Astros’ McCullers makes MLB debut wearing Batman cleats

 

A 21-year-old pitcher making his major-league debut. Hardly the kind of opponent to strike fear into the hearts and bats of a big-league lineup.

But Astros prospect Lance McCullers Jr. is no ordinary rookie. Monday night at Minute Maid Park against the Oakland Athletics, he had a plan.

Batman cleats.

An eye-opening start, to be sure. But he didn’t walk off the mound with the fairy-tale ending, taking a no-decision in the Astros’ 2-1 loss to the A’s. But if he was hoping to shift the talk from his shoes to his pitching prowess, McCullers gave it his best shot, his stuff at times looking unhittable. But make no mistake, the cleats stole the show.

A barely legal guy’s homage to his affinity for superheroes? A childish hope at intimidation? A message to the Mets’ Matt Harvey, MLB’s reigning ‘Dark Knight’?

Hardly.

For McCullers, the answer is much more simple.

"I just like Batman," McCullers said. "I’ve been wearing them the whole year in [Double-A] Corpus [Christi]"

Predictably, social media ran with it.

But unlike those in the Twittersphere, Astros manager A.J. Hinch was more impressed with McCullers’ breaking ball than his footwear.

"With that kind of breaking ball, I guess you say you can do whatever you want as long as you keep that breaking ball in the zone," Hinch said.

Keeping the ball in the zone was actually McCullers’ biggest downfall in his debut — he allowed one run and three hits with five strikeouts, but also walked three in just 4-2/3 innings as the Astros’ five-game winning streak ended.

McCullers, the Astros’ No. 11 prospect by Baseball America entering this season, pitched exclusively at Double-A Corpus Christi in 2015, posting a 3-1 record with a 0.62 ERA and 43 strikeouts in four starts. At 21 years and 288 days, he became the youngest Astros starting pitcher since Jordan Lyles in 2011.

He still has to learn to pitch efficiently.

Like he had done throughout his brief minor-league career, McCullers struggled with pitch count. McCullers made it past only the fifth inning in one of his four starts this year.

"My strikeout pitch kind of disappeared there in the second," McCullers said after the game. "I had some guys in counts where I’m used to getting outs in. I just wasn’t able to put them away, which led to some walks."

"First night, adrenaline pumping, he made some really good pitches for strikeouts," Hinch said. "He’ll get more pitch efficient as he gets away from that first-game adrenaline. Obviously, we want to get five out of him, and he came close to that. For a major-league debut and with all the attention around him, I thought he handled it really well."

Follow Shawn Ramsey on Twitter: @ShawnPRamsey

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