"McCullers was really excited about how he felt today," Hinch said. "All signs continue to be one step closer to getting him back into real competition in the sense of a rehab assignment, but I was encouraged with the exchange today when he said, 'All systems go, feeling really good.'"
When asked if McCullers could be back with the big league club after Saturday, Hinch didn't rule it out.
"At this point, anything is possible," he said. "If we feel like he's sharp enough after one outing in Triple-A, it's not inconceivable he could be an option for us sometime on the road trip. We've got a bullpen tomorrow to clear and an outing against a Triple-A team to clear, and then obviously we need to read and react based on how our guys are doing."
The Astros have certainly missed McCullers, who went 6-7 with a 3.22 ERA in 22 starts during his breakout rookie season in 2015. He gives the Astros a different look than fellow right-handers Doug Fister, Collin McHugh, Mike Fiers and Scott Feldman, with Feldman now working out of the bullpen.
McCullers will be joined in El Paso by catcher Max Stassi, who's rehabbing after undergoing surgery to remove the hook of the hamate bone of his left hand in March. Stassi was expected to be in the lineup on Tuesday night for Fresno for the first time and will catch McCullers on Saturday.
The Astros will be among about a dozen teams watching former National League Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum throw in front of scouts on Friday in Scottsdale, Ariz. Lincecum, a free agent, was one of the game's best pitchers from 2008 to 2011, averaging 16 wins, a 2.81 ERA and 10 strikeouts per nine innings while making the All-Star team and finishing within the top 10 in NL Cy Young voting in each of those four seasons. Lincecum, who had a 4.13 ERA in 2015, is coming off season-ending hip surgery.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.