McCullers strikes out 10 for JetHawks
As though he didn't give JetHawks fans enough reason to root for him Tuesday night, Lance McCullers earned the home crowd discounted beer.
The Astros' fifth-ranked prospect also recorded a career-high 10 strikeouts over five scoreless innings as Class A Advanced Lancaster defeated High Desert, 5-3, at The Hangar.
"I had a good game plan going into the game and I executed," McCullers said. "If they're going to be able to hit me, make them hit all my pitches. It's easier to get outs if you're unpredictable and you're throwing any pitch in any count."
McCullers (1-1) and Kyle Smith -- Houston's No. 19 prospect -- combined for 17 punchouts, tying the franchise record set in August 1997 against Visalia.
"When he came in, I didn't know how many strikeouts I had, but I knew [Smith has] great command and great stuff," McCullers said. "Now we're engraved in JetHawks history until somebody else from our pitching staff breaks [the record] this year."
The 20-year-old right-hander hit the second batter he faced and put runners on with one or no outs in each of the first three frames.
"I was able to punch guys out when I needed to, and that's what really matters, especially with situations like that," he said.
In the third, McCullers gave up consecutive one-out singles to Aaron Barbosa and Jabari Henry but got out of the jam with back-to-back strikeouts.
"It was huge. At that point in game, it was tied. I knew I had to make good pitches," he said. "I think when you pitch anywhere with guys on first and second, it can be really crucial [to get a strikeout], but especially so in the Cal League, where the ball can jump out of parks in a hurry."
It was in the first and third innings that McCullers provided the Lancaster faithful with extra reason to cheer by fanning 10th-ranked Mariners prospect Gabriel Guerrero.
"[He was] the 'designated beer batter.' They pick a beer batter and if he strikes out, beer is $2 for the rest of that inning," McCullers said. "Whenever the guy comes up, you can hear the crowd get loud.
"Luckily for the fans, [Guerrero] came up in situations where I needed a strikeout. It was a good deal for them, and it worked out for me."
The 41st overall pick in the 2012 Draft struck out two more in a perfect fourth, then fanned another pair to begin the fifth before walking Barbosa. McCullers struck out Henry to end the inning and his night.
McCullers is the son of seven-year Major League veteran Lance McCullers. He knew his dad was listening to the game on the radio via the Internet.
"My dad's always listening, through thick and thin, listening or watching, if possible. I'll talk to him tomorrow," he said. "I'm sure he'll say, 'What happened to that guy in the fifth, with the walk?' He's always praised me when I've done good things, but there's always something to improve on, too."
McCullers went 6-5 with a 3.18 ERA in the Class A Midwest League last year in his first full Minor League season and he's put up a 2.51 ERA through his first seven games with the JetHawks.
Smith struck out seven while giving up three runs -- one earned -- on six hits over 3 2/3 innings. Jamaine Cotton retired the only batter he faced to notch his third save of the year.
Brandon Meredith was 3-for-4 with a homer and two runs scored for Lancaster.
D.J. Peterson, the Mariners' No. 2 prospect, slugged his second homer of the season for the Mavericks.
Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com.