2021 MLB playoffs: Astros concerned about Lance McCullers Jr.’s forearm after righty exits Game 4 early

Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker made a puzzling decision during his team’s series-clinching 10-1 victory (box score) on Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox in the American League Division Series, pulling starter Lance McCullers Jr. after four innings. After the game, Baker explained that the move had nothing to do with tactics or how McCullers was performing and everything to do with McCullers’ physical wellbeing. 

That’s because McCullers was suffering from forearm discomfort. “For him to come out of a game of that magnitude, it had to be something serious,” Baker said, according to Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times.

McCullers, for his part, said he didn’t think it had anything to do with his ligament. “We’ll have to just wait and see how I feel tomorrow, if I need to get any imaging done or things like that,” he told Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle

McCullers’ overall line on the night saw him throw four innings, allow a run on five hits and three walks, and strike out five batters on 73 pitches. His average fastball velocity on the afternoon was 94.7 mph, or about 0.8 mph quicker than normal. He did not appear to bleed velocity as the game burned on, either.

Baseball Savant

It’s too soon to know if or how McCullers’ availability for the Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox will be impacted. Obviously there’s concern whenever a pitcher has to leave any game, let alone a pivotal one, with some kind of arm injury. (It doesn’t help the nerves that McCullers has already had to undergo a significant elbow operation once before, as his 2019 season was wiped out by Tommy John surgery.)

Still, as McCullers said, all the Astros can do is wait and hope that he can proceed with his postseason. 

After all, the playoffs are supposed to be a reward of sorts for great regular-season performances. McCullers deserves that much. This year, he started 28 times and compiled a 3.16 ERA (136 ERA+) and a 2.43 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 162 innings. This marked the first time in McCullers’ big-league career he had thrown more than 130 frames, as his previous career-high was 128, set way back in 2018. 

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