The Houston Astros were operating from a position of depth when they shipped right-hander Jake Odorizzi to the Atlanta Braves at the trade deadline earlier this month.
Odorizzi, after all, was part of a six-man rotation that was anticipating the addition of Lance McCullers Jr. in the coming weeks.
McCullers made his season debut on Saturday, tossing six shutout innings in an 8-0 win over the visiting Oakland Athletics that enabled Houston to clinch the three-game series.
The Astros will go for the sweep on Sunday afternoon.
McCullers sustained a right flexor tendon strain last postseason and missed the first four months of the season, his second prolonged absence after Tommy John surgery cost him the 2019 campaign.
A 2017 All-Star, McCullers logged a career-high 162 1/3 innings in 2021 and capped that regular season seemingly poised to put his injury history in the past. Those dreams were deferred, but McCullers again appears set to serve as a vital piece of the Houston rotation.
“I just want to be a productive part of the team,” McCullers said. “I want to help this team win. I think we’re the best team in baseball, and I just want to go out there and be a part of that.”
Right-hander Cristian Javier (6-8, 3.14 ERA) has the starting assignment for the Astros on Sunday. If he records three outs, he will match his career high of 101 1/3 innings pitched, set last season.
Javier has scuffled since pitching brilliantly in consecutive starts against the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels just before the All-Star break, going 0-5 with a 4.40 ERA over his last six starts. Opponents have a .785 OPS.
Javier is 1-3 with a 5.59 ERA over 10 career appearances (seven starts) against Oakland. He is 0-1 with a 4.00 ERA in two starts against the Athletics this season, including allowing three runs on five hits and one walk with six strikeouts over five innings in a 4-2 road loss on July 27.
Left-hander Cole Irvin (6-9, 2.92 ERA) will start the series finale as Oakland attempts to avert the sweep.
Irvin has allowed two or fewer earned runs in each of his last seven starts, going 4-3 with a 1.88 ERA and .490 opponent OPS during that span.
Irvin has dropped both of his August appearances despite allowing just three earned runs on 11 hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts over 14 innings in a pair of starts against the Angels. He matched his season high of eight innings in his previous start on Monday, a 1-0 home loss to the Angels.
Irvin is 2-4 with a 4.57 ERA in eight career starts against the Astros. He has faced them four times already this season, three times in July, going 2-1 with a 2.19 ERA in 24 2/3 innings.
The Athletics have committed to rookie left-hander Zach Logue as a member of their rotation in the near term. But after allowing only two earned runs in each of his previous two starts, Logue was charged with six runs on eight hits and two walks with two strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings on Saturday. The varying results are somewhat expected.
“It’s a few starts,” Athletics manager Mark Kotsay said. “This kid has had some good success with us in some starts, and I think that’s just part of that growth and maturity process.”