Collin McHugh is making progress as he works his way back from an elbow injury and could be a factor in the Boston Red Sox rotation.
Collin McHugh was expected to be sidelined for a significant chunk of the 2020 schedule but the delayed start to the Boston Red Sox season may be a blessing in disguise for the rehabbing right-hander.
McHugh missed the final month of last season with a flexor strain in his elbow and he underwent a non-surgical procedure in December to clean up scar tissue.
The Red Sox inked McHugh to a one-year deal in March and he spent only about a week in camp before spring training was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The shutdown threw a wrench into McHugh’s rehab plans but he’s managed to adjust so that he can continue progressing from home.
In an appearance on MassLive’s “The Fenway Rundown” podcast, McHugh revealed that he’s been throwing for about a month and making encouraging progress.
"“We’re a few weeks, about a month into my throwing program,” said McHugh. “Trying to work my way back from that elbow injury. We feel pretty good with the progress I’m making. I’m staying in daily contact with the team and with the trainers and the coaching staff, trying to make sure we’re all on the same page.”"
McHugh explained that he set up a net in his backyard so that he could make throws from up to about 80 feet. A target to throw at, stretch bands and a couple of dumbbells are all he needs to stay in shape and continue to build up his arm strength.
The most optimistic views project the MLB season to begin in July but McHugh isn’t ready to confirm that he’ll be ready for Opening Day. The timeline does line up with approximately when the Red Sox expected him to be ready before the shutdown, making it at least feasible that he won’t miss time after all.
His role for this season was unclear when he signed but McHugh has experience as a starter and out of the bullpen. While he’s shown a willingness to accept either role, most pitchers capable of starting would prefer to be in the rotation over a middle relief spot.
The Red Sox seemed to be leaning toward putting him in the bullpen since he was working his way back from injury and building up to a starter’s workload would cost him more time on the shelf. That may no longer be be the case with the season starting so late.
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McHugh is 51-39 with a 4.14 ERA in 119 career starts. He’s been better out of the bullpen, posting a 2.76 ERA in 91 relief appearances while seeing his strikeout rate jump from 8.3 K/9 to 11.0 K/9.
He struggled in eight starts for the Houston Astros last season but thrived when they bumped him back to the bullpen, at least until his elbow flared up. He dominated as a reliever the previous year when he owned a 1.99 ERA and 11.4 K/9 in 58 appearances.
A healthy McHugh can be a valuable weapon out of the bullpen but the Red Sox have a greater need in the rotation. Even if his production were to mirror his mediocre career results as a starter, he’d still be an improvement over the other options battling for Boston’s fifth rotation spot.
The Red Sox have toyed with the idea of using an Opener in the fifth spot as a solution to their thin rotation. McHugh would be a viable option as the long man to log a few innings behind the Opener if he’s unable to build up to a full starter’s workload.
A desire to dip under the luxury tax threshold left Boston shopping in the bargain bin last winter. Taking a flier on a pitcher working his way back from an elbow injury carries plenty of risk but it could pay off now that it seems McHugh won’t miss as much of the season as initially expected.