The Astros transferred starter Lance McCullers Jr. from the 10-day to the 60-day injured list this evening, tweets Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle. The move opens a spot on the 40-man roster for slugging outfielder Yordan Álvarez, who has been reinstated from the COVID-19 IL. Infielder Joe Perez was optioned to Triple-A Sugar Land to clear an active roster spot for Álvarez.
The move rules McCullers out for 60 days from the date of his original IL placement, April 4. He’ll be eligible to return to the big leagues during the first week of June, but he could begin a minor league rehab assignment before then if he’s healthy enough to do so. In either event, it’s clear the team didn’t anticipate McCullers being ready to contribute in the majors any time soon.
He continues to work his way back from a flexor tendon strain in his forearm, which he suffered during last year’s postseason. While it was initially believed he’d be ready for Opening Day — if not perhaps able to pitch through the injury during the 2021 World Series — McCullers admitted over the winter that he’d not healed as quickly as expected. The 28-year-old partially attributed his lack of progress to the lockout, which kept players on the 40-man roster from communicating with team medical personnel between the start of December and the second week of March.
McCullers fortunately had at least progressed to playing catch by last week, but it’s clear he’ll need some time to build up arm strength. He’ll require a throwing program before he’s able to embark on a rehab assignment, and he’ll surely need a couple starts to log some innings in the minors before returning to the big league rotation. There’s little question Houston will be cautious with their prized right-hander, who finished seventh in AL Cy Young balloting last season and is in the first season of a five-year, $85MM contract.
Houston has opened the season with a starting five of Framber Valdez, Jake Odorizzi, José Urquidy, Justin Verlander and Luis Garcia. Even without McCullers, that’s one of the league’s stronger quintets. Cristian Javier is working in relief but appears to be the top depth option. He’s coming off a promising 2021 and has tossed 4 2/3 scoreless innings with eight strikeouts so far this year.
Álvarez, meanwhile, is now in position to return to the lineup for the first time in a week. He has missed the past five games battling what manager Dusty Baker had called a stomach bug. Baker suggested last week he might ease Álvarez back into action, but he’ll reclaim his spot as a middle-of-the-order presence in Houston fairly shortly.