McCullers took his at-bat in the top of the fifth, came back out for the bottom half, fired some warm-up pitches, then looked into the dugout.
Hinch knew what it meant. He walked onto the field alongside a trainer and removed McCullers, who was officially diagnosed with right elbow discomfort but will be further evaluated in Houston on Sunday. McCullers said he is "hopeful" that the ailment is not serious.
But he couldn't be too sure.
"I'm hopeful because that's who I am," McCullers said after the Astros routed the Los Angeles Dodgers 14-0. "I feel like it's gotta be OK. I don't know. I'm hopeful that it's going to be good news. But I'll deal with it. Whatever's done is done. I'm looking forward to an opportunity to help the team again, whenever the time comes again."
The Astros are the only team in the majors that has required only five starting pitchers this season, but that may soon change. McCullers entered with a 4.06 ERA through 122 innings, then breezed through the first four frames at Dodger Stadium.
Early on, McCullers said, "I couldn't have felt any better, which is the most frustrating thing." Then, in the fourth, McCullers began to feel what he described as "some abnormal soreness and stiffness in my forearm area that I wouldn't feel during a game."
McCullers allowed only two hits and two walks, striking out five batters amid his first Dodger Stadium start since Game 7 of last year's World Series, a triumphant one for his team. His latest outing saw him amass a new career high in innings, but it ended prematurely. He was relieved by Brad Peacock, who picked up a win as the first-place Astros improved to 71-41.
Peacock entered with only a 1-0 lead, then the Astros collected 13 runs in the last four innings, six of them off new Dodgers reliever John Axford.
"I don't want the negativity to be focused on me," McCullers said. "We just played a great, great game. Whatever happens with me is going to work itself out."