Eleven great starts and a 9-0 record made Dallas Keuchel the best pitcher in all of baseball the first two months of the season. A mysterious, nagging neck injury has since made him the most pivotal variable of the MLB postseason just two and a half months away.
Because let's face it — the Astros have gotten along just fine without Keuchel, who hasn't pitched a Major League inning since June 2, compiling a 23-15 record during that timeframe. That's a .605 winning percentage, which, if extrapolated over an entire season, would STILL be the best record in the American League. The bottom line is that this is a great regular season team, but in order to be a great POSTSEASON team, they'll need their ace.
Interviewed over the weekend out at Minute Maid Park, Keuchel said that he's felt good, and looks forward to getting back on the field with his teammates, helping them get back to the postseason. In the meantime, a little rehab detour to Corpus Christi would be necessary...
Needless to say, last night's game between the Corpus Christi Hooks and the Frisco Roughriders had as many eyes on the first three innings as any game over the past few seasons at Whataburger Field. For the fans, it was a chance to watch a major league ace throw three innings, and for Dallas Keuchel it was a chance to finally pitch against live hitters.
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Fortunately, for Astros fans, the night wound up being a gigantic sigh of relief, as Keuchel tossed three innings of shutout ball, allowing two hits, one walk, and striking out three Roughriders, all in 46 pitches (30 strikes). For a brief outing against minor league hitters, it was about as good as Keuchel and Astros fans could have expected. It can't be understated what a healthy Keuchel means for the Astros, namely 1) an ace who can stand toe to toe, inning to inning against any other pitcher in baseball, and 2) an allowance for the Astros to conduct trade deadline business (specifically, shopping for pitching) with a little less desperation.
The Astros will surely be in the mix for the most prominent starting arms (Sonny Gray of Oakland, at the top of everyone's list, with a 1.33 ERA in his last four starts) on the trade market, but the return of Keuchel (and to a far lesser extent Collin McHugh, who was solid in his rehab start on Sunday) is bad news for the rest of the American League.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.