Minor League game. Hinch said that the Astros had to adjust Gregerson's schedule following Saturday's rainout, and the Astros are off on Tuesday.

Gregerson could pitch in both games of this week's exhibition series against the Brewers at Minute Maid Park. Gregerson suffered a mild strained oblique at the start of camp and has been brought along slowly since.

• Hinch has been asked repeatedly this spring about which player will be his closer - newcomer Ken Giles or Gregerson, the incumbent. It's expected that Giles will be named closer at some point, but Hinch said on Monday there's no need to make a formal declaration.

"I don't know. Maybe I won't," Hinch said. "I will certainly, first and foremost, make sure our players have a complete understanding of what my plan is going into the season. I'm not into the 'stand at the podium and declare something' before I really need to, and I'm not sure I really need to. We have a really good bullpen that can mix and match in a lot of different ways. I understand the intrigue. I don't play fantasy baseball, so I don't have to worry about the save."

Hinch said that naming a closer doesn't necessarily mean that's who he will give the ball to in the ninth inning of a close game every time.

"I mean, ideally we all know our place in the world and have the ability to prepare for the role in which we're asked to do," he said. "I don't see it as an end-all, be-all moment. I think it can change. In the first road game in the ninth inning of a tie game, whoever I bring in could very well be our closer. I just choose to use him in a non-closing situation.

"I'm trying to deflate some of the eagerness of status. I'd like our bullpen to be good, and I'd like all of them to embrace pitching to help us win, which they do. We will line it up accordingly like most people are accustomed to it. It doesn't mean the same guy is going to get the save all the time."

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.