To many, the Astros arrived ahead of schedule last season. Carlos Correa’s emergence was a big part of that, but fellow rookie Lance McCullers proved to be a stabilizing force behind 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel by posting a 3.22 ERA and 129/43 K/BB ratio over 125 2/3 innings. Expectations are high for the group coming off a trip to the ALDS, but Houston’s starting rotation won’t be at full strength to begin 2016.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch made it official Wednesday that McCullers will begin the season on the disabled list as he works his way back from right shoulder soreness. The 22-year-old has been sidelined since his second live batting practice session of the spring on March 6. Structural damage was ruled out after a recent MRI, but there’s just not enough time for him to get stretched out for the start of the season.
McCullers logged 164 innings last season between the majors and the minors. That was 67 innings higher than his 2014 total and nearly 60 innings more than his previous high as a professional in 2013. After such a significant jump, the Astros tried to ease McCullers into things this spring with an individualized throwing program, so they certainly aren’t going to rush things now. He’s too important to their long-term plans. The hope is that he'll be ready in the early part of the season, but there’s no clear target date yet.
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Brewers Not Naming a Closer
After trading Francisco Rodriguez to the Tigers over the winter as part of their rebuilding process, the Brewers were expected to hold a closer competition this spring. That competition won’t be settled by Opening Day.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell said Wednesday that he will not begin the season with a set closer and instead will go with matchups. It’s not the best situation for fantasy owners, but Counsell has the ability to do so with left-hander Will Smith and right-hander Jeremy Jeffress in-house. They will share the role to begin the year.
Jeffress has yet to appear in a game this spring due to a hamstring strain, but he threw a live batting practice session on Wednesday and his Cactus League debut likely isn’t far off at this point. The 28-year-old has quietly posted a 2.42 ERA and 92/42 K/BB ratio over 96 2/3 innings since rejoining the Brewers in 2014 and induces a ton of ground balls. He’s a serious threat to run away with the job if he gets the opportunity.
You usually see managers stay away from left-handers at closer, but Smith shouldn’t be overlooked. The 26-year-old posted a 2.70 ERA over 76 appearances last season and has struck out 32.3 percent of the batters he has faced since 2013. Only 10 pitchers (min. 100 IP) have a higher strikeout percentage in the same time span. He was actually more effective against right-handed batters last year than he was against left-handed batters, though the opposite was the case in 2014 and 2013. There could be extra incentive to give him some save chances to make him more attractive leading into the trade deadline.
Brantley Ready for Next Step
Opening Day might still be a stretch, but Michael Brantley continues to make encouraging progress from November shoulder surgery. The Indians announced Wednesday that the 28-year-old outfielder will make his spring debut in a minor league game on Thursday. The plan calls for him to play four or five innings and get a few at-bats. It’s unclear if or when he’ll be cleared to play on the Cactus League side.
Brantley was originally expected to miss 5-6 months after surgery, which placed his return in late April. He’s ahead of schedule at this point, but the big question is by how much. He hasn’t officially been ruled out for Opening Day, but April 25 is the cut-off to backdate a potential stint on the disabled list. Indians manager Terry Francona said that date will be a factor in how they use him.
“I don’t think he’s a big fan of wanting to play in Minor League games. He wants to play in our games,” Francona told Jordan Bastian of MLB.com. “That’s fine. We’re just going to have to sit down with him and the trainers probably in the next week and just gauge, because if he does start on the DL, but he’s really close, he can’t play in Major League games at the end. So, we just need to explain that to him.”
Brantley was a second-round pick in many fantasy leagues after his breakout 2014 season, but he currently has an ADP (average draft position) of 105.85 ADP at NFBC. Meanwhile, he has a pre-draft ranking of 90 at Yahoo. Taking a chance on him in that general area could be a lot more appealing depending on what we hear in the next few days.
Quick Hits: Yasiel Puig will not be suspended after MLB didn’t find any evidence that he hit his sister in a reported bar fight in Miami in November … Bronson Arroyo was hoping to win a spot in the Nationals’ rotation, but his career might be over after he was diagnosed with an 80-percent tear of the labrum in his right shoulder … Matt Wieters (elbow) isn’t ready to resume hitting and throwing … Johnny Cueto (head) has passed multiple concussion tests and will make his next scheduled start … Madison Bumgarner (foot, ribs) could start Saturday … Ryan Braun (back) had an RBI single, a walk, and a run scored in his Cactus League debut Wednesday against the White Sox … Jered Weaver (neck) will pitch Sunday in a minor league game … Brett Gardner (wrist) made his Grapefruit League debut Wednesday against the Blue Jays and went 0-for-2 with a strikeout … Anibal Sanchez (triceps, bronchitis) pitched a three-inning simulated game against minor leaguers on Wednesday and is expected to make his Grapefruit League debut next Monday … Juan Nicasio struck out 10 batters over four scoreless innings Wednesday against the Orioles and is making an interesting case for a rotation spot with the Pirates … Denard Span left Wednesday’s Cactus League game with a jammed shoulder … Cubs manager Joe Maddon is leaning toward hitting the pitcher ninth this season, which could lead to Addison Russell hitting seventh or eighth … Victor Martinez (hamstring) is expected to be held out of action through the weekend … Hyun-Jin Ryu (shoulder) isn’t expected to pitch in a Cactus League game this spring … Andre Ethier could bat leadoff against some right-handed starters this season … Ruben Tejada was given his release by the Mets on Wednesday after he went unclaimed on waivers … Ryan Zimmerman (foot) played first base Wednesday for the first time this spring … Adam LaRoche chose to retire after being told by the White Sox that his 14-year-old son could no longer be a regular presence in the clubhouse … Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale plans to bat Zack Greinke eighth this season … The Twins will use right-hander Trevor May as a reliever this season …