McCullers' rehab debut encouraging

Righty (shoulder soreness) works 3 innings at Double-A

McCullers' rehab debut encouraging

HOUSTON -- Astros right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. was at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday, playing catch before the game against the Royals and being evaluated by the team after his first rehab start in for Double-A Corpus Christi on Monday night.

McCullers tossed three innings of one-run ball, allowing a home run and showing little sign of the shoulder issue that sidelined him for nearly all of Spring Training.

"I've been building up to that, down in Florida, and it was just good to compete again," McCullers said. "I'm not really holding back anything. ... It's a step-by-step process and we have to manage it the right way."

Astros manager A.J. Hinch said McCullers will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday and make another start for the Hooks on Saturday in Tulsa.

The Astros were pleased with McCullers' debut, particularly given the fireballing hurler's young age. The 22-year-old threw 48 pitches while allowing three hits and walking none.

"It was good to have him in competition again," Hinch said. "There's a real balancing act between rehabbing and competing, especially for a young pitcher like Lance. Once you get him going, he will push the accelerator down.

"He's still in Spring Training mode in terms of the volume he can handle."

McCullers was a key cog in Houston's rotation last season, and that unit has been a sore spot for Houston a week into the 2016 campaign. He was called up in May and allowed two earned runs or fewer in 15 of his 22 starts, including a postseason game against the Royals.

Hinch declined setting a timetable for the second-year starter, but McCullers acknowledged the first week of May is likely. The Astros already hinted that McCullers' innings may be limited this season, so his early time off could mean more starts in August and September.

For now, the Astros just want to see improvement in the form of an outing of 60-70 pitches and 4-5 innings his next time out. And McCullers is just trying to stay patient.

"[Patience] was tougher in the beginning, but I understand now that there are things we have to do to make sure I'm good for the long haul," McCullers said. "There are some things I have to do, continue to build up my pitch count and continue to bounce back well between outings. As long as that stuff goes well, I'm sure they're going to let me know.

"Time is your friend, and you have to relax and let the inflammation get out of there before you're 100 percent. ... When that time comes, I just want to come back and do my part like I did last year."

Chris Abshire is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.