A happy homecoming for Tampa’s Lance McCullers as Astros cool down Rays

Tampa's Lance McCullers was on target for the Astros at the Trop Thursday. [MONICA HERNDON | Times}
Tampa's Lance McCullers was on target for the Astros at the Trop Thursday. [MONICA HERNDON | Times}
Published June 29, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG – Tampa's Lance McCullers had come to work twice previously at the Trop with little to show for his efforts.

Thursday proved much more rewarding as McCullers got his first hometown win in leading the Astros past the Rays 1-0 in the opener of the four-game series.

"It's cool," he said. "Everyone that is pretty much here though has been out to Houston or elsewhere to see me pitch. So, it's nice that it's here, but (the Rays) were hot. They were playing good baseball coming in. So it was nice. We got the first one. We just need to keep on winning and get the series."

McCullers provides a bit of a different challenge in this power-first era in that he relies more heavily on his curveball than fastball. And he had a good one Thursday, using it as effectively out of the zone, complemented with an effective changeup.

"Doesn't throw a ton of fastballs for a guy who throws 94-96 mph, but the thing that was most impressive about him is that I don't recall seeing many curveballs that stayed in the zone," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "It was all strike-to-ball so you've got to credit the pitcher. He came in and had a really big night and made it very, very challenging for us."

Apparently so, as McCullers allowed just three hits over his seven innings, and got out what little trouble he did have in the sixth and seventh.

"I just felt like I was executing a lot of my pitches and (catcher Brian McCann) did a great job back there calling the right stuff and keeping me in it," McCuller said. "I made some pitches when I had to."

Astros manager A.J. Hinch said McCullers deserved credit for his work.

"That was as efficient and dominant as he's been early in the game with just out after out after out," Hinch said. "Some soft contact, a couple hits, but in control of himself which makes him in control of his pitches and he was impressive."