TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Lance McCullers Jr. had a dominant spring outing in front of the hometown fans.
McCullers, a product of Tampa Jesuit High School, allowed one hit over 4 1/3 innings as the Houston Astros beat the New York Yankees 2-0 on Friday night.
“I feel like I’m in a good spot right now,” McCullers said. “The biggest thing for me is I’m thinking pretty clear out there and I’m able to mix my pitches the way I intend to going into the game. Sometimes it’s not always like that.”
McCullers struck out five and walked one. He held New York hitless until Miguel Andujar opened the fifth with a single. The right-hander was lifted after the next batter, Billy McKinney, flied out on his 72nd pitch.
It was the first time McCullers pitched at Steinbrenner Field, which is a mile from Jesuit High.
“It was pretty cool for me to pitch here,” he said.
McCullers had allowed one run and five hits over 8 1/3 innings in three previous Grapefruit League starts.
“This is one of the first springs for him just to get ready where he entered healthy coming into camp and can work on his fastball command early,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “He had specific goals. I think he’s making a transition within the big leagues where he’s not trying to rely on the curveball as much, at least in the spring where he knows he’s in the rotation and knows he’s going to be a big part of that rotation. He can take the time to focus on some things that he needs to get better in. He’s taken that to heart.”
This was the first time McCullers and the World Series champion Astros faced the Yankees since his four-inning save to close out a Game 7 win for Houston win in last year’s AL Championship Series.
“He loves pressure, he loves the big moment and he’s had a number of them,” Hinch said. “He competes. He knows his strengths. He studies, he’s smart about how he goes about it. It doesn’t hurt to have, probably, the best breaking ball in the American League, if not the big leagues.”
NOTES: Houston relievers Ken Giles and Chris Devenski both went one inning in minor league games.
More AP baseball: <a target=”—blank” href=”https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball”>https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball</a>