McHugh starts 2015 firmly as an Astros starter
KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) Somewhere in Houston’s training camp is another Collin McHugh, or at least the Astros hope so.
”Something unexpected is going to happen,” new manager A.J. Hinch said Saturday after the Astros’ first spring workout for pitchers and catchers. ”You don’t know who that’s going to be, but that’s the fun part of spring.”
McHugh came to camp a year ago as just another face, having been claimed off waivers from the Colorado Rockies, who had acquired him from the New York Mets.
McHugh was a long shot to make the Houston roster and, in fact, he didn’t, beginning the season with three starts at Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Before the season was over, however, McHugh had posted an 11-9 record and a 2.73 ERA, best among all major league rookies.
”Hindsight is 20/20, but at that point I was 0-9 in the big leagues with a 9-something (ERA),” McHugh said, explaining his also-ran status last March. ”That’s just the way it works. It happens to a lot of people. I was fortunate enough to get picked up here.”
The 27-year-old right-hander opens camp as one of three starters penciled firmly into Houston’s rotation, along with Dallas Keuchel and Scott Feldman. Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock are the leading candidates to fill the other spots.
Hinch mentioned Dan Straily, Samuel Deduno and recently signed Roberto Hernandez as other candidates.
”There’s going to be some guys who pop up that we’re not even talking about that make it interesting,” Hinch predicted.
”McHugh came up, made a spot start in Seattle and dominated, then just took off from there,” recalled catcher Jason Castro. ”That could be anyone again this year or next year. We definitely have the talent coming up to do that.”
McHugh’s breakthrough season was ”just a natural progression,” he said, and he credited pitching coach Brent Strom for convincing him to scrap his sinker.
”I threw all four-seamers, which gave me better command,” McHugh said. ”(The sinker) wasn’t a very good pitch, but the Mets and Rockies were organizations that really valued the sinker so I felt like that’s what I need to do when I was there.”
The Astros, who broke a string of three straight last-place finishes with 70 wins in 2014, also will be looking for a closer this spring.
Chad Qualls, who saved 19 games last season, is in the competition along with Michael Fields and veterans Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek.
”It’ll take a while,” Hinch said. ”I’m not sure there’s a bad choice in there, but I’ll certainly be evaluating it over the next six weeks. I’m not against changing my mind about a half dozen to 10 times between now and April.”
NOTES: Roger Clemens, now a special assistant to Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, addressed the pitchers and catchers before their first workout. ”Maybe we can be that Kansas City team,” said the seven-time Cy Young Award winner. ”There’s just as much talent here as there is there.” … Peacock, who had October surgery to remove bone chips from his hip, and Vincent Velasquez are not throwing yet, but are expected to be cleared shortly. … Facing a visa holdup in the Dominican Republic, Hernandez is expected to arrive by Tuesday, Luhnow said.