McCullers shows promise in major-league debut for Astros

Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers reacts to a ball call after throwing a pitch to Oakland Athletics' Coco Crisp during the second inning.

David J. Phillip/AP

The Houston Astros couldn’t get the edge they needed offensively to extend their five-game winning streak to six as they fell to the Oakland Athletics 2-1 on Monday night.

The Astros, who managed just two hits, left seven on base after gaining six walks over the course of the game. Houston scored its only run in the first inning after Jose Altuve was hit by a pitch to get on base, then manufactured a run by stealing second, advancing to third on sacrifice bunt by Jonathan Villar and scoring on a sacrifice fly by Evan Gattis. 

While the Astros couldn’t muster much with the bats, starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. – who was making his major-league debut – showed a lot of promise on the mound, often looking unhittable. The rookie right-hander allowed just one run and three hits with five strikeouts but walked three.

"I thought he hung in there pretty well," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "First-night adrenaline pumping, he had his pitches, made some really good pitches for strikeouts. And he had a swing-and-miss strikeout on every pitch"

McCullers’ success shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who have been keeping track of his minor league career thus far in 2015. Appearing in six games (four starts) for the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks, he posted a 3-1 record with a 0.62 ERA and 43 strikeouts. He was promoted to Triple-A Fresno last week, but did not make a start before getting the call to join the Astros on Friday. 

"I felt good, I felt relaxed, I felt in a pretty good state of mind," McCullers said. "I’m just focusing more on being happy and relaxed and understanding that less is more in those early innings."

The one fault of McCullers’ debut with the Astros was the inability to pitch efficiently as he was unable to make it past the fifth inning due to his pitch count reaching 93. Hinch opted for the lefty-on-lefty matchup calling for Joe Thatcher to enter the game to face Oakland’s Josh Reddick to end McCullers’ night.

"My strikeout pitch kind of disappeared there in the second," McCullers said. "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."

Hinch believes with the first major-league start out of the way, McCullers will be able to improve his pitching efficiency. 

"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."

Overall, McCullers – along with his Batman cleats – was just glad make it to baseball’s highest level.

"A lifelong dream is to pitch in the big leagues, and I got to accomplish that, and no matter what happens from this point on, it can’t be taken away," McCullers said. "I feel really blessed and fortunate for the opportunity."

Follow Shawn Ramsey on Twitter: @ShawnPRamsey

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