FORT MYERS, Fla. — The regular season is less than three weeks away and the Red Sox have two holes in their rotation that are becoming more pronounced as each day passes.
Collin McHugh, who was signed to a one-year contract on Wednesday, is a good candidate to fill one of those spots. He just doesn’t know when.
The 32-year-old righthander hasn’t pitched off a mound in six months because of elbow pain related to a flexor tendon strain.
McHugh had a procedure in December that used high frequency vibrations to loosen scar tissue on the tendon.
“It seems to be going really well. We’re still in the rehab process,” he said Friday.
McHugh hopes to start throwing soon but acknowledged there’s no timetable for when he could pitch in a major league game. It clearly won’t be any time soon.
“They’re getting to know me,” McHugh said. “I think we’ll have a better idea moving forward in a couple of weeks in figuring exactly what the road ahead looks like for me.”
The elbow pain led to two stints on the injured list with the Astros last season before McHugh was shut down for good in mid-September. He then became a free agent.
The Sox signed him to a no-risk $600,000 contract with incentives based on innings and roster time that could raise his deal to as much as $4.2 million.
The Red Sox, who desperately need pitching help, were a good opportunity for McHugh. But it went beyond that.
“It’s the Red Sox, one of the most storied franchises in all of sports. I’m a huge baseball fan,” he said. “So for me, that’s kind of a pinch-me moment to look up and realize you’re playing for a team that’s been around for so long and had so many players come through here.”
After he became a free agent in October, then-Red Sox manager Alex Cora reached out to McHugh with a recruiting pitch.
“He had nothing but great things to say about the town, the team, the organization,” McHugh said. “Glowing reviews.”
Once he can pitch, McHugh said he is open to starting or relieving.
McHugh was 0-8 with an 8.94 earned run average in 15 games for the Mets and Rockies from 2012-13. The Astros claimed him off waivers before the 2014 season.
Houston unlocked McHugh’s potential by having him abandon his sinker and throw four-seam fastballs high in the strike zone. He also further developed his slider and cutter while maintaining an above-average curveball.
It worked. He was 58-35 with a 3.63 ERA in six seasons for Houston. McHugh was a starter the first four years then became a dominant reliever in 2018.
As a member of the now vilified 2017 Astros, McHugh said it was “really awkward” for the pitchers on the team as their hitters worked with team staffers to steal signs from opposing pitchers.
“We were made to believe it was happening to us, too” he said. “We don’t know if that was true or not. That’s not a justification for doing anything, just because you think they’re doing it.
"That’s not a justification for doing something that you know is not right. Looking back, I don’t know what we could have done as pitchers. It wasn’t really our territory Maybe we could have gotten together and somehow tried to stop it. It was tough. It was tough watching that.”