Posted on June 12, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine

Houston Astros Lance McCullers

Image via espn.com

The injury bug has hit the best team in baseball once again. Those injuries continue to target the starting rotation. The Houston Astros announced Monday that Lance McCullers has been placed on the 10-day with lower back discomfort. The addition of McCullers gives the Astros four starting pitchers on the DL. It would have been five, but McCullers going to the DL has coincided with Houston activating Joe Musgrove from the 10-day DL.

McCullers showed no signs of back soreness during his most recent start last Thursday. He tossed seven innings against the Royals, giving up just one run on two hits while striking out eight. It was the latest gem McCullers has thrown this year during a breakout campaign. With Houston ace Dallas Keuchel pitching at a Cy Young level, McCullers has been a little lost in the shuffle. However, the 23-year old is 6-1 with a 2.58 ERA in 13 starts this year.

The good news for the Astros is that the team believes McCullers’ back issue is relatively minor. Houston GM Jeff Luhnow said it’s possible that McCullers will only end up missing one start. It’s possible that he could return from the DL after the minimum of 10 days.

Nevertheless, injuries continue to pile up in Houston’s rotation. Last week, Keuchel, who’s been the most dominant pitcher in baseball this year, was placed on the DL for the second time this season with neck issues. With McCullers joining him on the DL, the Astros are currently without their best two starting pitchers. Collin McHugh, who hasn’t pitched all season, is also on the DL, as his Charlie Morton, who remains sidelined with a lat issue.

If there’s a silver lining for the Astros, it’s that Musgrove is healthy enough to return from the DL right when McCullers goes to the injured list. Musgrove missed his last two turns through the rotation with elbow inflammation. He’s been steady but unspectacular this season, posting a 4.89 ERA in 10 starts. He rejoins Mike Fiers as the only two pitchers who began the season in Houston’s rotation who are currently healthy.

Musgrove will start Monday night when the Astros begin a series against the Rangers. Joining Musgrove and Fiers in the rotation are Brad Peacock and David Paulino. Peacock was outstanding out of the bullpen early in the season. But he’s been less effective since injuries forced him to move into the rotation. Meanwhile, Paulino has had three uneven starts since getting called up to plug the holes created by injuries.

The Astros will need a fifth starter, at least until McCullers is eligible to return from the DL. But they are quickly running out of options. Paulino may have been a little rushed to the majors because of the injuries. Brady Rodgers, another prospect who could have helped, underwent Tommy John surgery last month and is no longer an option. It also doesn’t help that there’s a considerable drop-off from pitchers like Keuchel and McCullers who are hurt and those who are filling in.

Houston may be forced to give at least one start to top prospect Francis Martes. Martes has made one relief outing with the Astros since getting called up when Keuchel went on the DL. He was working as a starter in triple-A before the promotion. However, the 21-year old struggled to go deep into games and posted a 5.29 ERA in eight starts.

The saving grace for the Astros is that they started Monday with a 12-game lead in the AL West. Houston also has the second highest scoring offense in the majors. Nevertheless, injuries to the team’s starting rotation have not stopped, and it’s Houston’s most important starters who are currently on the DL. The Astros have a big cushion in the standings at the moment. But they may see their substantial lead in the AL West start to diminish if injuries continue to have an impact on their starting rotation.

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