Collin McHugh dazzles for Astros as waiver-wire pickup

David Brown

Picked up off waivers a week before Christmas, pitcher Collin McHugh performed like few others ever have in their Houston Astros debut.

Called up from Class AAA earlier this week and given only 24 hours notice that he was starting, McHugh struck out 12 over 6 2/3 shutout innings Tuesday night in a 5-2 victory against the Seattle Mariners. McHugh, a 26-year-old right-hander who came in with a career mark of 0-8 with an 8.94 ERA in nine starts with the Rockies and Mets the past two seasons, allowed three hits and no walks in leading Houston to its second straight victory.

The Ultimate Astros blog notes that McHugh's performance pretty much shocked everybody:

“I’ve had a lot of people encouraging me the last few years just kind of bouncing around a little bit not really knowing where home’s going to be,” McHugh said. “For my wife who couldn’t be here tonight and for my family back in Atlanta, this one’s kind of for them.”

A performance like Tuesday’s leads to all sorts of neat oddities. Only one other pitcher has struck out more batters in his Astros debut: J.R. Richard, who fanned 15 in 1971.

From 2005-14, only four other Astros starters reached 12 strikeouts in a game: Bud Norris (twice), Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers. Norris was the last to do it, on June 6, 2012 in a loss to the Cardinals.

ESPN notes that the McHugh is the first Astros pitcher since Randy Johnson in 1998 to have at least 12 strikeouts with no walks in a game.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow was ecstatic:

McHugh says he was surprised the Astros were interested in him, that they even knew who he was. Truthfully, McHugh had been more successful as a blogger than he had been as a major leaguer. Visit A Day Older A Day Wiser to find out where McHugh is coming from as a writer.

Houston used him as a tandem starter at Class AAA, where he had never thrown more than 73 pitches this season. He threw 89 against the Mariners. Houston uses the tandem concept throughout its minor-league system, in which two pitchers are scheduled to divide the innings of a nine-inning game. Ideally, one goes five innings and the other finishes with four. It's to reduce wear on pitchers arms and to maximize more pitchers as potential starters in the majors. It's always easier to cut back to one or two innings as a reliever. Not that the Astros are putting McHugh in the bullpen yet.

No matter the results against Seattle, McHugh doesn't have the stuff of Randy Johnson or J.R. Richard. His fastball against the M's topped off at 94 mph, and some of that was adrenaline. But there's something to be said for seizing an opportunity, which McHugh did in his first attempt with the Astros. It's the kind of thing that impresses manager Bo Porter, and surely will lead to more opportunities.

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David Brown is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rdbrown@yahoo-inc.com and follow him on Twitter!