Astros concerns include impossible task of replacing Gerrit Cole

Astros concerns include impossible task of replacing Gerrit Cole

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Being labeled MLB’s biggest cheaters is not the Astros’ only problem. They have to find a starter to replace Gerrit Cole, now the Yankees ace.

That means finding 20 wins, an .800 winning percentage, a 2.50 ERA, 212 innings and 326 Ks, not to mention four postseason victories last October.

Lance McCullers Jr., come on down. Complicating matters is the fact McCullers is coming off Tommy John surgery. Don’t forget the Astros still have Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke at the top of their rotation.

“You have to replace the victories, No. 1,” manager Dusty Baker told The Post recently at the Astros’ complex. “And they say victories aren’t important. They are way important. Then you have to replace his seven innings a start. You got Verlander and Cole back to back, your bullpen is basically taking a rest. Somebody has got to pick up those innings. That’s why McCullers is going to be so big for us.”

Baker, 70, knows he’s got quite the job ahead of him, but he also knows how much talent the Astros possess. As for McCullers coming back from Tommy John surgery, Baker has had a front row seat to the advancements made through the years with that surgery.

“Tommy John was my teammate,” Baker said. Yes, that Tommy John, back with the Dodgers in 1976, ’77 and ’78. Tommy John had TJ surgery in 1974.

“(McCullers) comes from good lineage,” Baker said. “Imagine how good he will be even if he is better.”

McCullers was 29-22 over 83 appearances and 80 starts before undergoing surgery. He is known for his nasty curveball, but insisted it was not overuse of the curveball that led to the surgery.

“I’ve come a long way these last 16 months,” McCullers said. “Not only physically but mentally. It felt like a lifetime, but here we are. I am very excited to contribute to the team and not only run to the clubhouse to get waters and bananas (for teammates).”

The rehab was difficult. As McCullers said, “There were times you think you were swimming in quicksand.” McCullers will be limited to about 150 innings.

“Cole was one of the best in the game,” Jose Altuve told The Post. “That’s the reality. We got to deal with reality and now we have to face him. But faces change every year, and this year we have McCullers and he is going to play a big, big role. You can’t compare the two. Cole is more fastball. McCullers is more curveball. They are two different guys, but McCullers is going to be a big part of our success.”

McCullers, 26, said he has changed for the better as a result of the surgery and has matured.

“I’m a father now and my priorities are a lot different than they used to be,” McCullers said. “You come out of the rehab process in a better state of mind. I don’t care about social (media).”

Now it’s about replacing Gerrit Cole.

Source : Kevin Kernan Link

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