In 2018, two of the top five pitchers in the American League were the two best pitchers in the Astros’ rotation: Ace 1 Justin Verlander and Ace 2 Gerrit Cole. A half step behind these two lurked Charlie Morton, who would have been the ace on the 12 AL teams not named the Rays, the Indians and the Astros.
Flash forward to mid-April 2019 and the team is Morton-less, Cole is 1-2 and Verlander’s ERA is a run higher than he ended up in 2018. But have no fear Collin McHugh is here!
OK, this definitely comes under the heading of YIE. Here is a reminder of the origins of YIE back in 2015…an acronym for Yes It’s Early which was invented here (as far as we know).
Yes, it is early, but along with the return to health of Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, the other thing that should warm the hearts of Astro fans is how Collin McHugh has stepped up to pitch better than any of the other four pitchers in the rotation.
Here is a reminder of the long, strange trip that McHugh has taken to reach his current spot in the baseball world. At the ages of 25 and 26, he had a few cups of coffee with the Mets and Rockies and after a career MLB mark of 0-8 with an 8.94 ERA, he was released. At a crossroad in his career where many guys head home and get a day job, he was picked up by the Astros, the worst team in the majors after the 2014 season. He then found new life under pitching coach Brent Strom and put up two strong seasons as the #2 starter behind Dallas Keuchel (11-9 / 2.73 ERA and 19-7 / 3.89 ERA). In 2016 his ERA ticked up even more to 4.34 and in 2017 he spent the majority of the season on the DL.
When McHugh came to spring training in 2018 he had lost his place in the starting rotation but had found a slider. As a starter, he had relied heavily on his fastball, curve and cut fastball, but hitters seemed to have learned to lay off his curve and his fastball was hittable. He did not mope going to the bullpen but excelled using his new found slider to post a 6-2 record and 1.99 ERA in 58 appearances.
This season in four appearances Collin has been terrific with a 3-1 record, 1.96 ERA and 0.826 WHIP. His 10.6 K/9 IP and 2.7 BB/9 IP are trailing Verlander and Cole a bit, but he’s only giving up 4.7 hits and 0.4 HRs per 9 IP. He lost his first game to the Rays giving up only 2 runs in 5 innings and then has had three 6 inning performance in wins, where he gave up 1, 2 and 0 runs.
Sure, over the course of the season he will likely not be the Astros best starting pitcher. But, a close imitation of Charlie Morton would be a huge boost to the Astros chances this season.