McCullers pleased with start but not yet satisfied

McCullers pleased with start but not yet satisfied

HOUSTON -- One bad pitch to Rangers slugger Prince Fielder muddied what was an otherwise promising outing from Astros starter Lance McCullers, who showed how much the rotation has missed him by allowing two runs and striking out seven batters in six innings in Friday night's 2-1 loss to the Rangers at Minute Maid Park.

Fielder hit a two-run double to left field in the third inning that scored Shin-Soo Choo, who had walked, and Ian Desmond, who had singled, to give the Rangers the only runs they needed. McCullers, making his first start at home this year, resembled the confident rookie who dazzled the Astros last year.

"We have to remember that there's still some getting-into-the-season component of Lance," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He pitched pretty effectively tonight. When you go six innings and give up two runs on one play, it's a pretty good outing."

McCullers called it a "pretty solid start" and said he should have made a better pitch to Fielder.

"Fielder has been a great hitter for numerous years," he said. "He's put up the numbers and I respect him as a competitor, but I've got to make a better pitch there. Center-cut, outer-half fastball right at the thighs is not where I need to put that pitch. I could have done a better job controlling Choo and throwing a better first pitch to Desmond, but at the same time, I've got to make better pitches in clutch situations like that. Hopefully the next couple of outings, when the situation presents itself, I'll make a better pitch."

Hinch praised McCullers' breaking ball and liked the way he took something off at times to make some pitches. He threw 89 pitches in his season debut last Friday in Boston and ramped it up to 92 pitches against the Rangers.

"I could have even sent him out there for the seventh," Hinch said. "We're nursing him into the season a little bit, and outings like that will keep propelling him forward. The one inning where they put three quality at-bats together ended up hurting him. They pieced it together in their opportunity against him that we couldn't do on the other side."

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.