Getty Images

Houston Astros right-hander Lance McCullers Jr., who has not pitched in a competitive big-league game since last October, will make his season debut on Saturday against the Oakland Athletics, according to's Brian McTaggart

McCullers, 28 years old, has spent most of the past year rehabbing and recovering from the strained flexor tendon that sidelined him after last fall's American League Division Series against the Chicago White Sox. (The Astros advanced all the way to the World Series without him before eventually falling to the Atlanta Braves.) McCullers' injury was ill-timed for other reasons, as it overshadowed arguably the best season of his career: in 28 starts, he amassed a 3.16 ERA (136 ERA+) and a 2.43 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Those marks netted him Cy Young Award consideration.

McCullers for his career has accumulated a 3.57 ERA (116 ERA+) and a 2.74 strikeout-to-walk ratio, as well as 9.7 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference's calculations. 

The Astros traded veteran starter Jake Odorizzi to the Braves for left-handed reliever Will Smith at the deadline, yet McCullers' return will again enable them to trot out a six-pitcher rotation if they so desire. Houston's other starting options include Cy Young favorite Justin Verlander, lefty Framber Valdez, and homegrown right-handers Luis Garcia, Cristian Javier, and José Urquidy.

That wealth of pitching helps to explain why the Astros are well en route to their fifth AL West division crown in the past six seasons. Houston entered Wednesday with a 71-40 record on the year, giving the team an 11 1/2-game edge over the Seattle Mariners. Should the Astros continue to play at this pace, they would clear the 100-win mark for just the fifth time in franchise history. The previous four times occurred in 2019, 2018, 2017 and 1998.