When the Astros left Florida to head to Houston last month to get ready for the start of the regular season, SP Collin McHugh was left behind as he dealt with what was described as a “dead arm.” He went on the 10-day disabled list to begin the season, but he wasn’t expected to be out for an extended period. Things didn’t look good, though, after he struggled Thursday in his first rehab start. Today, the team announced that McHugh will not throw for six weeks as he recovers from an elbow injury.
McHugh lasted just one inning in his start for Triple-A Fresno on Thursday, leaving with tightness in his shoulder and biceps, and it wasn’t a particularly good performance. He allowed three runs on three hits, walked one and struck out a batter. He needed 26 pitches — about a third of the 80-pitch limit he was given for the game — to get the three outs. He was evaluated by team physicians in Houston on Friday and diagnosed with posterior impingement of his elbow, but an MRI revealed no damage to his UCL.
McHugh, who went 13-10 with a 4.34 ERA in 2016, will be treated non-surgically for now and will be re-evaluated following the six-week period during which he is shut down. A decision on his status will be determined then, but at this point it’s hard to see him getting into any major-league games until at least after the All-Star break in mid-July. And that’s if he can resume baseball activities in six weeks, which would allow him to start what would probably be a lengthy rehab assignment. If he requires a longer shut-down period after six weeks, it could put his entire 2017 season in doubt.
What does this mean for the Astros’ rotation? It should allow SPs Joe Musgrove and Mike Fiers — who were originally expected to compete for the No. 5 spot in the rotation — to both continue in starting roles if their performance allows. The Astros also have some potential starting pitching depth in the bullpen, as RPs Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock each made a handful of starts last season and RP Michael Feliz has the ability to throw multiple innings and could be stretched out if needed to make starts in an emergency role.
Losing McHugh for an extended period will also likely start up more speculation about the Astros potentially making a trade for starting pitching. They were linked to the likes of White Sox SP Jose Quintana and Rays SP Chris Archer in the offseason. If McHugh’s prognosis isn’t looking good as we approach the non-waiver trade deadline at the end of July, or even before then, the Astros may look at getting one of those guys or another starter who could be available for trade. That could also depend on how the rest of the rotation performs, with a particular focus on Musgrove and Fiers, who are the biggest question marks for now.