The last time Collin McHugh stepped on the mound at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, he simply wanted another opportunity to pitch in the majors.
Three months later, when he starts Tuesday night for the RedHawks, McHugh will pitch knowing he is entrenched in the Houston Astros’ rotation.
In Oklahoma City for a rehab start to assure a split fingernail on his right middle finger is fully healed, McHugh will try to get back to the form that has the former 18th-round pick ranked third in the American League in opponents’ batting average against (.195).
One of Major League Baseball’s surprising turnaround stories this season, McHugh, a 27-year-old right-hander, was cut by the Mets and the Rockies. Entering the season, he owned a career 0-8 record with a 8.94 ERA in 15 previous major league appearances.
“A lot of it is confidence,” said RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco. “He’s matured to where he’s figured some things out. Sometimes the first few times you go up it’s difficult to succeed. There’s a lot of pressure. Now, he’s a lot more comfortable, feels like he belongs.”
McHugh enjoyed some success in the minors but struggled every time he was promoted to the majors, posting a 4-8 record with a 3.28 ERA in 14 starts for the Astros.
“It’s kind of weird to know this is my third year, but I’m just now getting the hang of it,” McHugh said. “There’s a big difference with the talent level in the big leagues but in the past I think I tried to do too much.
“I sometimes gave hitters too much credit. It’s as simple as being aggressive. If you get too fine you get behind in counts where you don’t set yourself up for success. You can’t be afraid to throw balls up in the zone.”
The 554th overall draft pick in 2008 out of Berry College (Ga.), McHugh compiled a career 37-28 record with a 3.36 ERA in roughly 650 minor league innings. But every time he received a brief audition in the majors, he was roughed up. Opponents hit .348 against the 6-foot-2 right-hander.
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